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The Dying Art Of Design


Progress is good, but we need to make sure that we’re progressing in the right direction. Our fundamental skills and the craft of design have started to take a back seat. Using the right tools and techniques is certainly an important part of design. But do our tools and resources make us better designers?

Taking a close look at the current state of design, we can see that sometimes modern design tools and processes do more harm than good. Please note that in preparing this article, we presented basic questions to designers, from beginner to expert, in an unscientific poll. Close to 600 designers participated.

Draw Comics The Marvel Way Link

As a teenager, I loved comic books: the art, the stories, the super-powers I wished I had. I remember the point when I went from reading and enjoying comics to wanting to create them. I became obsessed with being able to draw exactly like the great comic book artists of that time, people like Jim Lee1. Taking books like How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way2 out of the library was like having the artists themselves sitting next to me, showing me the way. Many designers can relate to this, because today through blogs and Twitter we can follow those whom we consider to be the best designers in the world, learning what they read and where they go and maybe even getting a glimpse of how they create the work we so admire.

Superman and Batman
Batman and Superman3, drawn by Jim Lee.

This “how to” approach is reflected in the design resources we find today. Soon after a certain style or effect becomes popular, tutorials and other tools to create it become available. But the element that was missing from my “how to” books is the same element that is missing from these tutorials, lists, and galleries: “why.” Why did they choose that typeface? Why did they opt for a minimalist style? Why did they use that particular technique to spotlight the product? We can go through the motions of creating a design, but we really need to understand why it works. As we’ll see, certain historical developments offer additional insight.

Imitation And The Cargo Cults Link

What is original? More to the point, is anything original? Defining originality in design is one of those complex gray areas. This subject has sparked ongoing debate about what is inspired and what is blatantly copied. Last year, Jeff Veen4 gave a talk that showed how the cargo cults5 of the World War II era relate to this discussion about design today.

During the war, islands in the Pacific region were key tactical locations in the battle between the US and Japan. The two countries began to air-drop food, weapons, medicine and other supplies there. Some of these supplies were shared with the indigenous people who lived on the islands. When the war ended and the air bases were abandoned, the cargo stopped dropping.

Cults sprouted up that enacted rituals imitating what they saw the soldiers do, believing this would bless them with supplies. They even constructed air strips, bamboo control towers and straw planes, all in the hope of bringing back the airplanes with their bountiful cargo. The reason this copying didn’t work, Jeff Veen points out, is that they missed all of the underlying principles.

Straw Plane
Straw plane6 made by a cargo cult of the South Pacific.

We can see modern-day examples of this by comparing the iPhone to the subsequent copycat phones that failed by only mimicking what their designers thought made the iPhone a success. Simple imitation completely misses the point of what made the original great. Some phone makers, including HTC, wound up being sued by Apple for patent infringement7. This goes back to how we use the design tools and learning resources available to us. There needs to be an element of intention and a deeper understanding first.

The Modern Designer Link

The Designer’s Diet Link

The diet of a typical designer is low in in-depth content and high in inspirational lists, tutorials and freebies. A review of blogs and our poll of design professionals shows a clear trend in the informational diet of creatives. They consume a lot but bypass a deeper understanding of design. In-depth articles and case studies are the least-read articles. Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.

Designer Diet

Designers feel most comfortable starting their latest project by sifting through inspirational lists and working in their favorite computer application (Photoshop was used by our poll respondents more than all other software combined). And what about those freebies? Designers devour them for their projects. In fact, they said they use freebies more than client-provided, stock or original assets. To be fair, this is likely because these types of articles and tools are highly visible online, but this is still a bit daunting to hear. This content would not exist without such a big audience.

Tutorials Should Foster Thinking Link

On nearly every design blog right now, you can find some sort of design tutorial. They range from useful techniques to borderline useless “how-to”s. The problem isn’t just the tutorials themselves or their perceived usefulness; it’s how they are positioned relative to design. These tutorials are not “design” tutorials; they are, more accurately, tool tutorials.

This may seem a negligible difference to some. The problem with the former label is that it implies, falsely, that you are learning to design. If someone follows certain steps in creating an effect, that is learning how to use a particular software application. “Design” has many definitions, and every designer will give you a different one. But I think most designers can agree on what design is not. And it is not a 10-step recipe for creating a “Super-Awesome Laser Beam Effect.”

