People confuse design with art far too often.

John Maeda once said, “Design is a solution to a problem. Art is a question to a problem.” We agree and make iterative, collaborative, and deliberative efforts in our design work.

Given all this effort, let’s look at the design process. Let’s shine a light on what separates design from beauty, on what we do behind the scenes.

Designers don’t await our muse, and then — poof! — bring evocative new visual creations into existence. That’s art (an insultingly reductive definition of it, to be sure).

Actually, too many designers do treat their job as art. With this article, we’re taking a stand against this prima donna design archetype. You are not the client! You have a job to do! You are not the hero of this story!

Design succeeds by fulfilling a functional need and excels when solving a problem someone doesn’t know about. This is why design begins and ends with our singular core tenet: empathy.

Empathy drives us to meet actual needs, find ways to delight users, and support our clients and their customers to an emotional level beyond the pragmatics of meetings and metrics.

A spreadsheet won’t get customers to fall in love with your brand. Intelligent, empathetic design does.

Design is where the heart is. We take an empathy-based approach to ALL of our work.

Design is purpose-driven

A work of art can be anything (apparently, this is art). But design is creative work aimed at a purpose. Because it has a purpose, design is empirical, measurable, and provable. Did it meet the purpose, or not?

The work’s purpose is the cornerstone of all we do. Every project has a purpose, and it’s this purpose at which we measure all of our design decisions. As we work, we ask questions that verge on scientific:

  • Is it effectively communicating in line with our goals?
  • Will the content motivate the audience into action as we intend?
  • Does the audience know what to do when interacting with the design?  
  • Did it achieve the intended purpose?

Many tools go into achieving this end, some less glamorous than others, but all valuable.

Conversations, spreadsheets, documents, and diagrams are not visual, not typically what comes to mind with “creative” or “design.” That’s because before we get into the generative work of creation that most people envision as design, we’re analytical.

We work in agile formats to suss out the whys and hows. After all, we can add an entire feature to an app in 30 seconds of typing into a Google Doc. Easy-peasy!

Deeper in the process, a designer in the wide world may develop visuals: the look of a website look or the shape of a car. But plenty of design work is non-visual: the plan for a city, the sound of device alerts, the tactile feedback of a dial. These are all design — not art — each aimed at a purpose.

Before embarking on any design project, we ask ourselves similar questions that a scientist would.

The details are the design

At Cozy, we employ many visual techniques to achieve our intended purpose: layout, typography, color, gestalt psychology, shape, line, and so on. These all have subjective foundations; everyone will respond to a given design differently. From our empathetic point of view, we respect — even cherish — these differences.

Some associate that blue with power and stability through a complex psychological network of connections to big, permanent things like the sky and ocean. Others will associate it with a near-comical lack of design originality because it’s become so overused.

If we assess our design work against its purpose, we can ensure it is effective. We can avoid — or at least minimize — subjective debates. Is the goal to build trust by imbuing the brand with familiarity and permanence? Go with that blue! Is the purpose of setting the brand apart from the norm? Avoid that blue!

As designers, we’re attuned to how a simple change in hue can influence a person’s experience on your site. Details can make or break a person’s impression of your design.

Our clients hire us to benefit from our decades of design experience. Our job is to throw the full force of our expertise in the direction of their purpose.

Want to see some results from our designers? Check out our work.

Purpose + expertise bring us to our clients’ desired destinations.