Art vs Design

Good design serves a purpose.

These two posters are trying to do a similar thing – advertise a gig.

Picture of two gig posters

Although the top one is prettier, the only thing that’s really readable is the venue (Gwdihw).

The bottom poster does a far better job of advertising the gig. The artists are clearer, the date is clear and the price is clear.

Too often design is associated with only how something looks. To quote Steve Jobs:

It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works

People talk about “the design” in terms of the graphics, the typeface, the colours. What sells the product is the message – something that needs to be presented clearly, no matter how pretty the artwork. The delivery of this message is the design.

The idea is no different on the web.

The intent of a feature should be absolutely clear. Minor graphic details are largely irrelevant.

The missing arrow and placeholder text in IE7 won’t stop a user from completing the primary function below: searching for a group. The embellishments may enhance the experience, but the core feature is clear, works well and gets the job done.

Comparison of minor differences between Chrome and IE7

Next time you’re commenting on design, think first about what the design is attempting to do. Once that task is clear, garnish it with striking graphics, beautiful type and dramatic colours; but don’t forget that design has a purpose. Anything else is just art.