It’s a provocative question, I know. The question of whether the design community is too insular is one that many in the design community have wondered for some time. There are more designers working than ever before, and design plays a very prominent role in today’s tech-forward industries. Personally, I believe that design has never been more democratic than it is now, and that is a good thing overall.
(Image source: Ian Strain)
But is there still a prevalent attitude of design "snobbishness" that can leave the average user of a design feeling confused and left out of the conversation? Today, we’ll explore this idea and discuss ways that designers can become even more connected to their clients and users.
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The World Outside The Bubble
Do non-designers (or, as I like to call them, "normal" people) really care how high end a website looks? Are they really stopping to admire the beautiful business card they’re scribbling notes on the back of? Does that billboard or Facebook ad really make the kind of impression the designers and their clients are hoping for?
There’s no question that designers are passionate about design. We wouldn’t put up with the madness of this industry otherwise. But are we putting in all of this effort into design for nothing? Is anybody else listening?
The simple answer is: yes, they are. Some of them, anyway. Design is definitely appreciated, but the audience a design client is hoping to captivate is usually a lot smaller than they believe it is or should be. There are a disturbing number of clients, and designers as well, who believe that the target market for their designs should be "anybody" or "as many people as possible."
Wrong, wrong, wrong.
Outside the bubble of design, it’s important to remember that a good 75-95% of the general population is never going to care about your designs. Even huge mega-corporations like Coca-Cola or McDonald’s, with franchises and ad campaigns all over the world, don’t command 100% of the market share for their products. There will always be small pockets of the population that even the most slick and impressive marketing campaigns will fail to reach.
A better solution is to find your niche market and devote all of your energy to reaching only those people. Learn to exclude certain people from your field of vision. As for the majority who don’t care about what you do, never mind them. Your work isn’t meant for them anyway.
Visual Appeal vs. Design
As we all know, design is about how something works. The outer image may make us happy, but if the design itself doesn’t work to solve our problems, it’s not really design. The ideal scenario is a design that looks good and solves the problem in the most efficient way possible.
Many designers, unfortunately, only pay attention to the former requirement, and completely ignore the latter. What’s worse is that oftentimes their clients let them do so.
The industries of traditional advertising and publishing have drastically changed in the past 20 years, yet some clients are still acting like it’s the "good old days" when print and other traditional media dominated the marketing world.
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Having spent some time dealing with designers in the print industry, I can report firsthand that this insulated attitude is still dangerously prevalent. Focusing less on the superficial beauty of your work, and more on whether it is actually reaching the audience you want to reach, is key.
Are visual designers too isolated from other industries? Designers have long struggled with this question, and there have been countless initiatives over the years that have attempted to integrate design better into the world at large.
Design schools are often on the front lines in this mission, offering all manner of so-called "trans-disciplinary" courses and programs to students who want to break out of the bubble and make sure their designs have maximum effectiveness.
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The question, though, is: is it working? Are we designers actually succeeding in our quest for relevance?
This, I believe, is still an open question. How can professionals of different stripes come together and pool their talents in search of creating more ideal solutions for business-owning clients who more and more require a deeper understanding of problem solving from their designers? Are the ways in which we attempt to make the world more cognizant of design effective?
Remember, as a designer, your first task is to provide a valuable solution for your client. Again, even high end, multi-million dollar advertising firms can forget this simple rule sometimes; I’m sure you’ve seen commercials on TV that leave you scratching your head as to what the art directors were thinking.
Just remember to always bring it back to the target user that your client is trying to reach. If this user isn’t going to be happy with your design, it’s time to head back to the drawing board, no matter how pretty it looks.