Design is not ‘cosmetic’ work

Good things come with a price. Good Design is one of them. How well do you know what good design is? Do you even understand what Design is ?  These are some questions that keep me up a lot these days. An integral part of my work these days is Design Evangelism through workshops at corporates and colleges.

The good part of things, as it stands today is that owing to the popularity of ‘design learning centres’, there are a lot of ‘designers’. The bad part is that there are very few ‘good designers’. The worst part is that there are a lot of people out there who hire people who are not designers and get them to do design work, for their understanding on design itself skewed and limited.

There are lot who still view Design as an add on-thing. Something that comes later. Historically, the goal of design as an act was to make things look beautiful. This means that the impact of design stopped at the Visceral level. More often than not, this ‘beautification’ would come at the end of projects. In software engineering parlance, Visual Design or the final appearance is a Last-in-First-Out (LIFO) thing. Designers add the visual (cosmetic) component to the designs only after the development has been done.

It is important to let clients know that there is a lot that goes on to make things look (simple and) beautiful. Unfortunately there are many who don’t believe so still. Recently, I got this email from a client, whom I have been chasing to do some balance payment. They shamelessly put it as, we will not pay because the logo design you did was just ‘cosmetic’ work. They go on to further say that for these small change requests we have, on the designs you delivered for the android application screens; we will not pay anything. That is also ‘cosmetic’ work, and we are not in a position to pay. And that we will continue to ask for changes.

In my previous avatar of not being able to say no to clients, and being the good-exploited-designer, I would go ahead and agree and do the work. This time I did not. I reminded about the balance payment and refused to do the work till past payments was cleared.

There are numerous designers out there who do not refuse what the client wants, or question the clients and later complain of being exploited by clients.

Design has moved beyond just the aesthetics. It has even reached the boardroom! It’s time clients accepted that fact. It’s time designers speak more about this.

The client often does not know the terms of engagement with the designers. Is it the designer’s task to inform the client about what design is and what the deliverables would be like? Now this is important because often we as designers ourselves are not sure of what our deliverables are.

Once, I had to convince a client that as a consultant to their product, one of my deliverables would be a critique ‘document’. The client was of course shocked to hear this, because they were expecting fancy screens. It is important to let the client know that even this is work, for we spend the time and energy in doing the exercises. There are many instances where I have delivered only paper prototypes as a part of the final deliverables too. Sometimes they are just wireframes that explain the entire product.

Design is NOT just cosmetic work.

There are ample resources out there to tell you that there are so many more components to design. The sooner you understand this, the better are your chances of a high success to the designer.

If you are a designer in the true sense, either by virtue of training, I sincerely request you to spend some time of yours in purely Design evangelism activities and letting the people know the difference between a the role of a designer and a software operator. Until that happens, we would be forced to pay high amount to people just trained in softwares and assuming they know design well.

#design #startups #teamwork

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The post will form the crux of Chapter 3, from upcoming book ‘Make-it-look beautiful’.
Notes from my teaching and consulting work in Design over the past 12 years.

You can read the previous chapter Do me a favor, kill the term UI/UX .

I am a Designer. I DESIGN.

One of the interesting discussions I remember we had was in Erik Stolterman’s class on the word ‘design’. Basically, Design can be a noun (when used to define a quality of a product). Design can be a activity (I design things.) Design is a profession. Come to think of it, Design also happens to be perhaps the oldest living profession, when you think that every must have been designed in a particular manner before it was invented.

When a designer opens a Design firm, it is a highly challenging situation. And in my opinion, I think it’s more challenging than any other tech startup. Well you may ask why?

To start of with, as an entrepreneur you are constantly doing everything else but Design! Yes, sad but true. So one day you are doing Marketing and Sales and the other day you are writing up proposals. Things you had thought was the job of Managers only. And not to forget what technical writers are meant for, you end up doing that as well. You grow your networking and improve your networking and people skills. You attend gatherings of other entrepreneurs, inspire each other and then find the next gathering and its location.

In the hustle- bustle of all this, Design as an Activity takes back stage. You tend to think that since you are in the Design Profession, you will end up doing good Design (a noun here) any day, no matter how long you do not do it. However, i think that is not true. Design is a process that has to be practiced. One needs to keep doing it from time to time. This can be in the form of simple doodles, sketches, diagrams etc to full fledged design solutions.

Therefore any Designer in a situation like me, should make it a point to realize that they are a Designer first. Design as an activity, thus has to be their forte and the person need to Design things. The biggest advantage of this is that the designer remains creative, is full with fresh creative juices, and only then can he/she lay the pillars for a “Design” firm.