Bad Tutorials

Online tutorials focus so much on the tools that many designers are learning to use the software well but are losing fundamental design skills. In his article “Don’t Be a Tooler248,” Von Glitscha talks about how the craft of design is being watered down and skills like drawing are being forgotten. Many designers have traded in the pencil for the pen tool. He says, “Too many designers look for the easy way out when it comes to a creative process, and that is problematic to their creative growth. Instead of bolstering a core skill like drawing, they pursue a path of least creative resistance, and the end result is a Tooler.”

The focus on trendy effects encourages cargo cult-like ritual in which designers mimic a technique without understanding what makes it suitable for a project. A Photoshop filter or gallery feature becomes the driver and turns a design into a meaningless visual layer. This reflect poorly on the industry, showing designers as being proficient with design applications and resources but not design itself.

Ingredients of Good Design Link

Good design is the result of great thinking, as well as great ingredients. Typical ingredients are compelling photography and strong content. The job of the designer, as a sort of master chef, is to measure, blend and cook these elements into a successful project. Where do these ingredients come from, and just how good are they? Some elements come from clients, some are original work, and others come from stock vendors like iStockPhoto9 and Veer10. But the majority of ingredients come as freebies. Free WordPress themes abound. One can download thousands of textures, graphics and social icons to use in their next project.

Burger Chef customer service promotional photo, 1960s (via bayswater9711).

Using cheap or free design elements is like a five-star chef using canned sauces and pre-made dishes in the spirit of a fast-food restaurant. Creating from scratch seems to be a thing of the past. Photo shoots and original illustration are now usually done only by agencies that work for big clients with deep pockets.

Certainly, factors outside of the designer’s control will affect these decisions, such as budget. But the price of using only cheap or free assets is that designs will increasingly look like replicas of each other. In addition, clients will come to expect assets for free or next to nothing, so budgets will not be there for future projects.

There are even risks with using paid assets such as stock photography. A photo could be used by another company for another purpose12, thus diluting your client’s brand. Granted, not every client can afford a certain caliber work. Time and money are often a luxury. Many designers openly use freebie art and pre-designed WordPress themes for clients13 to save time and money. The question is not whether this is right or wrong. This is up to the designer to disclose to the client. The question is is this making the craft of design more efficient, or is it killing it?

Harmful to Your Design Health Link

Dependance on resources such as freebies and tutorials is turning our design industry into an assembly line that churns out the same exact piece, with perhaps slight variation. Design is not a commodity, but the more that designers use freebies and the like, the more it will become one. The Web is just a large copy machine14, as Kevin Kelley puts it. Design seems to be going down this road, too. Even our information resources—the design blogs themselves—are clones of each other.

“When copies are super abundant, they become worthless. When copies are super abundant, stuff which can’t be copied becomes scarce and valuable.”
Kevin Kelly15 (Image: Ibeamee16)

No wonder many clients see the designer’s role as being to create eye candy or a beautiful “skin.” With this view prevalent, designers will never be considered people who can solve problems for businesses and their customers and who can effectively communicate ideas. We will simply be a mindless pair of hands that knows how to apply some trendy colors and glossy effects to make things look nice. A technique with no purpose makes a design irrelevant. If design becomes irrelevant, then at some point we may be, too.

Return to the Art of Design Link

The solution is not to never read this type of content or to use these assets, but it needs to be measured. Designers need to push themselves with the fundamental craft of design.

Inspiration Requires Perspiration Link

Remember when special effects in movies were real? When the stunt man actually jumped onto a moving car? When characters ran around a luscious green jungle in South America, not in front of a flat green screen in a warehouse in Los Angeles? Computer technology has become integral to the creative workflow. It definitely has benefits; but the problem is that the “should we” has crept into “we can, so we will.” Many shallow stories are built around amazing effects, as opposed to engaging stories being supported by technology. In design, the “story” is communication and problem-solving. We need good reasons to use the techniques and graphics that we use in our designs.

I’ve seen posts in forums from designers looking for great paper textures or certain free graphics. What about finding a real piece of paper, scanning it and creating your own texture? Or sketching a graphic element and importing it to the computer to create your own unique piece of art? Sometimes we need to get our hands dirty. In the end, it will give us a new appreciation of the work, and we will be proud of the result. It doesn’t always work out because of time or budget constraints, but make sure the decision is based on those and not laziness.

