What is Design

Most people think that design is all about the look and feel of a project. If we’re talking about a Tesla, you’re thinking about the shape, contours, color, and the details of the interior. If we’re talking about a house, you’re thinking about the shape & layout of the house, the the materials, paints & wall coverings, and the furnishings and decorations. If we’re talking about Facebook, you’re thinking about the logo, the colors, the fonts, the layout of the website or app.

There’s More to Design

But if that’s all you think design is, then you’re missing most of the picture. The examples above confuse design with what is actually some subset of design: industrial design, interior design, graphic design, brand design etc. When you’re actually going to build a car, house, website, or app, you need to think about design in a much broader way.

You can design a vehicle that just gets you from point A to point B or you could design one that gets you there in style, quickly, cheaply, without gasoline, etc. The final product might look very different depending on the specific solution you’re trying to solve and the constraints you have. The same is true for houses, appliances, and software.

What Is Design Then?

Design is a tool for solving problems – the process of creating potential solutions within given constraints.

Let’s talk about software. The perfect logo, a great color palette, and sexy fonts, all contribute to beautiful software, but none of that matters if your users can’t accomplish what they want with your software.

Take Craigslist for example. The site is plain, but it’s not simple. In fact, the functionality of the site is quite complex. Its simple design helps the site stay easy to use as more and more features are developed to better help users accomplish the goal of bringing local classifieds and forums online. This plain site pulls in over $350 million in revenue each year despite not charging for most of the 80+ million monthly listings. That’s good design.

I’m not saying your product needs to be plain like Craigslist. In fact your product may need to look and feel exactly opposite of how Craigslist looks and feels. What I’m saying is that your product needs to first solve a problem for your users, and then solve that problem in an appropriately fun, beautiful, elegant..etc way.

The Purpose of Design

The purpose of your product is to help it’s users accomplish something. If your product helps users accomplish that thing well and you can sell it for more than it costs to make, then you the ability to show up tomorrow and keep making your product. If your goal is to build a sustainable business, then your first challenge is to design (not build) a product that will solve your user’s problem.

So make sure you’ve gotten very clear about your goals, who you’re building for, what their problems are, and how you intend to build something to help solve those problems.