Good design isn’t decoration. Good design is problem solving.

“I’ve been amazed at how often those outside the discipline of design assume that what designers do is decoration—likely because so much bad design simply is decoration. Good design isn’t. Good design is problem solving.” - The Art & Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen

“I’ve been amazed at how often those outside the discipline of design assume that what designers do is decoration—likely because so much bad design simply is decoration. Good design isn’t. Good design is problem solving.” – The Art & Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen

Purchase Jeffrey’s book The Art & Science of Web Design here.

Catriona Cornett

I am a User Experience Designer with a passion for making people’s lives better through design. I have helped over a dozen organizations obtain a competitive advantage by delivering great user experiences across desktop, mobile, tablet and other channels.

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  • http://www.thisisaaronslife.com Aaron Irizarry

    Great Quote!
    Thanks

    Aaron I

  • http://mokokoma.co.za Mokokoma Mokhonoana

    Amen!

  • http://www.graphpaper.com Christopher Fahey

    I understand the sentiment here — that sometimes a problem that needs a more fundamental design solution often ends up merely being decorated instead.

    But isn’t decoration, like any craft, something that can be done well? Some design endeavors are, indeed, decoration, and the people who work on them are indeed designers. It’s kind of simplistic to say that good design is not decoration, and needlessly (and a bit snobbily) puts a wedge between different types of design professionals.

    For example, what about designers whose job it is literally to design wallpaper patterns? They’re not solving any problems. They’re decorating. Some do it really well, too. Let’s not diminish the work of decorative designers.

  • http://www.inspireux.com Catriona

    Point well taken, Christopher. I think Jeff’s quote has to be taken in the context of what else he is saying in his book. His point is more around the general misinterpretation a lot of people have that the only value that “designers” as a group bring to the table is making things pretty. Design also has to be about communication through a visual representation. While some forms of design really are just artistic and can be done extraordinarily well, generalizing the word “design” as only being about that is a mistake.

  • http://www.vizrt.com NGO

    I have a problem with terms that imply that what we do is solving problems. It means that our daily tasks in life are problems. Sometimes they are though… do we have better terminology?

  • Dan Evans

    Sorry I’m late to this party.

    @Christopher Fahey
    I think that the lowly wallpaper designer is solving problems. His problems consist of his constraints. His design must tessellate or repeat in some way so that it can be printed on sheets. It must also not be too glaring when the sheets don’t match up. The color is an issue, extremely dark or extremely bright colored wallpapers probably don’t sell well. In this way he is not just throwing his creativity out onto the world with no rules to guide him. If he (or she) were then would he still be practicing design?

    @NGO
    I reacted the same way when I first heard the term “math problem” when I was a child. I no longer feel like it means something negative. You might use a word like “riddle” instead though. A phrase like “addressing constraints” is good. I like it because a rational argument can be made to add or remove a particular constraint and change the nature of the “problem”. I like to focus more on the word “solving” than “problem” creating a solution does imply there was a problem, but a designer is paid for the solution and so their trade is solving.

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  • Dean

    Great topic, I am a designer myself. I have always pondered with the idea.
    Does the fact that a designer has created the piece of work, negate that fact that it no longer can be titled decoration?

11 Responses to Good design isn’t decoration. Good design is problem solving.

  1. Great Quote!
    Thanks

    Aaron I

  2. I understand the sentiment here — that sometimes a problem that needs a more fundamental design solution often ends up merely being decorated instead.

    But isn’t decoration, like any craft, something that can be done well? Some design endeavors are, indeed, decoration, and the people who work on them are indeed designers. It’s kind of simplistic to say that good design is not decoration, and needlessly (and a bit snobbily) puts a wedge between different types of design professionals.

    For example, what about designers whose job it is literally to design wallpaper patterns? They’re not solving any problems. They’re decorating. Some do it really well, too. Let’s not diminish the work of decorative designers.

  3. Catriona says:

    Point well taken, Christopher. I think Jeff’s quote has to be taken in the context of what else he is saying in his book. His point is more around the general misinterpretation a lot of people have that the only value that “designers” as a group bring to the table is making things pretty. Design also has to be about communication through a visual representation. While some forms of design really are just artistic and can be done extraordinarily well, generalizing the word “design” as only being about that is a mistake.

  4. NGO says:

    I have a problem with terms that imply that what we do is solving problems. It means that our daily tasks in life are problems. Sometimes they are though… do we have better terminology?

  5. Dan Evans says:

    Sorry I’m late to this party.

    @Christopher Fahey
    I think that the lowly wallpaper designer is solving problems. His problems consist of his constraints. His design must tessellate or repeat in some way so that it can be printed on sheets. It must also not be too glaring when the sheets don’t match up. The color is an issue, extremely dark or extremely bright colored wallpapers probably don’t sell well. In this way he is not just throwing his creativity out onto the world with no rules to guide him. If he (or she) were then would he still be practicing design?

    @NGO
    I reacted the same way when I first heard the term “math problem” when I was a child. I no longer feel like it means something negative. You might use a word like “riddle” instead though. A phrase like “addressing constraints” is good. I like it because a rational argument can be made to add or remove a particular constraint and change the nature of the “problem”. I like to focus more on the word “solving” than “problem” creating a solution does imply there was a problem, but a designer is paid for the solution and so their trade is solving.

  6. [...] Le design se doit d’être un outil pour résoudre des problèmes, trouver des solutions. Il faut cependant accepter et travailler avec les conventions, ce ne sont pas des barrières, ce sont des aides à l’acceptation de votre design. [...]

  7. [...] “I’ve been amazed at how often those outside the discipline of design assume that what designers do is decoration—likely because so much bad design simply is decoration. Good design isn’t. Good design is problem solving.” The Art & Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen [...]

  8. Dean says:

    Great topic, I am a designer myself. I have always pondered with the idea.
    Does the fact that a designer has created the piece of work, negate that fact that it no longer can be titled decoration?