Graphic Design Books
(Image by jamiecoull17)

Reading a quick article online or scanning a few nice websites is easy. More difficult is digging deep in a book or finding the time and money to attend a conference. Plenty of books and offline resources have great information on design. A little research is all it takes to find plenty of libraries and universities with good graphic design programs in all parts of the world. Great design takes more effort than a few clicks.

Build Skills With Purpose Link

Practicing and honing skills are vital to growth. Knowing the ins and outs of our software is an important part of the job, too. Thinking conceptually and devising solutions should come first, though. If a designer finds that he needs to brush up on a tool or technique, then a tutorial is the ideal way to learn. Our tools and resources are a means to good design, not the end. Identify the purpose first. The purpose might relate to the website’s user experience or a message in a product advertisement. After you’ve determined the purpose, find the best tool or technique to support it.

From the article “The Role of Sketching in the Design Process2518.”

Designers are more comfortable with their favorite design application than with good old pen and paper. Sketching is about getting ideas out and finding the best solution on which to iterate. Some sketchbooks of designers are so beautiful that they are almost intimidating. But great drawing skill doesn’t make the thinking or result any better. And some of that skill is gained with practice. The point, though, is to focus not on how great the sketch looks but on how sound the concept or user experience is. On the computer, we focus too much on getting the lines and colors just right, which ends up distracting us. Buy a pencil and paper: it’s cheaper than any application you’ll find.

Train Your Design Brain Link

Boxing is one of the most brutal sports. Learning techniques and conditioning the body is critical to being able to compete. But even boxing has more to it than the aggressive physical displays that the audience sees from the seats. Some of the greatest boxers, like Muhammad Ali, recognized this balance; they were great not just at knocking out opponents but at out-thinking them, too. Mike Rooney19, a former boxing trainer of Mike Tyson, says, “Boxing is 80% mental and 20% physical. Anyone can get in physical shape.”

Muhammad Ali
Muhammad Ali versus Sonny Liston (1965), by Neil Leifer20.

Design is similar in that anyone can imitate or find free assets that make for pleasing visuals. To be great designers, we need to improve our mental game. We have many ways to get our minds in shape to be the best tool in our arsenal. When we get in the ring with the client, we need to be ready to take some punches. We also need to be trained and armed with the fundamentals so that we can help clients understand that we’re not just sharing our feelings or loose opinions but that we have sound reasons behind our design choices.

If you don’t understand or can’t explain fundamental design principles21 such as negative (or white) space, balance and contrast, how do you expect to consult with a client on the best approach for a project? The website design industry is great, and many designers are self-taught. They don’t need certification to ply their trade, and they aren’t required to continue their education, as in other professions. But this is also a disadvantage, because anyone without training or understanding can call himself a designer. A deeper understanding or a degree in design (or a related field) can make all the difference.

Great Design Is History Link

Paul Rand
(Image: Paul Rand22)

Design began like any craft: people practiced it, studied it and challenged themselves. While modern design tools and resources certainly make our many tasks easier, they don’t always improve our work. Tools and shortcuts are temporary. Great design is timeless. The best tool available is sitting in our heads; we just need to upgrade it once in a while. Training and experience leads to solid solutions and happy clients who demand our expertise.

We determine the type of information made available to us. Every click (and tweet) can be a vote for a better and smarter design community. Please choose wisely.

Resources Link


Footnotes Link

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Francisco Inchauste is an interaction designer at Universal Mind, helping clients create great Web experiences. He regularly contributes to Web design blogs, magazines, and books. He recently served as Editor of Smashing Magazine’s UX Design section. You can connect with him on Twitter, or read more on his blog.

  1. 1

    Benschi Aadalen

    April 8, 2010 3:11 am

    great post =) very intresting!

  2. 3

    i agree with you Francisco! I am in a Media-Design school and have over 4 years Photoshop experience (I am 18). First I only did tutorials, but what i learned in the last 2 years in school (in design theory) is just great and changed my view of design. Many people think that just doing tutorials will make them creative and good at design but that´s wrong. For me, design startet after I no longer needed tutorials.

    This summer I probably start my apprenticeship in web-design/programming.
    I just love web and graphic design!

