Calling Bullshit on "design"

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Every once in a great while, I cave in to common sense and take a sick day. This was the case today. I rested, I slept, I drank soup and tea,rested some more, and worked my way through a giant box of tissues. The result: This completely derivative post. Read it, follow the link to the original piece, and chew on this idea for a while. In the process, give some thought to the role of design in product development, art, publishing, software, websites, logos, advertising, entertainment, fashion and retail spaces.

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. ;)

"The public is more familiar with bad design than good design. It is, in effect, conditioned to prefer bad design, because that is what it lives with. The new become threatening, the old reassuring."

- Paul Rand

From ideas on ideas, via the Yeti:

Design is such a multi-layered practice that it’s often difficult to define. That being said, I believe that the word “design” is increasingly confused with “style”. For example, to most “I like the way it’s designed” means that they like the way that something looks.

The visual aspect of what we do is highly important, and style has a place in that. For
example, if we want to connect with a particular audience, employing a style can sometimes be helpful. That being said, it seems that style often leads efforts. We have to break this habit.


As soon as a particular style is hot, legions of designers reverse-engineer the treatment, and imitate it until it’s everywhere.

The challenge here is that as we are bombarded by these styles, designers, by their own accord and that of their clients and peers, gravitate towards reiterating whatever the style-du-jour happens to be. (Think of the swoosh logos of the late 1990s.) It’s easy to do, the pay-off is immediate, and for a short while, one’s portfolio seems deceptively strong. Most times though, this work is void of the research, strategy, and logic that are necessary to do something effective. As a result, it’s in fact a big pile of shiny bullshit.

In turn, we’re left with scads of generic work that doesn’t hold-up for any length of time. There’s no design there, just polish that quickly tarnishes requiring another coat. In the meanwhile, budgets are exhausted, clients are left to with an out-of-date
“look”, and designers are seen as stylists: kooky kids who like to do fun, pointless things. At the risk of being melodramatic, I believe that this approach diminishes the value of our industry and limits our opportunity to contribute to higher-level discussions.

I’m a believer in what I like to call “hardcore” design. This is design focused on results. It can employ any of a multitude of treatments. It’s not personal in nature, unless this is in fact necessary. Hardcore design is driven by insight, strategy and purpose.

This kind of design forces us to see ourselves as intermediaries, who facilitate defined outcomes. To do this, we consider and weigh business, marketing, communications (and other) challenges, and work to resolve them through design. The end-result doesn’t have to look good, even though it might, but it absolutely must work.

For hardcore designers, “does it work?” is the one question that must be obsessed over. Really, this should be the case for any designer anyways; not whether it looks cool, and not if it can win awards. Hardcore design is about taking away the cute, fluffy stuff, and concentrating on what is actually accomplished.

This kind of design typically doesn’t get its due. Many call this work “corporate” (in the pejorative sense), implying that anything “corporate” must be soul-less, bland and the polar-opposite of what we like to think of as creative. This perspective is simplistic and out-of-date. Apple’s marketing is highly corporate and perhaps one of the most stand-out examples of using design to connect with an audience.

The challenge in establishing an effective design solution that reaches a broad audience is in no way less difficult or creative than making work that is personal in nature. In fact, I’d argue that it’s typically much more challenging, as it requires one to dissociate with personal perspectives, in an effort to understand the situation from a more pluralistic standpoint.

Not doing so is, in my mind, what derails so many design efforts. Clients and designers equally fall into the trap of bringing personal aesthetics (that have nothing to do with the task at hand) to projects. As a result, we see lots of pretty, ineffective “design” out there.

Style will always be there, and it’s for us to employ, just as we would any color, typeface, written approach or photographic direction. And that is just it: it’s a device, and we too often let it drive the effort. You may disagree with me here. You could (rightly) point to a number of groups and individuals who place the same premium on pragmatic design as I; nevertheless, I argue that these groups are in the minority, and that this represents an imbalance in the quality of design actually being delivered.

We have to get our collective heads out of the sand. Everything we do must be held to a higher-standard. Read the entire article here.

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