On Design: Do you even know what that means?

This article is everything.


I’m currently working on a project to redesign a website for an academic-based community website. After working tirelessly to educate myself and keep up with the whole ‘flat design’ thing (regardless of if it is a passing trend, which I believe it’s not), I received feedback about the navigation bar.

“I know you like the whole ‘flat’ thing, but I don’t think it’s going to work.”

If a whole website is flat, why would a navigation bar possibly be okay with cheesy gradients and tacky gray dividers (or worse: flash animation)?

The problem comes back to something extremely important that few people realize: designers are there to do the job that you don’t have time to learn how to do. There’s a reason that Apple just overtook Coca Cola as “The World’s Most Valuable Brand,” and it’s because they’ve made design a priority. There are hundreds of people at Apple formulating the next big move in user interface and simplicity of design–and it’s not just Apple.

Did anyone notice when they opened up GoogleDocs today that there’s a slight redesign? The editing functions have been integrated into the format-icon bar at the top. It looks cleaner, simpler, and constantly reminds you of what document you’re looking at.

This kind of feedback from a client is extremely common, though, and you’d be shocked at how vague feedback can be, and what kinds of problems stem from a client’s inability to research current trends and trust their designer’s ability. I saw a post on Reddit today where a designer posted an email response that said:

Much better. The only thing that looks off is the text box. I wanted more design and pop to it. It doesn’t look like the rest of the ad. The rest is really popping and designed.

To people not versed in the lexicon of the vastly haughty graphic design community: do you even know what that means?? ‘Design and pop’? By pop, do you mean that the information isn’t hierarchically organized correctly and something should stand out more, or do you mean colorfully vibrant, or do you want some kind of long-drop-shadow on it? And how about design? You want more of it? Let me re-phrase how ridiculous that sounds by the following:

I feel like the flyer should have more design to it.

That looks like it’s been designed.

Wow that poster has a lot of design.

What the world at large needs to understand about this apparently ambiguous term of “design:” most everybody with today’s technology can make something look pretty. Using a word template, downloading InDesign templates, using filters and brushes and styles on Photoshop, downloading Illustrator elements–the list goes on.

Design’s sole purpose isn’t to make something look pretty, it’s to communicate a message. A great designer not only communicates a message, but can convey it in a way that both draws attention and is interesting to look atA poor designer makes something that doesn’t communicate, and that includes the ridiculous idea that a designer should make aesthetic changes for the benefit of “””””design”””””. Design is incredibly complex, and that’s the reason that we’re [poorly] paid to do it. To keep up with trends, to better our craft, to read from the best resources, and produce products that are effective as well as easy to understand at a glance.

There’s a huge difference from making a piece of art that happens to have text that is much more complicated upon first glance, such as typographic posters:


(from Schultz’s Behance)

and designs that are visually striking, but communicate an extremely clear message effectively, like this one:


(From an awesome Pakistani designer’s Behance)

Anyway, whether you agree that incorporating flat design is a good idea or not, and whether you think that you don’t need a designer’s help when you are coordinating website design or marketing materials or what have you, I think it’s important to come back to the basics every once and a while.

Design sends a message, so what do you want to say?


3 thoughts on “On Design: Do you even know what that means?

  1. Client feedback can be the most challenging part of the job. I certainly have had the experience of writing something for a client that I would never pass off as “good writing,” but after following their feedback, that’s where I ended up.

    The best you can do is listen, try to translate the vague suggestions, and get the job done as quickly as possible, so you can minimize your own frustration. Some people are just very particular. Keeps things interesting I guess. Good luck!



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