Good design is perhaps one of the most misunderstood creative disciplines, and potentially one of the most undervalued for small and medium enterprises in the marketplace. The value of design is too often reduced to visual choices of colours and logos, overlooking the much larger considerations that skilled designers should have when developing projects for clients.
Graphic or visual design is the final layer over the top, because for the effective designer, form must always follow function. While it’s important not to overlook the considerable value for business that can be found in a coherent visual identity, it remains true that effective design i.e. design that contributes to the purpose of your website, is often invisible.
So if the visual, “creative” aspect is just one part of the designers role, what are the others? Shiva Nalleperumals definition of design is probably a lot closer to the truth.
(Design) is essentially a combination of skills, borrowed from three professions – the practicality of an engineer, the skill of a craftsmen, and the creative pursuit of an artist, combined to solve a problem.
It’s a rather grand definition of the job, and these three skills will always have to be used in different ratios according to need, but in a practical sense it’s true. While effective design is largely invisible, “bad” design is always easier to notice generally because practicality and technical execution are lacking.
A good business website can be beautiful, filled with lush images and amazing rollover animations, but if it’s prone to lengthy loading times, or makes it a struggle to perform actions like making an enquiry, it’s essentially useless. Humans are relentlessly practical like that, and as the speed and ubiquity of technology increases, our standards are only getting higher. Effective technical design is rarely remarked upon by your users, because it’s expected.
Whether you’re designing websites, apps, or even products, effective design can be summarised as minimal input for maximal output. Information should be easy to find, and clearly communicated, and navigation should be intuitive – the benefit of your product should be easy to obtain. Effective design is experienced, not observed.
Don’t put the cart before the horse:
Visual design should always be the layer over the top, and can simultaneously be the most and least important element. If your product design and user experience is seamless, good visual design is the element that will set your brand apart and bring it to life. Visual design and communication is what speaks to and connects with people: “this is why you should choose our brand”.
On the other hand, if your product is hard to navigate and contains many “friction points” (see Objective based Design), if you’re not solving the problem well enough, good visual design will not save you. It’s a bit like running a business as a whole – you can have great branding, skilled employees, and the latest technology, but if it doesn’t have proper management, what’s the point? Great visual design can only be truly effective for your business if the assets and structures behind it have also been designed well, otherwise it’s just a cheap facade.
“Good Design is Good Business” – Thomas J. Watson