    Greetings from Germany =)

    • 4

      Doing a course wont make you “creative” either.

      However you can say “I did XYZ so I am ‘qualified’ now”. Much like you are.

      • 5

        Of course no course makes you creative, but we learn how to collect ideas for a project first (on good old pen and paper) and later what rules of composite there are. Something like the golden ratio and such.

        And like Paul Arden wrote (in “It’s not how good you are, it’s how good you want to be”) : “You don´t have to be creative to be creative”. The point is, if you know what you´re doing and why you are putting something at a specific position shows if someone knows what he´s doing or if he´s doing it because “it looks cool”.

        And of course you can say that your qualified. Everybody can. I´m not saying that i´m good because i did a course. I don´t say im good at all :> but I am good for my age!

      • 6

        Martin Risseeuw

        April 9, 2010 12:31 am

        I agree it doesnt make you creative.
        But you can learn how you can put your creative ideas on paper.

      • 7

        I’m sorry mate, but I honestly believe that people can learn to be creative. It’s a skill set one can learn.

        People just need to work to learn it, that is all.

      • 8

        Josh's alter ego

        April 11, 2010 4:08 am

        Well Josh, I’m certain you missed the point of his post entirely. Reading comprehension FTW. Maybe there’s a course in somewhere in that. However, according to your philosophy, that would only allow you to say that you’re qualified in reading comprehension, with no actual reading comprehension ability.

  3. 9

    very nice article! thanks

  4. 10

    I think what you describe is a general problem and not only design related. As you said we see similarities in the movie industries. I’m a coder and in programming I see the same tendencies. A growing part of programmers just takes what they need from lists, forums or whereever google points them. The program has to work somehow and most of the time noone cares if this google code collection will survive the next update. We live in a faced paced time and time is money. I don’t like solutions that are not well thought. I also don’t like standard design themes and uninspirated design work. But I think we have to live with it and will see more of it.

  5. 11

    “Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.”

    If I see another jQuery plugin list I’m going to smash my monitor up… grrr…

    • 12

      He is expressing an opinion – but it’s not polemic

      Ultimately what Francisco is saying is turn your PC off and take a walk outside and find inspiration in the world around you.

      A good designer one that has more of a holistic approach to their craft and not just relies on a few sources.

      opps… should have been a reply to Ben below

      • 13

        i find this comment to be the conclusion of this aricle. I recently went on a weekend trip to budapest and everhwhere i looked it seemed like the town was firstly schetched by a designer then buildings done and finnaly colors were added. I rememer thinking: i should really apply this into my designs…

    • 14

      “Over 75% of the articles that designers read are either design tutorials or inspirational lists.”

      This here is the problem!
      Like a dog chasing it’s own tail, getting nowhere fast, following the 1st thing that grabs the attention.
      personally, I don’t read design tutorials or supposed inspirational lists that much.
      I’ll flick thru FFFFound for 15mins every couple of days, or I’ll take photos of anything interesting I see on my iphone when out walking for referencing later, either road markings , signs, interesting ephemera, colours etc…. Or I’ll read a music mag, or a novel or watch a movie on the tube for 25mins or so, I might read an interesting quote or line in a novel that will get the old grey matter spiralling off.
      Cycling is also good for idea creation, I find I often see interesting things while whizzing past, or the mind will go back to a previous question I couldn’t resolve and throw up a multitude of alternatives that I wouldn’t think of while sat in front of a monitor.
      While I think you can learn design to some extent, it is a language after all, knowing the rules will help, Tutorials can be helpful, but personally I think it’s a bit like peering behind the curtain to see that the great wizard is just a little man twiddling the knobs of a machine, the magic is lost…………….

  6. 15

    some time i feel “We will simply be a mindless pair of hands that knows how to apply some trendy colors and glossy effects to make things look nice. A technique with no purpose makes a design irrelevant.”

    very good article after loooooooooooooooooong time on SM :)

  7. 16

    i know the situation of dying design in e-learning. Where PowerPoint is listed as one of the most popular tool for building interactions which fitting this article as good as possible.

    • 17

      Sascha Brossmann

      April 8, 2010 5:29 pm

      Sorry, but I think you’re misguided here. While I personally don’t like using PPT, and it takes quite some effort to produce something of solid visual quality (especially concerning type), it is still a viable tool for doing (i. e. prototyping) *interaction* design. Besides, this is not the point, quite in contrary: tools employed ≠ design delivered. It’s still the designer who is responsible for the results, not the tools.

