Updated at 2016-06-15 22:59

Design is a plan how to construct a product.

Related to creativity.

Before designers, there were craftsmen. Designer is a profession that was born when the making of things got separated from the planning of things. Designers create designs and processes that other people or machines follow while constructing a product.

Design specifies following in some degree:
- What it looks and feels like.
- How it works.
- How it is made.

Design is split to design disciplines. As designing can mean planning in almost any form, design disciplines are used to narrow down the focus. There is management, engineering, graphic, interaction and even sewing pattern design. Design disciplines overlap with each other and are sometimes hard to separate e.g. interaction design and user interface design.

  • Graphic Design: Graphic design uses images to deliver messages. They may be illustrations, typography or pictures.
  • Interaction Design: Focuses on how a person interacts with a product. The main focus is that in the end it fulfills the goal of the user, whatever that may be.
  • User Interface Design: Focuses on how the system output is presented and how the user input is inserted. You cannot have interaction without some kind of an user interface, so this is related to interaction design.
  • User Experience Design: Focuses on the overall usage process of a product. This includes e.g. interaction design, user interface design, usability design, customer support. The main focus is that the whole usage process is an enjoyable and fulfilling experience.
  • Web Design: Focuses on planning website layout and usage.
  • System Design: Focuses on splitting systems into smaller components that together solve the problem.
  • Data Design: Focuses on the processed information.

Normal designer focuses on a few design disciplines. So term "designer" might mean a totally different set of skills for different people. Usually designer translates to a graphical designer, but solely graphical designer has very limited usefulness. Keep that in mind when recruiting designers.

Designers should always aim to create timeless and authentic design. Sadly, very few get to create something timeless.

  1. Focus on speed, reliability and function. Show the strengths instead of trying to hide weaknesses. Removing external ornament and showing beauty in pure content. Elegance through efficiency.
  2. Think about consistent and usability. When style does not dictate how processes are designed, functionality is represented in its most optimal form. When you truly focus on performance and function, consistency and usability should come naturally.
  3. Removing everything that has no function. Visual cues have a major function. Features requested by users do not always have a function. When in doubt, remove.
  4. Small details. Timeless design is not minimalism. It is about caring even the smallest details. Every detail must improve the product.
  5. Does not focus on a specific trend. Trends will come and go. Do not use skeuomorphism if it does not help the usability.
  6. Does not settle on compromises. If something does not seem to work just right, think out of the box. Listen to your gut, trust your brain.

You know you have created timeless design when it feels undesigned. User or perceiver cannot see it being any other way. If you need to explain your design rationale, the design can be improved. Do not design for the sake of designing, design is just a tool.

Design Workflow

  1. Understand the focus. What should be emphasized. The values of the company you are working for. What kind of brand does it represent and is the brand voice.
  2. Understand the concept. You need to understand how the target works beneath the surface to truly design it. If you are designing a product, understand the concept, what the product does, why it does it and how it usually do it. To truly design web pages you need basic understanding how HTML, JS and CSS work. Collect ideas from client and their clients. Find out mental models and what people expect.
  3. Understand the context. If you are designing a logo, learn what content is wanted to be shown e.g. company name in logo. If you are designing a web page, content changes how the design should look. Consider asking realistic content for the design if possible.
  4. Share you understanding with others. Share your findings with the team that you are working with. Make sure whole design and development team has shared and consistent understanding and vision.
  5. Create initial designs. Sketch ideas to paper to free your brain for more ideas and move to the next one.
  6. Enter Validate-Mutate-loop. Validate by asking from client. Mutate by sketching and prototyping more.
  7. Refine. When the client is happy or you are out of time.


Initial number of concepts            -> 20 options (+20)
Testing and validation by client      -> 7 options  (-14)
Mutation and new designs              -> 10 options (+3)
Testing and validation by client      -> 3 options  (-7)
Mutation and new designs              -> 5 options  (+2)
Testing and validation by client      -> 1 options  (-4)
Refine                                -> 1 solution

Initial design is your best guess in the given context. Test the design and get some facts. Final design should not be a guess, it should be a hard fact.

