Me Design Pretty Never

May 21, 2015

Personally, as a designer, the very last thing I want to do is to make something look pretty. I think the urge was beat out of me my first year in college during a series of awkward and painful critiques in my design class. Up until that point, I thought that design was solely about making things look good. But standing in front of the class, being interrogated (sorry, critiqued) by my professor was an eye-opening experience:
Professor: Why did you use that font? 
Me: Because it looked good.
Professor: Why did you pick that color? 
Me: I like blue.
Professor: How did you choose that photo? 
Me: It was free.
Professor: And what was the inspiration for your layout? 
Me: I don’t know.
Red-faced, I would sheepishly slink back to my seat as my professors shook her head and proceeded to lecture my classmates and I on what it meant to be good designers.
Step One was knowing what we were talking about, which meant researching and studying our intended subject matter and developing content and postition.
Step Two was making creative decisions based on that information by using font, color, shape, graphics, photographs, layout, etc. together to create a compelling narrative with the content.
Step Three of being a good designer was being able to articulate and defend those creative decisions to other creatives and to clients.In short, don’t design pretty things. Design with Purpose.
In short, don’t design pretty things. Design with Purpose.

Say it with me now: Design. With. Purpose.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it’s something I strive to do everyday as a creative designer at Nxtbook Media, whether I’m working on a website, ad campaign, or digital edition. I want to help create meaningful and strategic design for our clients that will help meet their goals– not just something pretty.
But I can’t do it alone. In order for me to create a design that is functional and strategic as opposed to cosmetic, the following things should or need to be in place:

I was reminded of some of these very same issues yesterday, when I was reading the blog article Boosting Conversions: 11 Experts Share Their Secrets about the importance of designing websites with purpose, strategy, and focus, that made me sit up and say “Yes! That! Exactly!”
In the article, John Jantsch wrote:

One the best ways to build better sites is to ask better questions… you need to be asking questions about the people who will hopefully visit the site, about the journey the organization wants them go on and about that one very special thing the organization wants to hang its hat on and make sure the world knows about… And more than anything else, ask questions that allow you to help the client understand the value of a successful project to their overall business — when you do that, you can focus on the work you do as an investment rather than a cost.

Scott Stern, founder of Red Stripe Strategy, had the following observation:

There are design and functionality problems I see frequently, but they’re really symptoms of one overarching problem: lack of a coherent strategy… Most small business owners still think of websites as ends in and of themselves. They don’t realize that the site is really just a tool for converting strangers into customers….

And Andy Catsimanes wrote:

I’ve learned… that designers who get the best results for their clients go beyond the usual intake questions like, “do you have a style guide?” or “who is visiting your website?” Because here’s the thing… unless your client has taken the time and committed the resources to find out, they may not have a very good sense of what appeals to their target market. They just know something’s not right and they hope a redesign can fix it. But if you can go beyond the typical design questionnaire and focus on the target audience’s goals, you’ll set yourself well above your peers.

It was reassuring to know that at Nxtbook Media, we are already implementing a number of these steps to create meaningful, strategic design across the board. With our strategic team in place, designers, account managers, and content advisors work closely with our clients from the very beginning to identify their goals for the project, be it an ad campaign, brand audit, promotional video, or website.
Through a series of meetings and interviews we research their industry and competition, their current and past marketing efforts, and their clients’ perception of them to fully understand their story and how we can help shape that story moving forward.
And only after all of this happens, do we talk about design and how our design decisions will achieve their goals, reinforce and showcase their content, and change their business for the better. Good design… that also looks pretty.


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