  8. 18

    As a regular author of tutorials I definitely agree with this article. I always try to explain the why of things but ultimately tutorials are for learning the tools not the craft. For that there is culture.
    I’d like to see blogs entirely devoted to the culture behind design.

  9. 19

    What a lame article

  10. 28

    Great article, has given me a lot to think about!

  11. 29

    Wow, what a terrible article, this should have an *The following post is entirely the opinion of the author, and tries to come across as fact, please don’t be fooled* warning message at the top.

    • 30

      What is it that you don’t agree with? It’s not a bad thing that you may disagree, not bad at all. Disagreements are healthy as they help everyone gain perspective. Yet your response adds nothing to the discussion.

      I’m curious to hear why the article stung you so.

      • 31

        Firstly, the iphone fanboy comment related to HTC pissed me right off, it implies that HTC have in any way copied apple, which they haven’t. The Sense UI was around before iphone OS. This comment alone shows the authors clear lack of knowledge. Im not saying lacking knowledge on smart phones makes him less of a person, but the fact he decided to include such an uneducated line in the article shows he clearly has no desire to ensure he only writes statements he can back up, and prove to be knowledgeable about. If he’s this willing to be this inaccurate here, what’s to say the entire article isn’t riddled with them.

        The article actually implies that “good design cant be taught” which is a statement I actually agree with, however then totally contradicts itsself with the line “A deeper understanding or a degree in design (or a related field) can make all the difference.” Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.

        My main frustration is the idea that this guy, who the hell is he? why should we read his words like they are some form of fact? What gives this dude the right to tell us what we are or are not doing correctly, and what or what isn’t the “right way”. This is an opinion piece, something which I have no problem with, but on a site that mixes inspiration, trend showcases etc. with real industry insight and solid techniques should make more of an effort to alert users to the fact there reading a totally fabricated opinion piece, that isn’t anywhere near as balanced or well researched enough to be published on anything but the internet.

        • 32

          “Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.”

          Hi Ben,

          It’s so sad to hear from someone who has a degree in design but feels frustrated about having one. I guess you missed school a lot to actually appreciate it.

          The main point of the article is simply learning the basics before diving into the world of design. Proper education is essential if not helpful to make you better as a designer. Same thing goes with other profession. Right?

          • 33

            The article isn’t all too bad, but he totally lost me with the iphone fanboi comment and cargo cult comparision. What about Apple doing the same and stealing GUI metaphors from PARC/Xerox and selling them as own innovations, or Braun’s form and function in each and every Apple product. Left is 1960ies Braun, right is Apple 50 yrs later:

            The will always be the elite in every field of arts, culture etc. It’s been like that since the beginning of civilization. Not everyone is going to be like Dieter Rams or Paul Rand. Just look at this whole page including circle-jerk comments, it’s what this post is actually about.

            There’s a shitload of good design on the web anyways, many aspire to be good because it comes from the feeling of competition. The rest, well, they’ll either continue to suck or try to find their true profession.

          • 34

            Avery are you serious? Some of the greatest artist’s of all time never had formal education. Does that mean that they were bad artists?

          • 35

            I am so thankful for my schooling. I could have gotten by with out it, but I feel like my education challenged me in ways that I couldn’t have challenged myself, and taught me things in four years that would have taken me a decade to learn on my own. This is coming from someone who is still in school and is about to pull his third all-nighter this week as soon as I finish this comment and is very frustrated with his current situation and workload.

            Some great artists haven’t had any education… but they are few and far between when compared with the vast number of artists without education that none of us will ever hear about (and frankly a lot of those “greats” I personally don’t consider so great). Most of the greats have had some form of training (Picasso, Dalí, Duchamp–as some examples).

            Great design and craft can’t be taught, but learning more about it will greatly assist those who pursue it.

          • 36

            I think people are quick to forget that it doesn’t take a degree to be smart and educated in your field. Albert Einstein is one person people often use as an example, but many successful businessmen today dropped out of college and have made a big impact on the world. I think my degree had a few good tidbits in there but it also trained me to be standard and not exceptional. I don’t consider myself exceptional yet, but I’m working on it. The point is you can’t always learn how to be creative with the best design principles and rules. The people who were creative were the ones whom people mimicked; after that, enough people were inspired to create the rules that most of what design has formulated today.

