What Design Can Do — The Value of Design
Naam Insight Series
Design is everywhere. The phone in your pocket, the shoes on your feet, even the lamp in your bathroom. Everything is designed, and everyone — including you — values design, whether you like it or not.
This becomes all the more apparent the moment you encounter something that is badly designed — I mean; have you ever gotten so frustrated by a link that was just impossible to click that it almost made you throw your keyboard out the window? Or that cheap light in the bathroom catching fire because it wasn’t sealed properly and moisture got in? Damn! Right? Bad design is literally everywhere. Thankfully, so is good design. But no matter the quality, it’s all been designed.
Personally, I fell in love with design because it doesn’t make any weird promises. Its intentions, if applied right, are always focused on making our lives a little better — one (small) experience, product or service at a time. Some designers succeed in that, some don’t. Nonetheless, a good designer helps to increase the possibility of success. That’s why it’s important to know what design is, what it’s not, and what it can do for you.
What is Design
Design comes in many different forms; sometimes small, sometimes big, and sometimes totally weird and crazy. Many of our industry’s biggest thinkers have formulated it differently, but thankfully, there’s a clear overlapping message and it reads something like this: “design is executing and formulating a plan or process that increases the possibility of success”. Bam, there you have it.
If you search hard enough you’ll probably find a hundred different interpretations. In the case of ‘design’, this is kind of a good thing when you think about it. One of our core values is innovation and the other is learning through iteration, we can’t really afford to stand still. As a field we evolve as quickly as the solutions we design, resulting in a new definition every once in awhile. In other words, we like to keep it fresh.
In order to achieve the goals we set, we use many different tools and deliverables. This can be anything from a website to a branding system, a logo all the way to one of those clickable buttons we just talked about, or even a social media campaign. It can be a philosophy based on order and grids, or one based on post-modernism. They all share a common goal; that at all times it needs to communicate and translate a message or function to its recipient. It needs to solve a problem that either meets or exceeds the expectations of the user, resulting in a better experience when using the product. If we achieve that, it’s design done right.
Design is, and always will be, a creative field (and I mean that in a good — not overly romantic — kind of way). More often than not, when it comes to design challenges the solution is not neatly tucked away waiting to be found. It’s usually something unexpected that results from the creative work of a team or individual. The use of an uncommon technique such as the creative process is great for finding extraordinary ideas and concepts that no one else has thought of before. Instead of going down the same old roads, new ones are constantly being created. It’s an insightful process that is partly triggered by observing odd everyday practices.
Let me tell you a little secret that most designers don’t like to hear, but is as much a part of being a designer as using Photoshop (or Sketch… let the discussions begin!): “Design cannot happen without constraints”. There I said it. No going back now. At the start of every process, we need a great brief and goal from our client, followed by a clear beginning, middle, and end. Design thrives on restrictions. Those who tell you otherwise are lying, or haven’t figured that out yet.
When I say that design has to have a clear timeline, I do not mean that design is linear. It’s everything but. A design process in my eyes, is best represented with a cone. A circular process that through building, researching, thinking, creating, iterating, and testing will get closer and closer to a solution. All the while switching from research to strategy, from design back to strategy, and from implementation back to research. This process helps us get one step closer to reaching the cone’s point. The point is a metaphor for measuring success and knowing when to stop. The better and more rounded the process and the closer we are to our goal, the sharper the point will be. We all know sharp points can make quite the impact. And bam again, a nice analogy for design!
What design is not and what to expect of a design agency
When you hire a design agency, you’re not just hiring a pair of hands. You’re hiring a team that is trained in creating solutions, defining problems, and researching through prototyping. A team that is used to building whilst learning and learning whilst building. Those that are trained to help you achieve your goals and in order for them to do their job to the fullest extent, please don’t treat them as your personal ‘sparkle making machine’.
As previously mentioned; “design is executing and formulating a plan or process that increases the possibility of success”. It means that a designer is not someone you bring in at the end to give the website some bright colors and lovely typography (aka. sparkle making machine). A designer is someone you bring in at the very beginning.
Unfortunately it still happens too often that when clients build websites, apps, or brands, they wait too long before bringing in the designers. Asking us to make it look and work great at the very end. Unfortunately this is about as effective as giving a camper van a set of racing stripes and expecting it to go faster.
