If you ask ten people what design means, it’s likely you’ll find that a definition from each person will vary. After 23 years in both textile and User Interface/User Experience design, I’ve found that there is a common thread weaving beautiful design with successful products, regardless of the industry or product.
In my previous career, as a textile designer, the company I worked for would host a regular workshop for our customers called Textile Fundamentals. The workshop was a two-day event held in rural central Maine where we would walk our customers through every step of the manufacturing process. At every workshop, we toured the historic mill showing the processes of carding and spinning fiber, dying yarn, dressing the loom, weaving the fabric, and shipping it out the door. As a senior designer, I was privileged to give a presentation of the design process during these workshops. However, in order to discuss design, I first had to define what it meant.
It’s a simple question, and I wanted a simple answer. The more I tried to define design, the more questions I had. Is design simply art? Why is design important? What about color? Must all successful designs be beautiful? How could I possibly explain the design process without defining what it is? As I wrestled with this answer and researched multiple design theories, I found what I believe to be the most perfect and concise definition. Simply put, “Design is Beautiful Solutions” .
Two words. That’s it. So, what does this mean and why do these words define design accurately? Well, it means at its core, design is about problem solving. Whether it’s textile or user experience design, our job as designers is to provide solutions for the end user. Regardless of the design medium, the goal remains unchanged. We must provide solutions that are visually engaging and beautiful, but also serve a functional purpose. A practical solution without beauty is simply engineering, and beauty without a solution is simply art. When solutions and beauty are combined, we enter into the complex and nuanced world of design. And, the purpose of great design is ultimately to meet the needs of the end user.
When clients approach us to design a product, we always begin with some core questions:
Who will use it?
Why will they use it?
Where will it be used?
What purpose will the product serve?
What experience do we want users to have?
What branding message(s) do we need to communicate?
What is our budget and timeline?
What are our technical and/or branding limitations?
Once we have identified the answers to these questions, we are able to set goals for the product. Effective design is intentional design. Every decision must be made in context of the user and the product goals. The challenge this presents is setting aside personal preference in favor of what is best for the user. We will learn everything there is to know about the company, their product, and most importantly, their users. Careful attention must be given to users in order to learn about their habits and expectations. This combination is what leads to great design - a delicate balance of subjectivity (preference) and objectivity (logic). As long as the user is always the center of the design process, we can reduce our natural tendency to create designs based on our own personal tastes and needs. Ultimately, a product that engages the user, while meeting their needs and expectations, but remains true to the product requirements, is a success.
By working collaboratively through every step of the design process, we can ensure that every decision made provides an exceptional solution for the company and a superior experience for their users. When beautiful design creates a successful product solution, we know our clients and their users will be happy, driving successful business for years to come.
 Antúnez, J. L. (2013). What is Design? Retrieved from https://medium.com/@jlantunez/what-is-design- c4be733141f1