Too often, people confuse design with art.
They think we designers 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).
Art can be anything. But design is creative work aimed at a purpose.
Because it has a purpose, design is scientific, measurable, provable: did it achieve the intended purpose?
Design can be visual: the look of a website or the shape of a car. But it can be non-visual: the plan for a city, the sound of the alerts on a device, the tactile feedback of a dial. These are all design, but not art, and they’re each aimed at a purpose.
“Design is a solution to a problem.
Art is a question to a problem.”
— John Maeda
The work's purpose is the cornerstone of all we do. Every project has a purpose, and it’s this purpose at which all design decisions are aimed and measured against.
We use a variety of tools to understand and achieve this purpose. Many are not very visual — spreadsheets, conversations, documents, diagrams. Before we get into the generative work of creation most people envision as design, we’re analytical. We work in agile formats to suss out the whys and hows. It’s easy to add or remove an entire feature to an app or section to a website when we’re describing it in a Google Doc. But in beautiful, full-fidelity visual design, that same effort could take hundreds of hours.
Of course, we also use many visual tools 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. Some people will 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 comical lack of design originality because it’s become so overused.
But if we review our design work against the 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 a feeling of familiarity and permanence? Go with that blue! Is the purpose to set the brand apart from the norm? Avoid that blue!
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. We help make it measurable. We outline the best way to build it. We design to meet their purpose, build trust with their customers, optimize usability, and promote their brand.