Reinventing the wheel is stupid without exceptions. Professional designers do not have the time and resources to innovate every time. Designers should use well established standards, borrow ideas from others and create the optimal solution for this particular project.

Combine solutions and ideas to create your own. Being a perfectionist and creating everything on your own makes you a useless designer. Copying solutions inside your own design discipline makes you an efficient designer. Including ideas from other design disciplines make you an innovative designer. Including ideas from totally different contexts makes you a genius.

Always focus on the most complex parts when refining. In rare cases you may need to take a step back and think out of the box to make your design more innovative. Redesigning the most complex, the most used or the slowest part of the design is usually good place to start.

Designing for Others

When designing for a client, the most important thing is to get the client to understand your process of working.

Always have a written contract. Contract should state that the intellectual property is yours until they pay you. It is usually good idea to have a cancellation fee.

Planning everything up front is impractical. Communication between client and designer can be incomplete or many aspects of the design can change. Most of the cases client does not even know what he really wants.

Work in iterations. You should work iteratively when offering your design services. Get client to see the rough design as fast as possible. While using iterative process, designer should not have problems with deadlines. You should have at least some version of the design ready.

Start with and focus on visual design when...
- Product has many similar competitors e.g. games.
- Product has a social element e.g. communities.
- Product needs to appear credible and high quality e.g. finance.

Start with and focus on interaction design when...
- Product has a big set of features e.g. enterprise resource planning.
- Product is used daily e.g. alarm clock.
- Product is mobile first e.g. Foursquare.

Prototypes are important. Advance to working prototypes or paper mockup testing as fast as possible. Give client more opportunities tell you if you are going to the wrong direction.

Design Offer

It's common to for a client to ask for offers from multiple designers and agencies. The client then accepts the offer with the best value for the price.

Try to keep the offer short, personal and professional.

Offer layout:

  • State that this is an offer for agency services.
  • Include your name, company id, phone number, email and website.
  • Include date and to whom is the offer directed.
  • Clearly state what you are offering, what is included and what is not.
  • How will you deliver the final result? Over the Internet or on a DVD?
  • In what format will you deliver the result? PSD, PDF, JPG, HTML and CSS?
  • State your price and costs of additional services.
  • State that your price contains project related image manipulation related to any images that the client possibly provides.
  • State that images can be bought from image banks. Purchase from image banks are always confirmed before made and their cost is added to the final bill.
  • Estimate how long would the project take. State that project milestones and deadline are decided on the written contract.
  • State that you require 40% of the final price before starting the project and rest 60% + additional costs are billed when the project has been approved by the client. State that there is 14 day payment time with 9.5% late interest rate.
  • State for how long the offer is valid and is the last possible date. Usually for a few weeks.
  • State when the project can be "approved" by the customer.
  • State that all extra work after the project completion and work unrelated to the contract are billed on hourly rate depending on type of work. Include prices if you can e.g. copywriting is usually for 60€ - 90€ per hour in Finland as of 2012.
  • State that all materials will be copyrighted to the client after the final payment has been made.

Finally include small introduction of your design company in one or two sentences. Emphasis on client-centric operation model and iterative process, how you can make design unique from other companies and how big company you have.

End the offer stating that you hope this leads to co-operation. Include name, signature, contact info and date.

Design Reviews

Design reviews are usually bad. It’s a meeting where people who haven’t given the design problem or solution much thought, until that moment, rip apart the work of someone who has.

Reviews and critique should pose questions and uncover opportunity. It's not about blaming or getting personal.

To make design reviews more fruitful:

  • State out-loud in which stage is the design.
  • Allow designer to describe what they were trying to accomplish with their design.
    • What was the problem?
    • What were the priorities they took under consideration?
    • What did they bring from what they learned in previous reviews?
  • Now anybody can speak if they don't agree up to this point.
  • Then the designer shows us what they’ve done.
  • They specifically talk to what the design is trying to do, telling us what they were thinking and how they solved the important problems.
  • Everyone starts with what they liked with the design. Only then you proceed to the "constructive" parts.
  • Exploration and questions.