Have you been fooled by the no.1 graphic design fallacy?

Imagine the scenario.

You are creating a presentation on the importance of branding for your colleagues. The pressure is on because as a marketer, if you can’t communicate a message to your own staff, how will they trust you to communicate a message to a wider audience?

Is the font big enough, do you have too many slides? Should you use a different shade of blue?

This post will help you overcome some of these worries.

It will help you use a variety of design techniques to layout documents, such as presentations, in a way that communicates your core message, or messages, most powerfully.

Your design will have a business purpose.

What is the no.1 graphic design fallacy?

Sometimes design is confused with aesthetics.

In this example by artist Julien Carretero the furniture products are aesthetically beautiful, but they don’t fulfill their designed function – i.e being able to sit comfortably on. So as a piece of art, they work. As a piece of design they don’t.

In terms of web design, craigslist is an example of a site that fulfills its designed function well (a directory for people to advertise and search for products or services). However it’s not particularly pretty.

A good piece of content primarily needs to be both. You can create a beautiful piece of work, but if it doesn’t solve your original problem, it hasn’t worked as a piece of design.

[bctt tweet=”if a design doesn’t solve your original problem, it hasn’t worked as a piece of design.”]

An example of aesthetic considerations overriding the objective would be dark text on a dark background. Whilst it looks beautiful, if your objective was to communicate a message clearly, it has failed because users will find this difficult to read.

A better option would be to use dark text on a light background

4 tried and tested techniques to avoid this ultimate design fail

With all this in mind, here are four tips for when you are creating a document, a piece of web content, a presentation etc.

1. What is the objective?

Before you start a project, it is important to set the objectives of what it needs to achieve and in what context it will be used.

Imagine you are designing the poster for a club night. It is likely that you want to communicate a number of things.

Firstly – what the event is, and why people should attend.

Then once you have grabbed the audience’s attention with the above, it will need to communicate where the event is, and at what time.

As it is a poster, the main info will need to be read from a distance away, so you choose a large heading that will tell audiences what the event is called, and surround it with imagery of young, dancing people.

This will immediately allow your audience to read it clearly, and give them context to what type of event it is.

If the audience is interested, they will read further down to find out when and where the event is, so you choose smaller and less intrusive text for these parts.

By always referring back to the objectives, you can ensure all the creative decisions you make help it achieve its goal.

2. Design for your user

Who is the individual you are designing for? Are they old? Young? Affluent? Educated? What do they like, and respond to best?

Have you ever seen those phones with the massive buttons on for older people? This is a great example of designing for a specific user.

As people get older their eyesight tends to deteriorate, as does some of their motor control. The big buttons on the phones enable older people to see, and press the buttons with ease.

What people find aesthetically pleasing or not is very subjective, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t think big buttons don’t look nice. If they work for your user and help them interact with the design better, then the design works.

Getting bogged down with aesthetic considerations, such as which shade of pink you like best is the quickest path to bad design. It shouldn’t matter that you don’t like bright pink if that is best for your audience/design.

Once you have set your objective for a project defining your user should be the next thing to consider. In fact these two things should be done in tandem for best results. Test or look at data if it’s available to define your audience, it’s best not to make assumptions.

3. Clarity

Once you have set your objectives and defined your audience it’s time to start designing. One of the core principles of good design is clarity.

Is it legible and easy-to-read? What are you trying to communicate and in what order? If need be, test it on someone. Do they understand it immediately?


4. Familiarity and consistency

There’s no need to re-invent the smartphone every time you design something. Creativity is great, but it doesn’t mean that everything you create has to be entirely unique.

People look for semantic clues to get a sense of how to interact with a design.

For example, when people enter a supermarket they are used to having certain products in certain places – i.e. fresh produce near the front, tills at the end etc.

If products aren’t where they expect, it can create confusion and frustration. (Fun fact: Supermarkets are actually laid out in specific ways for a reason).

In terms of websites, navigation is usually at the top, buttons and call to actions are consistent and links are obvious.

By creating a design that has an element of consistency and familiarity, you are making it easier for your user to interact with your product.

About now you might be thinking about ignoring this advice because you are worried about appearing unoriginal. Well, don’t.

Yes, it should be memorable and creative, but no, it doesn’t have to be a puzzle for the user to work out. There’s plenty of scope to be creative and original without requiring the user to learn a new skill to be able to interact with it.

This is a great example. When designing the iPad, Apple’s designers used gestures we already use on a daily basis, to allow users to control the device.

Apple created an intuitive user interface that people felt at home with, even though it was an entirely new product.

Having a familiar layout out or familiar elements help the user navigate it efficiently too. At a glance they can work out what’s going on and what the need to do.

If you are interested in this topic, Steve Krug’s book – Don’t make me think has been an essential addition to any web designer’s book shelf for years.

In conclusion, good design for business is like good marketing for business – it’s all about solving a problem or communicating a message most effectively and efficiently.

[bctt tweet=”good design for business is all about solving a problem or communicating a message”]


To avoid a design fail next time you are creating a document remember these key things

  • Design to meet a business objective
  • Design for your user
  • Don’t make your user work to understand your design

If you know someone who designs things without thinking of the overall objective (and let’s face it, who doesn’t), then please share it with them!

And if you liked this post, keep an eye out for the next part in this Design for Non Designers series.

February 22, 2016|

About the Author:

Emma is the Design Strategist at Latitude. She has over 6 years experience in the graphic design industry and is responsible for the visual branding at Latitude.