Stop Decorating and Start Designing
December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014
There is an unfortunate disconnect in our businesses. We have a misconception that design is about decoration and not objective visual solutions. We’ve become accustomed to giving designers content only after they’ve already created the design.
Jeffery Zeldman, a famous web designer and author says “Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.” Arguably, decoration is art and can be very subjective. However, good businesses are not run on feelings but rather objective truth. Why then should a design be any different?
This truth will make any good designer stand up and start a slow clap. For those who aren’t a creative, you’ll see why you shouldn’t shortcut the process only by providing content after design is already complete.
The following is a scenario that happened between my boss and I which is a common problem when creatives work with management.
Our company was making a seemingly simple change on our website highlighting our new AdWords service. My boss did what many do. He called upon me, his trusted designer, and told me his goals, aspirations and ideas then gave me a brief overview of the process and prices.
We both finished the conversation feeling pretty confident that I was going to design the perfect solution. He was comfortable that he had given me enough “content” to create a design that matched his vision.
Here is the wireframe I came up with which would appear on our main site’s page:
The tabs on the left are our three step process we take each client through, the middle box was the supporting graphic and the right text was the content (which was written by me).
By no means is this a “bad design”. In fact, it is well thought out and arguably great functionally speaking. But the goal isn’t necessarily functionality. It is functionality’s goal, which is effectiveness. If a design isn’t effective then it’s simply not a good design.
In my case (not all cases) my boss knows what will be effective with our clients and felt this design was not the right fit. After all, he deals with our clients more than I do. That’s why he is a perfect candidate for writing the content. Since he didn’t get me that content, I was designing outside of an undefined frame that I didn’t even know existed. Designing without content boundaries is like asking an architect to re-design a room without blueprints.
Needless to say this solution did not align with what our clients needed even though I was convinced it would be effective.
So, after I gave him an awkward stare that said
he had an epiphany.
“You need content don’t you…”
It had dawned on him that he had just asked me to do the impossible. He tried to “save time” by shortcutting an important step in the design process which actually ended up wasting 3 days creating and waiting for feedback on this first concept.
After our conversation, he sent me the following within a day:
The content was precisely what he wanted and the solution became very clear to me.
I literally got an immediate response after submitting the wireframe for review. Basically, it was exactly what he wanted and he gave me the go-ahead to design it completely. Go figure, right?
The problem was not as much a lack of communication but more so a lack of information. Information is a vital part of the design process in making sure your goals are met with objective, effective design.
In many cases your manager or administrator know more about the business and its clients than anyone else. They hired the designer because they usually don’t have the design vocabulary to tell you what the design needs to look like visually. But, they do have the ability to articulate what it should say. As designers, our job is to ask for the content (which I did not in this case… shame on me), understand the content and then make a solution that stays within the boundaries of that content.
1. The goal of design is to effectively solve problems
Design is based on the understanding of how users see the world, how they think and behave. Then, provide a solution that is visually and emotionally appealing and built for use.
2. Content is the frame
Think of content as the frame of a canvas or picture. A designer’s job is to work freely inside that frame. The more the frame is defined the more refined the solution will be.
3. Content is king
Sometimes, this is a bitter pill for us creatives to swallow. Users who go to a website aren’t going there for the visuals but rather the content (gasp!). How things are designed are made to provide form and function while supporting the content.
Creatives: Do yourself a favor. Ask for content and start designing
Managers: Do yourself a favor. Give the content and start getting effective designs
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