The weight of design

Sebastien Gabriel
Dec 8, 2015 · 4 min read

Today’s sunsetting announcement of products like Dropbox’s Mailbox, Carousel, and Facebook’s Slingshot and Rooms re-triggered a question that have been lingering in my mind for quite a bit:

How much design really influences the success of a product?

To understand where I’m coming from, I’m referring to “design” as interaction and visuals. “Design” being an umbrella concept, it can englobe absolutely every aspect of a project or a product, depending on how you see it. What I’m interested in is the actual impact that a UX and UI designer such as myself has on the success of a project.

I think it’s really hard to argue that the products mentioned above were badly designed. In fact, I remember that their respective launch won high praise from our industry, myself included.

Objectively, they checked all the boxes. Good UX flows, polished visuals, gorgeous and informational on boarding experiences, good platform consistency and beyond design, good stability at launch, as far as I can remember. Reaching a level of polish that was making me envious.

Even further, their concepts were good, a lot of paradigms brought by Mailbox and Carousel are used in today’s competitors’ app and while Slingshot was Facebook’s response to the already monopolizing Snapchat, Rooms brought some freshness in how forums could be used and created.

But ultimately they lacked relevance and I cannot bring myself to a scenario where design itself would have saved them, which put me in front of that realization. I may have glorified design.


As a designer, I tend to see my professional world through a very biased prism. Design is usually all I see in a product, how I judge it, because that’s what I know and how I understand things.

As important as it may be, it is only a fraction of what makes a product. But even knowing that, I think that over time this prism grew more and more and distorted my view to the point where design appeared to be able to solve everything, becoming a solution rather than a medium.

This is what I mean by glorification.

Our job is to make things that work, not only that but it is to make beautiful things that works. Going further, I’d say that our job revolve around “selling a vision”. Selling a vision of the perfect product, selling the idea that because it’s effective and simple, because it’s beautiful, it will be relevant to you, the user.

This led me to this question: Are we selling a vision of design to ourselves? Are we convincing ourselves without even knowing it that design is more important than it is? This idea that if you build it well, everything else will follow?

Are we giving too much importance to design? Not only because we are passionate but because we wish that us too, stay relevant, as long as we deliver what we defined as good?

We’re designing experiences over and over, spending time over every little details to make everything perfect. Sweating every aspects of what we do to constantly raise the bar. At which point are we designing design itself ?

When good design becomes not only expected but something that every user is entitled to. When beautiful, smart seamless and invisible is the objective and when we’ve done everything but yet it still doesn’t seem like it’s enough, we get to measure the weight of design; How important it is among all the factors impacting a project longevity and relevance such as the most scary of them all: timeliness.

Timeliness is the perfect storm of good ideas and execution at the right time, leading to success. It can require a small amount of work or years of perseverance. It’s extremely hard to predict, just like well… time.

As much as I would like to think of design quality as a measure of potential success, I realize that I may have looked too long through the prism. I realized that there is more to it and it’s by looking elsewhere, to things beyond my control that the solution lays. Design can only go so far.

I wrote my thoughts in the hope of seeing things more clearly, figuring out how to get better or more effective. As it turns out, I think I created more questions than answers. Oh well.

I guess this is an invitation to re-focus. Re-think what is good design. Design as a mean, not a goal. As a support discipline. As a constantly moving target . A constant race to stay, like the products it serves, relevant.

Thanks for reading. You might feel completely differently than this, maybe I’m the only one seeing it that way. In any case, feel free to let me know your thoughts here or on Twitter.

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