The value of design | August 22, 2003

In my expirience most people view design as a superficial thing. It's about making something look nice, be that a business card, a brochure or a website. This is why many web designers jump straight into Photoshop when they get a new commission, and why clients expect to see designs before any requirements have been set. People just don't get what design is really about.

Good design is much more than just making something look nice. It's about taking a considered approach to a design problem in order to find the best solution. A good designer will spend time learning about a project, finding out about the clients business objectives and trying to marry these up with the users goals. With a clear understanding of the issues at hands, and firm goals in mind, the designer can start crafting the most appropriate solution.

However all too often people rush into design, with the sole objective of creating something that looks nice. This is a fatally flawed approach as looks are extremely subjective. What one designer or client may love, the rest of your users may hate. Design decisions need to be made for strategic reasons, but without a clear strategy they are usually decided by personal preference. This leads to a design that may look nice, but fundamentally ignores the strategic needs of the business as well as the goals of the user.

As an industry we need to start educating the public about the value of design. We need to change peoples perception that design is simply about "look and feel", about colour and composition. Good design is about creating strategic solutions to business problems and needs to taken as seriously as any other business service.

Posted at August 22, 2003 7:36 PM


Brian Andersen said on August 22, 2003 9:26 PM

I hear ya. The problem is, (atleast with clients I’ve had) is that they just don’t care. I’ve had one where we were talking, and he was saying something along the lines of “I really like, make something like that.”

The site he mentioned had nothing to do with his business, and in general didn’t look like anything appropriate for him. I tried to point out to him that, firstly, we can’t just copy any site that he likes, and that it wouldn’t fit his busines.

He would have nothing of this, and expected the site done within the month. The client is always right my ass.

Naturally, I did what he said, and cashed the check. What else could I do? I’m not about to lose customers over some design argument. It’s like bringing up XHTML at a client meeting.

-Brian Andersen
(Sorry for bad english, I’m from Denmark)
Nice blog btw.

gaston said on August 22, 2003 10:17 PM

I totally agree with what you wrote. I originally studied printmaking, so I was used to sketches, drawing and thinking at least a little about what I was gonna do in a piece of art.

But as I got a little into the world of web design I started noticing that I was no longer in control (at least not as much I was used to). The client was in control. I remember some meetings filled with stress because the client wanted something I KNEW looked bad, and I was there trying to explain to him that he had bad taste or that what he wanted simply wasn’t good for his business.

I still haven’t experienced any practical solution to this. It just doesn’t happen that clients want to “get into the project concept first”. (At least not in my small experience in this web design world).

Andreas said on August 23, 2003 4:53 AM

not trying to be snarky or anything, since i basically agree with you, but function/content should always come before design. “expirience” doesn’t help your case.

Jeff Croft said on August 26, 2003 6:34 AM

Isn’t “function/content” PART of the design?

Mart Gordon said on August 29, 2003 11:24 AM

Of course function and Content come before design if your view of design is just making things look nice. However, Andy’s argument is that design is much more than this and indeed is all about the functionality of a site, brochure, poster ar whatever your medium may be.

Tim said on September 1, 2003 12:29 PM

Design is so much more than visual design, no matter how many graphic designers say the opposite. It’s just that when someone says “design”, it is often taken to mean just the visual appearance.

Check this out. It says it better than I can:

“For me, it was a reminder that good (i.e., deep) design is not merely “good business,” as the book’s introduction makes it clear British Rail understood, but potentially a lubricant and a cushion to smooth, simplify and mitigate all the inevitable daily hassles we’re presented with by having the temerity to live in an era of complexity.”

Miguel Flores said on November 22, 2003 9:54 PM

Hello everybody, excuse my poor english, but this topic it is very interesting as long Im fine Artist (painter) and graphic designer.. it seems people use same terms for everything about Visual themes. Designs and Arts are linked for the image, and people get same reaction about the meaning and importance of the creation process.
Almost the most of people it have a poor understanding about the conceptual process under the works creation, and this is something that shows how necessary it is start to learn people, how to respect this topics using our same tools for it: Our creativity and patience

psychochamelion said on January 4, 2004 2:36 AM

i think the best way to make a good website is to start with the content and the forms then do graphics on top of them that way you can try to visually put as much focus on the content as possible.