            The truth is nothing really is yours and we all copy. I don’t care if you sat there and painted on a white canvas in Photoshop all day long and came up with a masterpiece, your ideas, your thoughts, they all come from other places, cultures, and experiences. When you paint a picture of a plant, your inspiration is that of nature. We are all copiers and mimickers of nature in the truest sense. Do you honestly think you could design in Photoshop without the hundreds of designers and developers who worked on it? Heck you can take it as far back as the creation of language. You could not even think about doing anything without a language because you would be an empty sponge. So when you say great design cannot be taught, I would kindly disagree. Nature has been teaching us for ages and the only way you are really going to be more creative than others, is if you master your tools and cut yourself out of the main stream fads and do something that less people are doing; while opening yourself up to the creative juices that flow all around you.

            I’ve seen some creative art work, and although some of it I thought to myself, how the hell is this art? But then I realized it’s more creatively artistic because it invokes me to think beyond what I see in every day life and takes me out of my comfort zone. It’s a road less traveled you could say, but again, it will always be a copy of what was previously existing because it was derived from that persons experiences and thoughts; which are connected to the whole.

        • 37

          An opinion can’t be fabricated.

        • 38

          @Ben #19
          I think you are missing the point of this article. the author doesn’t even imply that design can’t be taught. (actually he says quite the opposite)

          the point is that just because you know how to build something, doesn’t mean you should. Just because one person built a poster a certain way does not mean you should.

          I thought the Cargo Cult example was brilliant. I read all sorts of Photoshop tutorials all the time. they teach how to use the tool. knowing my tool alone does not inherently give me good design skills.

          i may know all there is to know about how to use a drill, but that will not help me build a suspension bridge. for that i would need to understand the goals of the bridge, materials available, laws of physics and most importantly the way my materials react with and affect each other. My drill will help me get the job done but i need to under stand why i am putting that beam there. sure i could make a pretty bridge but it may not get the job done.

          Plain and simple, yes the tools are important and they make the lives of Designers easier. But they are not as important as an understanding of why and how things work together to effectively and efficiently do the job. why do certain colors work well together and others do not. why does this color cause this emotional response. what are the affects of the golden ratio? how can those affects be applied creatively and not robotic.

          that’s all he was saying. so getting all uppity because he apparently made a “fanboy” comment against the thing your all “fanboy” about is just petty and proves his point most effectively.

          just a side note, i find it hilarious that you hold a degree and yet cannot speak complete or understandable sentences. that may or may not be the real reason your degree is useless.

        • 39

          “Design related degree’s are pointless, not worth the paper there written on. I should know, I have one.”

          Would you mind telling us what your degree entailed?

          My degree is the best thing that I could have done for my career; just being in a creative environment for 40 hours/week talking about really cutting-edge design is something that you can’t get from any listicle.

          Perhaps if your course was a ‘make a poster’ degree you would be wasting your time though.

          • 40

            Not all courses are created equal – on mine no-one discussed design at all.
            They turned up with their work for the Crit and then went off to the pub.

        • 41


    • 42

      I suppose you’re missing something very important:

      The article is not targeting noobs!!!

      Now go pick a good listicle (don’t got too far, SM has plenty) and leave the conversation to the the intellectually mature, will ya?

  12. 43

    I think some of the frustration expressed here comes out of the fact that we’re all just figuring out that truly effective User Experience is a collaboration between graphic design, human factors, usability standards and analytics feedback.

    Its until we realize that we’re all going to have to team up and collaborate in these disciplines that we’re going to produce some stellar user experiences.

    Until then, we’re going to have the cats versus dogs versus hamsters debates and/or laments on why UX needs more of ingredient B over C.

  13. 44

    Mostly good points raised that I agree with. The glut of ‘designers’ who do nothing but surf trends and aim to make things look ‘cool’ without actually looking at the why’s and wherefore’s is amazing.

    Have to pick you up on your HTC comment though. Maybe you should do as you say and look into the underlying details of this story – HTC was creating touch screen tech long before Apple and did not copy them. There’s a stronger case for saying it was the other way round!