It’s pretty obvious that the camper van and the racing car have been built for completely different purposes. One has been built for speed with every angle carefully considered to optimise performance. The other looks pretty cool and is great for a short weekend away, but you can’t enter it into a Formula 1 race and expect it to win. Both objects, although undoubtedly cars are way too different, made for different people with different needs in mind. For design to be great, the intention needs to be aligned with the project’s goals. To achieve this, design needs to be part of the project from inception.
If you’re having trouble understanding what a designer does and why you need them. The following is a handy paragraph to bookmark.
Designers should be the people that help shape the process of the project, it’s in their expertise. They are the flexible ones trained in creating and evaluating every possible solution. They are the ones that ask real and honest questions, starting with ‘why?’. They are specifically trained in defining and researching solutions. They are observant, insightful and empathetic. They embrace prototyping, testing, and iteration because they understand the world is always changing. They embrace participation between designer, client, user, and consumer. They are human centred, meaning they understand that the final user is always a person. And this person should be the center of the process and solution too. Finally, they are accountable for what they do because they are professionals.
A designer is many things. And truthfully, sometimes a part of the job is just making things exciting to watch, and giving them that ‘wow’ factor. Because as we all know, that effect sticks with people. But that’s merely one small part of what we do.
That doesn’t mean that making it ‘wow’ isn’t on our minds all the time!
Design or Design Thinking
I wanted to take some time to briefly explain the difference between design and Design Thinking. In the last couple of years the term ‘Design Thinking’ has been heard more and more. But what does it mean?
In short: Design Thinking is a human centred tool to think big and observe, find insights, and engage through mutual understanding. It’s a coming together of different skill-sets that creates a collaborative environment where ideas and insights are shared. It’s here that designers work together with engineers, managers, doctors, scientists, and the (not so) average Joe, to find new ideas in places otherwise overlooked. It’s great for times that we have to anticipate future roadblocks, create challenging holistic experiences, or look for new innovative ways that don’t fit into an existing solution. The possibilities of Design Thinking as a system are endless, it’s the implementation that counts.
In the end both designers and Design Thinkers are looking for solutions that create experiences which are better, smarter, more empathetic, healthier, easier to use, and even more profitable.
If you’re interested in reading more about Design and Design Thinking, feel free to read this article we wrote especially for you.
The benefits of good design
Close to everything is in some way or the other designed, from products to complete experiences. It’s clear that it affects our lives — mostly positively — on a daily basis. Even so, good design will never be noticed in a way that bad design will. That’s exactly why good design, is good design. Now designers out there, hold your horses. I’m not saying that good design is invisible or effortless. Although sometimes it should be, I’m very aware that we all need a little spice in our lives and that design can help achieve just that. All I’m saying is that good design serves its function by enhancing or outperforming the expectations of the experience. That’s all.
What’s important for a potential client to know is that the benefits of good design can far outweigh the initial monetary investment. In return, bad design can cost you more than it’ll ever bring in. So you get my point when I say that it’s important to have a clear goal and the right intent. Because these are the things that will ensure a greater possibility at finding a solution that will actually help you. And hiring a great design agency of course. 1 + 1 = 11 and all that.
We have to keep in mind that design can be very powerful. It can change societies and shift powers. It can set you on the wrong foot, or show you what’s right. It can also show you the importance of going green, as well as its ability to curate a world that’s overloaded by (fake) news. It can serve as a container for expressive content or it can hide sensitive content to warn those who choose not to watch.
Good design will set your business apart, or if you want to (don’t ask me why) make it blend in. It can strengthen the bond with your customer or it can break it. It understands ethics and the power of deception. It can bring your business into the present and make it relevant again, or it can just as easily set you back ten years. Design can do so much more than we can even think of now as it’s moving and changing every day. It’s safe to say that as long as you know your goal and hire a professional that asks for a good design brief with clear constraints, your odds at getting a good result have just increased ten fold. Think big, work small.
Can I promise you a great end result? No — just like a driving school can’t ever guarantee they’ll make you a great driver. Can the right circumstances, the right designer, experience, and the right client improve the odds tremendously? Yes!
All I can promise you is that at some point you will need good design and a wonderful design agency to help you out. And I hope that when that time comes around, you’ll think of us.
If you — after reading this article, of course — already suspect that you are in need of our services, feel free to reach out! We are always happy to help. For a sneak peek; check this article to read about our introduction process.
Have a beautiful day.
Timothy ‘Mr. Mau Mau’ Maurer
Designer, parking valet & co-founder at Naam.
Naam is a full service digital design agency from the Netherlands. Find out more on www.studionaam.com