Adam Mc

Thoughts on the web.

The Definition of Design


designer developer architect user experience

Design in the creative world has commonly been equated to the aesthetics of an execution. We designed fliers, billboards, print ads and direct mail pieces by giving them an attractive appearance and infusing them with visual balance.

Then, when the web gave us more control with CSS we started to design landing pages, portals, microsites and websites. And because we already had so much experience designing things we just kept following the same process – attractive layout, visual balance, clear communication, etc…

But that didn’t work.

Having a sexy layout with great visual rhythm may have made a really great print ad but it did not equal a good website. So to solve that problem companies hired planners and architects to fill in the gaps. They would make wireframes and sitemaps to show what elements needed to exist and where they should go. They would figure out use cases and user paths to define functions and content. Then they would hand that off to a designer to make it look good. Problem Solved.

Not Quite.

As technology keeps evolving, so must design. We’ve outgrown the old definition of design. Design on the web isn’t about just how it looks it embodies everything from the user experience and interaction to the architecture, structure, format and content.

If we would have paid attention to the real definition of the word we would have known all of this from the start.

de·sign (dəˈzīn)

 Noun: A plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made.

Verb: Decide upon the look and functioning of (a building, garment, or other object), typically by making a detailed drawing of it.

If you design things for the web and aren’t fully embracing the needs or wants of your user, you are failing. If you don’t know or understand what they want or what can be done how can you possibly hope to create a meaningful interface?

You can’t. They can.

It’s hard to break tradition but we can start by having architects, designers and developers all work collaboratively on projects. Giving each discipline a voice in the process and keeping communication lines open means they’ll each bring their own expertise to the table. By working together they’ll each learn a little from the other, thus making the whole team more well rounded.

But, in order for that to work everyone on that team will have to be flexible.

Designers: You won’t have pixel perfect control. And that’s ok.

Developers: You’ll be asked to do things you’ve never even thought of. Give it a shot.

Architects: Every decision you’ve made will be questioned. Know your answers, be open to the answers from others.

The user is all of your responsibility, don’t sacrifice their experience for your feelings.

Design is dead. Long Live Design!

Now, go forth! And in the future when you hear, read or say the word design don’t just think about how it looks, think about what it does and why it does it.

OR if you disagree – Share your vision and definition of design in the comments below.

This post was inspired by Jared Spool’s honest and accurate assessment of design today:

For examples of the definition of design in action checkout these other great resources:

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