My love/hate relationship with Visual Design

Joshua Söhn
Jan 13, 2016 · 4 min read

Visual design for me leaves a sour taste. Whenever people ask me to work with an existing wireframe or update the interface of an existing app, I feel that I’m not asked to do the “important” work of design. The part where it’s less about executing and more about thinking, finding solutions, defining a goal and working to make as many users as possible reach that goal.

I think the reason why I have that bad attitude against visual design is through Dribbble. As you click through the platform you can see many shots including a nicely designed (and mostly over-animated) interfaces, which puts aesthetics over functionality. A good example of that is the “Daily UI Challenge” where designers post a shot of a random UI component each day for 365(366)? days. I believe that every good design takes more than just a day and I don’t think any of these designers even took a full day to create the work. Which is okay, because they have more important things to do right? Good things just take time. Airbnb wasn’t designed in a month. iOS7 wasn’t designed in a year.

“I feel that the hardest part about these daily shots is to figure out the content.”

No meaningful and good design can be created without content, constraints and a goal. It’s like an architect is asked to design a house without the information of the space available or how many people will live in that house. Sure he can create a nice looking, tasteful house, but trying to squeeze it into a spot at the street will not work. The work he created is unusable, the design unbuildable.

The whole point of designing is to provide a solution for a problem or need, whether it is to bring people together or selling a product. If there isn’t a problem there can’t be a solution and therefore there can’t be a design.

“But this is just for practice!” Okay, I get your point, I myself also created dozens of redesigns/concepts just to get better at using space, color and typography. It’s a good practice and of course you should continue experimenting. But what about next time you create a redesign, you not only execute, but you take some time to think before that. Think if the design you are creating solves more problems then it creates, is representative for the values of the brand/website/app, or is it just trying to follow the latest trends.
Also I understand that you post your “design” on the Internet to get recognition, follower and likes, but also to attract clients. But are those clients which come to you because they like something you created in 3 hours those who you want to work with? You transfer the message that design is easy, that an dashboard for an app can be created within a day and the client wants you to live up to that expectations, when working with you.

We should never design for ourselves, or worst to impress other designers, we design for clients and their audiences. When we design a portfolio, we shouldn’t ask if it’s visual appealing to us but rather if it’s simple enough so everyone can see our work and contact us with just a few clicks.

Visual Design is just the way things look, but if there’s just a nice paragraph of “Lorem ipsum” no one benefits from it. Just creating something for the sake of doing it is not something anyone should waste time on.

But enough ranting. Visual Design is important. A few days ago I was looking for a way to use a proxy on my TV which lets me watch all content available on Netflix, extending the restrictions in Germany. I came across a few sites which all offered the same service and I left without trying out a single one. The reason was that all sites where asking for my money or data, but all of them were so ugly, that I wasn’t tempted to try out any of them. The sites had all buttons at the right place, all the needed informations but the typography, colours and spacing were so badly executed that I simply had no trust in the company behind the site.

Design can you make feel very differently about the content you are seeing on a site, but in the first case it can convince you to feel safe about spending money on something, make you feel the product or service is easy to use or just simply transfer a professional image of the company.

Joshua Söhn is a Designer specialised in Art Direction & Product Design, you can learn more about him or .

Joshua Söhn

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One man design department at @Kontist.