I've begun work on the joint-development of a publishable 'thing' with a friend, one who, during the development process, had written the line: "The democratisation of design has distracted from the progression of service."
I've looked long and hard at this line and I'm still not sure I fully understand all that this line about the commercial aspects of design business is telling me and so I'm really looking forward to reading the argument behind it. My first attempt to understand the line was to deconstruct it to find that: design=service.
That's as far as I progressed. The deconstruction of this line had got me thinking big thoughts about design theory, thoughts which left me in orbit around a question that countless number of individuals before me and an unconceivable quantity of individuals after me have thought and will continue to ask.
What is design?
After the requisite period of time for Sunday morning naval-gazing had elapsed, I ended-up with a hypothesis. That
design is a safety net. A series of visual scenarios (from tightrope-walkers through to motorway junctions) rapidly formed in my mind and appeared to support the concept. Then I did what I don't normally do; to see if anyone else had/was thinking the same as me, first I Googled the start of the line ("design is") to see what Google autocompleted and what everyone else was on about.
Google seemed rather keen to suggest to me that
design is storytelling. This notion of what design is sat uncomfortably with everything I've come to understand about design through the development of websites and their optimisation for business through search engines.
The 'design is storytelling' model of the world has it that design is prescriptive; that the author is in control; writing the beginning, the middle and the end - controlling the plot, the people and place, the motive, the method and pace.
My experience is that the Web is rather unlike a book. You don't start at the front and work your way through to the back. The web is non-linear. The user is in control, linking from place to place, writing their own story, defining their own narrative, arriving at their own conclusions.
Applying this non-linear, user-centric model of the world to design brings you to consider my hypothesis, that
design is a safety net; a system of thought to produce a thing that conveys understanding and confidence to a user. Don't just think about web design though, allow yourself to think about everything which has ever been designed: from drugs trials through to motorway junctions and more.
In any design system, the way a thing looks, feels, tastes, smells, sounds and functions is shaped by the way we use the thing. Good design happens when the designer dedicates their efforts to understanding the application in order to create the user experience (UX). The better the design, the easier the thing is to use and the more effective the thing is at doing its job.
The design process immerses itself in how the thing is used, design keeps the dangerous moving parts safely hidden from view and only exposes the controls which are necessary at any one time.
Design is not prescriptive or dictatorial. Good design keeps the user safe from harm and makes the tool they're using an effortless delight to use and a thing of beauty.
Design is a safety net of features and characteristics, carefully considered and chosen to make the use of things pleasurable and effective. Good design is simply the result of more good choices.