It Doesn't Have to Look Pretty
As a Visual Designer I am tasked with creating cohesive and engaging stories across print and web mediums alike. It is my job to make sure that every decision I make as a designer is understood deeply by my own self in order to explain it to others (especially in cases when you need to defend your design to clients!).

Recently, I had a challenge that would put this ability to the test.
I had the task of creating a micro-site user interface design that was geared towards the elderly population, with clients that were not elderly (their end user was). I'll be honest, the end result was not something I would call "beautiful design", but it didn't have to be beautiful. It had to work and function in a way that was easy for an elderly person to navigate, control, and interact with. This is the same task for all UI design projects of course, but it was the end user in this particular case that changed the game and forced me to come to terms with an 'ugly design' while allowing myself to still feel proud that the job was well done (even if it wasn't a UI I would plaster on my fridge!).
"How in the world do elderly people interact with the web?" That was the question at the back of my mind that was itching to be answered. I knew how to do a UI design of course, and I knew how to interact with the web, but as the slew of sleek modern ideas came into my mind I had to stop myself - take a step back and breathe.
Why? Simple. None of these initial ideas flooding my mind would work, no matter how good they may have looked. I realized that I wasn't ultimately designing for the client, I was designing for their end user: an elderly individual of retirement age and over. This meant I had to understand the end-user better than they may understand themselves, and think of them as the client instead of who was giving me the project.

Research is King
This brought me back to the most important stage of all design - research. The client wasn't the one that would be using the website, so why would I want to design for the client's tastes? I needed to create a user interface that was easy for an elderly individual and my clients weren't elderly.
I had to understand how human eyesight changes with age.
I had to learn what typefaces are easier for those born pre-web era to read (pssst serif typefaces).
I had to know how humans see color as we age.
I did what I do best: Obsessively pour over research material in order to find an answer (it's a rather odd hobby of mine, but what can I say? Learning is a passion that has been with me since childhood.) Forgoing my design books I picked up research papers from NCBI about deterioration of eyesight with age, I perused through Scientific American, opening tab after tab of design blogs that had already handled an end user of elderly people in hopes of learning from the mistakes and successes of others.
In my researched I learned the lens of our eyes begin to get harder as we age (it's called presbyopia)
This causes the eye to lose ability to see small text at close ranges (so anything smaller than a minimum of 16pt font was definitely off the table). I learned that elderly people digest information written in serif typefaces with more ease than sans-serif due to their years growing up with printed media such as newspapers. I learned that the aging eye can't see certain colors as well due to deterioration making it harder to discern colors that are similar to each other (and to avoid yellow since it's not easily seen). That high contrast color palettes are much better than the traditional muted colors we designers tend to drool over.
I learned that the navigation needed to be very clear, as simple as it could be, and straight forward as to it's function; taking the concept of "Don't Make Me Think" to another level! I wasn't designing my most beautiful piece, but that was the point - the piece wasn't for me. It wasn't for the client either, and that was the point of this UI challenge. To remind myself that the end user is your ultimate client - not the person hiring you to make the interface.
In the end, the lesson I hope you take away from my little tale is that there is value in researching your end user. There is value in understanding why you're designing the way you are even (and especially) if the client doesn't like it, and be able to back up your design decisions, defend them, and properly explain them. After all, part of being a Visual Designer is telling a story
What did my design's story tell? 
Good design isn't always beautiful, and successful UI design is determined by the end user.
Now go out there, research and design. Learn about your end user inside and out - you never know what you might need to incorporate into the creative process until you do.
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