The Death of Design is Highly Exaggerated

I am a humble designer. I am part of a wonderful craft that is often times misunderstood or oversimplified. I want to take the time from a designer’s perspective to illustrate why design will never die, but rather just be what it is.

There has been a trend regarding something I love — design. Ads on TV pitching how one can “design your own website,” starring former Green Bay QB Brett Favre and even some in the “usability” community saying web design is dead. What’s the connection and why are these pitches and messages trending?


So I am flipping through my Tivo channels with the speed and dexterity of a ninja, and I stop on an ad.

“You can build a website for $5… you don’t even need a web designer!”

I think to myself, “Someone paid money to buy this ad space. So they at least see a need to be filled. There are seemingly many ad buys by many vendors on a mission to make my job obsolete, but why?”

I have been kicking this topic around for a while. I wanted to take an objective approach to what I think great companies like Square Space, Weebly, Wix and many others assert — you don’t have to pay a lot for good design. I think to a certain extent good design doesn’t have to be pricey. But just because you “build it” doesn’t mean they will come.

Let’s say I am strictly coming from a dollars perspective. If it was guaranteed I could use a template to accomplish my business goals whilst saving tons of money, I would be all for it. The business reality is you cannot. And if you could DIY design, it would be temporary, and would be more a product of bootstrap realities rather than ideal.

Unfortunately, you can’t build a website for your business with any sort of real ROI for only $5. Otherwise, I would do it. I would seriously do that. You can possibly design and build your own salad at your local Wendy’s for $5. Your return on investment there is a tasty salad, which could be a segue to discussing the real issue. The target audience for these ads is buying into this idea to a certain extent.

Admittedly, I don’t have the adoption rate numbers or demo for these types of services, but one can see that these ads for these types of services are growing over time and not diminishing – equates to more ad buys. To support my argument, read this inspirationally titled post: The Death of Web Design

Templates don’t equate to design obsolescence (Sorry!)

Web design, graphic design, interior design, product design, etc., is just design in a general sense. It’s all the same dysfunctional family and all different facets of the same diamond. Designers solve visual problems. That’s what we do.

Saying design is dead because of a minor automation advance like templates is about as silly as saying we don’t need pastry chefs to make our cakes because we can freeze dry cakes. (The parallel doesn’t have be exact. The point is I like cake.)

Think about it like this: You’re a master pastry chef with a really cool french name (ooh la la) and some company says you’re obsolete now because they can freeze dry cakes. There’s a place for those freezer-burned cakes (…in my belly). But don’t serve that frozen cake with the idea that what you’re serving is the full flavored passion and artistry of a master pastry chef. That chef would never be obsolete, no matter how many cakes you freeze.

To assert design is dead is ignoring the cyclical nature of design, e.g. skeuomorphic to flat. Design trends change because designers change it. So for the sake of argument, the same templates that are heralded as the end of design today will be rendered obsolete tomorrow. Recently we are experiencing a design trend in flat design because of mobile, and some folks out there have written many posts on how skeuomorphic design is dead. It’s really not–look at Apple Watch:


Why is the idea of design’s death trending?

This is a tough question to answer, but the adage “follow the money” can help possibly understand the rational. There is nothing wrong with templates, but templates don’t render a craft like design obsolete. It just doesn’t. And without experience, you can’t build it on your own. If we follow the money, we get a better picture of why many businesses may want to perpetuate dead design messages.

So companies that provide theme services benefit from charging their fees and locking clients to their tech, and designers within said companies benefit with wage increases just for them. Because “web design is dead,” in turn, their profits are far greater for having exclusivity on design. This equates to design, as means for livelihood or job, suffering. It’s speculative–I know.

In either case, design shouldn’t be bottled or ziplocked. Because design simply doesn’t work that way. Design is like a river that flows and flows, and in web design, a penny wise is a pound foolish.

Life Without Design

I really want to understand different points of view. I think people today don’t understand freedom of speech nor freedom of thought. We don’t have a right to not be offended. As well, I want to immerse myself in all of this in a different way because one can’t just defend a point of view from one perspective. I believe one should be able to see opposing views and really try to understand them. And just because we disagree doesn’t mean we are disagreeable. So if design is dead, what would the world be like without design?

Saying web design is dead is like saying any type of design is dead. Design is the craft of solving visual problems no matter whether those problems are in a viewport, on a brochure, in a community, in spaces, etc.

So in the following examples, I will attempt (in a small way) to show the impact in a retroactive time machine view if we were to eliminate design from personal and social experiences.

davinciford frank apple nike

What design is (to me):

  • Design improves over time without limitation despite automation advances.
  • Design helps move technological advances forward.
  • Design drives you around to get you lattes–yum.
  • Design is what you wear.
  • Design is where you live.
  • Design helps humanity.
  • Design will always be misunderstood.
  • Design is everything.
  • Engineers build the design.
  • Business strategy guides the design.
  • User needs help guide business strategy.

Design is everything

The fact is design helps all of us frame dreams. Those dreams didn’t exist before the thought was penciled on a notepad or on a napkin. Design helps all of us reach for things that don’t yet exist. This life is a wonderful mix of experiences, and this life is certainly not fair. However, this life is also a vehicle in time and space to design a better future for us all. Why would anyone want that to die?

We stand on the shoulders of great people that have done so much for design. I would hate to be in an existence where there were no design. Some things just need a personal human touch and design is no different.


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