What Everyone Ought to Know About Design

It isn’t enough to tell you why designers hate it when you tell us to make something ‘pop’ or explain all the jargon we use without first covering what design is. I feel it’s kinda missing the goal of the blog if we’re all not on the same page.

So heads up: this is gonna be fairly long, but really good!


So What is Design?


In three words: Design is communication.

It’s that simple. But that alone won’t do much in understanding the back end of it. So lets break this down further.

Somehow you already know—based on observation alone—those hard wooden bleachers weren’t meant to provide you comfort, but that La-Z-Boy instantly puts you in the mindset of kicking back and falling asleep. 


Both have the intended function of sitting. Their form tells you what kind of sitting you’ll be experiencing.


Therefore, design is information taking form based on a desired function. 


We just launched a new site over at TRAILS Ministries a few weeks ago. As their programs and services were growing they needed to accommodate that growth and give those programs their individual online presence. Before we even touched a WordPress theme or color palette we sat down and discussed the intended function of the site. 


We had to ask and define:

  • Who is the targeted audience?
  • What would they be coming to the site to do and what is their end goal?
  • What information would they be looking for?

Those answers were converted into defining the site’s function which we then took and used it to form the final solution.

Your Creative Project(s) Aren’t Exempt From This


Form and function extends to every niche of design—including logos, flyers, and business cards.

Saying, “Can you design us a cool, trendy logo?,” won’t always translate well to a designer because there’s no information telling the designer how the logo should take form. The function is clear: logos give your company a face, but without the appropriate information there’s nothing telling the designer how that face should look (fyi: cool and trendy are never appropriate information.)

What Design is not


Design is not art.


If you’re giving me side-eye and itching to defend that design is art lets look at the definition of each first.


Design: a plan or drawing produced to show the look and function or workings of a building, garment, or other object before it is built or made; purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object


Art: the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in visual form such as painting or sculpture; producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power; the various brands of creative activity, such as painting, music, literature and dance


Design is objective. It has an intended message, purpose, and reason for being. It is useful and practical in nature.

Art is subjective.

Art is symbolic in nature. It is form for form’s sake. It can be beautiful or offensive. Uplifting or controversial. And its form is subjected to interpretation on personal levels.


This is design


This is art


One has a form based on the requirements and parameters set for it to be functional. The other is an expression of the imagination. One is carefully shaped to communicate an intended look, feel, and brand perception. The other might inherit several different meanings and emotional responses. 


So Why Does This Distinction Matter?


Your perception of design will affect the way you communicate with a designer and the expectations you set. Highlighting the distinction ensures you’re able to get the most out of your designer by:


Providing Better Feedback


There’s a difference between “I don’t like it. It doesn’t feel right,” and “We feel it isn’t communicating to our target audience of single women looking to throw on an easy outfit and hit the town. The colors and patterns used feel very heavy and don’t necessarily move forward on the ideas of light, friendly, and cheerful.” 

Determining if a Project Wins or Fails

You’ll be able to determine if the project misses the mark or falls short as the result of two things: 


1) You didn’t give the designer all of the necessary information, or 

2) The designer failed to either respond to all of your needs, or successfully answer all of the problems you discussed at the beginning of the project.


Your design project can be measured using metrics. You can define if the solution works or fails. The distinction between design and art should guarantee from here on out you never submit subjective feedback to your designer if you want what was presented to be improved upon.


So What Should I Take From This?


Recognize the value design can have on your business.

Use design to solve problems and trust your designer as a problem solver. The most successful solution will be created to your needs.


Highlights, Takeaways, & Quick Wins


  • Design is communication. Always keep this in mind before hiring a designer. Ask yourself: what do I want to communicate with my brand, my logo, my business cards, my website, etc. 
  • Function defines how the design will form. The information you provide will directly influence the final solution’s form.
  • Cool, trendy, and any other really general descriptors are subjective. Keep your information objective and meaningful. Instead of ‘cool’ and ‘trendy’ define your target audience: “Our target audience are 12-17 year old males looking to embrace the hipster culture as a lifestyle.” Something like this will point your designer into a specific direction instead of many. 
  • Design is not art. Design is objective, meaningful, and has a reason for being. Art subjective and the expression of the artist. Use this distinction to set proper expectations, feedback, and get the results you want.