Design is not Pretty

David Shantz -WOW
Sep 15, 2015 · 2 min read

I overheard an executive talking about a design brief in a way that was very candid and revealing recently. They referred to the design process as “Making this thing Pretty” I don’t know where the idea of pretiness as the purpose for design came from. Pretty is only one note on a keyboard. No one serious about design thinks that way. Design is not just strategy meets solution either… that’s the domain of engineers…

So what is Design? Design is the search for the truth. The elements of humanity that establish the personality of a product, or company or delivers the soul for the expression of an idea. The shape of a Jaguar XKE is pretty, to be sure…but to make something so impractical took cojones on the part of Sir William Lyons. There is an element to design that is solely the realm of the new. Making something original that still meets the functional requirements is the holy grail. You can have truth, and still be boring… great design requires something else. The bright spark, that almost invariably deviates a little from what is commonly thought of as being purely right, or pretty, or safe.

Usually when design happens by committee or for some corporate vehicle, it requires a rationale to gain consensus … and you hear the damned funniest things hoisted up the flagpole in justification of a color or shape. This type of process usually diminishes the end result to the commonality of aesthetics.

Ultimately, great design is the alchemy that connects the right style and purpose with the cultural and artistic cues to connect on an emotional level in a way that has integrity.

People go around in the world looking for the things they want to connect with using theirs eyes. When they see something that gets a reaction… it’s the start of something. It could be the start of a long relationship that grows and becomes more intimate. People come to love brands because they are the shorthand for all the things the company or product delivers. The design is one enduring facet… much like the faces of our friends and co-workers.

Who is this, what do they do.. are they someone you could rely on?

The human mind is designed to recognize faces in microseconds, and I suspect that the same mechanism is at work in brand recognition. You would remember someone you know from 30 years ago in a microsecond -your memory could access a wealth of information about them almost without thinking. In design, I beleive we are creating faces.

For this reason, it should be obvious that it’s much more important to be unique and true to the values of the brand than universally thought of as having a commonly admired aesthetic. If everyone were homogeneously good-looking, there would be little to remember people by, and less of a story to be told.

Recognition, differentiation, memorability and integrity with an idea are all the best primary objectives to design.

David Shantz -WOW

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CMO for early stage ventures, Creative Director at WildOutWest: we launch new Ideas: naming, branding, web development