Design is the Experience

Designers, please start
to think holistically

Illustration of an iceberg.

I've been speaking a lot lately. About design, creativity, UX, UI and interaction design. Mostly in my local community, but more and more, in the international context. I’ve given sessions in Berlin and Edinburgh in the past two weeks. Some things are easier to convey to someone abroad rather than back home. For instance, in Croatia, design is still regarded as a pretty narrow term. People mostly define design as purely visual design, the style, the layer that comes over a “finished” product. A coat of paint you slack on at five minutes to twelve. Things are better when it comes to industrial design, because they think of usability and the user, but even then — only to an extent.

The Iceberg

Photo of an iceberg — @alexcornell

The iceberg metaphor is a nice one. While I understand that most people from other industries only see 15—20% of this complex process, I would expect designers preaching the true meaning of design, the enormous size that is the iceberg.

The complexities of design. The value that design thinking brings not only to a product or service, but to a business. The layers that go way beyond how something looks.

Visual design is just as important as Information design, Interaction design, Strategy, Prototyping, Content design, etc. They're all tools that enable good design. Parts of the process.

“When I'm working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem.” —Buckminster Fuller

(UX) Design

The term tossed around a lot, UX design, is what I feel is true design. True design is a holistic process. Design was never meant to be a purely aesthetical part of the product or service. It was always meant to disrupt an industry, to improve lives, to solve problems. Although you can solve problems with a nicely designed chair, the question that arises: “Is there a need for this chair. Will it solve a users’ need?”

What would it be like if all Design was UX Design?

I’m gonna go out on a limb and think for a moment what would it be like if all Design was UX Design. Let’s deconstruct the term User Experience Design. The word Design already implies that it’s meant to be used by someone. Unlike art, products are designed for users. For people. They're meant to be used by someone. Check. The Experience part — of course, it’s kinda silly to look at products in silos. Not thinking holistically is the value of bad design.

So the conclusion one could reach is that Good design = UX design.

Design driven business

Apple has always been thought of as a design driven company. Design is etched into every last pore of the brand. It’s not purely hardware or software design, it’s the entire experience. From the first encounter, to the shops, products, purchase, customer service, ecosystem, one could go on. The design driven thinking, design driven innovation, design driven business — this is why Apple is a design company. Not because they have nicely designed laptops.

If you haven't, I would strongly advise you to watch Jared Spool speak at An Event Apart Austin 2013 — It’s a great time to be an UX Designer. He develops this thought in length.

Design of the year

Iceberg as a metaphor — GOV.UK Homepage

The talk that Joshua Marshall gave this year at UX Scotland reminded me of one of the greatest example of good design. won the Design Museum Design award of 2013. It’s certainly not the prettiest website. Some people even call it

So why was it awarded? Because it disrupted the way government communicates with it’s citizens. Because it’s user centred, user focused. Because it has one of the best copy’s ever written (D&AD Black pencil). Because it’s extremely usable. Because it solves million of problems. Because it saves millions of pounds. Because it reduces clutter. Because it changes the way governments talk to people. Because it completely disrupted the industry and set a benchmark for all to come.

That’s experience design.

That’s good design.

That’s design.

So please, the next time we talk about design, let’s go beyond visual design.

PS The initial draft of this article was written while visiting Edinburgh to speak at UX Scotland. I’ve just finished my talk and had an amazing meal at the Gardener’s Cottage, hiked up Calton Hill, sat on a bench and wrote having the most amazing view. I heartily recommend this.

Recommend if you agree with some of the key points or leave a note if your opinions lead to a somewhat different thinking.

This entry is the 6th part of my New Year’s resolution project.
Read all of the entries here. We’re half way there!