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Good design means more than looking good.

By on Apr 21, 2005 in Web Applications, Web Design

One of the most important challenges facing owners and managers in our user-centered world is moving design to the forefront of their company’s culture.

Many decision-makers still think that design is about “making it pretty.” Companies with this attitude are shortchanging their customers and will be left behind as design-centric organizations continue to surge ahead.

Some owners and managers realize that design is important but still fail to put it first. They may think that having an attractive looking product as a top priority means they are design-centered, but this doesn’t reflect a design-centric attitude; it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what design is.

Scott Berkun, Project Management Guru, puts it well:

[A] useful categorization might be designers and Designers. Little d designers tend to live at the tail end of the process (Downstream). They are involved in tactical decisions, and respond to choices and decisions made by others. This often puts them in the position of doing icons, simple style and layout work, and other production activities. Big D Designers take on strategic design thinking (Upstream): what features will be in the website? How will they work? How can we prototype not just the style, but the business model, and the customer experience? How will it all fit together? What prototypes do we need to convince the team this is the way to go? How do we get business and engineering involved? Etc.

In organizations where design plays a passive role, someone else is doing the heavy design thinking, deciding which ideas and concepts drive the website or software product: most of the time these people are not designers and have no formal design training. Sometimes it’s engineers, who drive the concepts as a by-product of the engineering and technical choices they make. Other times it’s a project manager or team leader that inherits the responsibility. This means that the Big D designer, is not someone with the word design in their job description. It’s someone else.

So if you wonder why a company with dozens of good usability engineers or designers doesn’t seem to produce a quality level that matches, guess what? Those folks are probably not driving as much of the show as they’d like to.

Design is more than making a product – a website, application or toaster oven – look good. It’s a focus on making a product meet customer needs, be easy to use, and be enjoyable to use. The most attractive dressing will not disguise a poorly designed product. It’ll just look good while being confusing and ultimately disappointing.

It’s true that a “big D” perspective makes our job more satisfying (not easier), but I like it because it makes our clients’ jobs easier, satisfies their customers more, and helps ensure the success of their business.

Hey! This wasn't written by a sleuth of bears! It was written by , who does awesome work at Loud Dog, a digital branding firm in San Francisco that helps businesses express themselves authentically via identities, websites, and marketing collateral.

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