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The value of design, defined.

Posted by Christina Curtis on March 11, 2015 in categoryUser Experience

What is design?
This particular string of words returns a whopping 2,720,000,000 results in a Google search. The dictionary tells us that design is "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.” That’s a good start.

Design is an extensive term that is often used loosely and not necessarily for lack of knowledge. The discipline is constantly evolving with no signs of slowing down as technology pushes onward at a thrilling speed. In many ways, the landscape of design is not the same as it was ten years ago or last month for that matter.

A relatively young field, design for digital products (websites, applications, software, etc.) is inherently dynamic. The inception of the Internet was a mere 20 some years ago, and today, screens touch so many aspects of our lives. Over the past decade, the world has taken notice of the successes of businesses that invest in design, equipping them to become leaders in their respective industries. These key shifts have contributed significantly to the push for good design. So how do you know if your digital product needs good design? The irrefutable answer is that if you intend for people to touch it, it needs it.

Good design is a combination of things. It is responsible, smart, and engaging. It is obvious and at the same time invisible to the user. It is useful and solves a problem or feeds a need. Design can be beautiful, but it is more than aesthetics. As Steve Jobs put it, “Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. People think it’s this veneer…Design is how it works.”

It is no surprise that with all of this growth and complexity, the job title of the designer has become muddled. On the whole, it is an incredibly diverse field. In the digital design niche, the many aspects of creating one single product don’t allow for one all-encompassing design role. It takes a team.

Interestingly, there are a number of job titles that are used interchangeably in design. These job titles tend to adjust as the field changes and as new trends surface. For this reason, it can be easier to reference the actual work being performed. Some designers possess the skills to fill multiple roles, but in general, there are three types of design involved in creating a digital product, each of which contributes a valuable piece.

User Experience (UX)
Human behavior is the foundation of User Experience design. A UX designer focuses on the way a product works and feels. Their decisions are rooted in research and user testing. They define the way a user will accomplish certain goals or tasks. Each interaction the user has with the product must be intuitive and follow a logical flow or process. The work of a UX designer is most vital in complex scenarios where navigation, organization, and workflow are critical to the success of the product.

User Interface (UI)
User Interface design works hand-in-hand with UX design to provide additional clarity through visual means. A UI designer will create the layout of the interface and ensure consistency across multiple scenarios. They work to establish a solid visual language. Through color, typography, imagery, and the relationship of elements in the interface, a UI designer helps to communicate meaning and expectations to the user. They may also consider transitions and animations, which help reinforce actions with visual feedback and give clues to the user about how to interact with the interface.

Visual Design
A Visual Designer is also known as a Graphic Designer. They are highly concerned with the most minute visual details. These designers craft pixel-perfect icons and interface elements that fit within the UI designer’s aesthetic vision and the UX designer’s workflows. Their work reflects the product brand and makes the experience a memorable and beautiful one.

The Value
In short, working design into your strategy can put your product and business at a great advantage. A 2013 study conducted by the Design Management Institute found that design-driven companies outperformed the S&P 500 by a staggering 228% over the past decade, but the value of design isn’t all in the numbers. Design thinking cultivates innovation. It also leads to informed decision making based largely on user wants and needs. When a product that is made for people is thoughtfully tailored for those people, everybody wins.