  14. 45

    There’s simply too much design, too many designers and too much design being applied. The world doesn’t need another chair, to pick the most obvious example.

    It’s an issue that’s not exclusive to design either; the average quality of ‘content’ for example is also very low because of the overabundance of content being created. It’s all about signal to noise.

    • 46

      Agustin Amenabar

      April 8, 2010 7:59 pm

      Oh, but the world DOES still need design, a lot in many many fields. (I agree with you about the chairs)

      • 47

        I also agree with the chair thing, and the lamp, or espresso machine type stuff. I really think it depends on where you live and what you’re exposed to though. I live in central London, so in the big city the amount of media, advertising and design I’m exposed to is huge, both good and bad.

        I recently had to go to Florida for work and I was blown over at how BAD everything I saw was design wise. My hotel looked like it was in a mid nineties timewarp and everything on the tv and all the advertising was so dated and weak. I know that sounds like a comment about US media versus UK, but I’d like to stress it’s not, since most stuff in the UK is US anyway, I think it’s just the regional work.

        My point is: when you go to a place where there feels like a design vacuum, you re-realise the importance of design to communication, environment and the quality of human lifestyle.

        Good article.

  15. 48

    :) one of the best article on sm. congrats

  16. 49

    Where’s the forum?! I posted important questions and now it has been removed. If the date of closure isn’t stuck to then at least reannounce the forum closure date.

  17. 50

    Yeah… what’s with the completely irrelevant iphone fanboy hating on HTC part? Pandering to your audience much? Sorry Finch, you lost my vote there.

  18. 51

    i can’t even believe SM has the audacity to speak ill of canned design. Pot, meet kettle

  19. 52

    Good article, but the section that mentions Marvel Comics is bugging me, mostly because Batman and Superman are both DC Comics. Maybe switch it out with a shot of Spider-Man and some X-Men?

  20. 54

    This is a great article!

    I feel the same way.

    What Caesar said about content is completely right. Too much unnecessary copy written to cater to the Search Engines, and very little actually communicating the message.

  21. 55

    Right, and this article is published on a page with a massive list of advertisements that make the noble designer’s life an awful lot easier, on a platform that doesn’t exactly stand out being creative or out of the box…

  22. 56

    Great article, and I definitely agree with you. As a senior in new media design, I was disappointed to find my degree program so lacking in theory… a lot of learning software but little time spent practicing the principles of design. I think we’ve absorbed a lot through our professors’ critiques, but we might do better if we’d learned theory and not just sweet after effects tricks.

    I’d like to see more articles like this on SM!

  23. 57

    Good call Tim. Otherwise an excellent article.

  24. 58

    we live in a time where money is all that matters and and things need to be turned around almost instantly. no one has patience, and no one cares that the work they are getting was ripped off, as long as it looks good and gets done. this article is really great, a breath of fresh air in all of this design mess. everyone’s a designer these days, and that makes it really hard to be sustainable. i guess all anyone can do is try to rise above it and do it for the love of the craft.

  25. 59

    It seems this article is trying to say something along this lines:

    In order to be a designer, you need to read these incorrectly-labeled “design” tutorials that should be called “tool” tutorials, so you can learn what techniques are possible and how to achieve them. Then you will be able to do actual Design, which is the application of these techniques in a manner that provides extra meaning/usability to the content contained within a “design.”

  26. 60

    This post has succintly articulated what I understand to be true about most designers today.

    The lack of depth and quality to their designs are missing because of a lack knowledge of universal principles of design and their lack of knowledge of their clients’ relationship with their customers (the end-user).

  27. 61

    Excellent article. I know too many talented young designers just out of school who I haven’t seen any truly original work from. Many young designers push themselves to learn the latest tips and tricks in the next version of Photoshop, or the latest version of Actionscript or download the latest brush set without spending anytime on developing “real” design skills. This attitude is very shortsighted as the technology industry as shown a propensity to become more user friendly or WYSIWYG with regard to design applications. We are at a point today where many people other than designers know how to use Photoshop and other design programs. If one lacks true design skills how will they sell themselves? How much will they earn now that everyone knows Photoshop? Most importantly, will these psuedo-designers drag our entire industry down.

    My college professor once told us, “always remember—the computer has never had an “idea” key on the keyboard.” True Designers are idea people who solve problems through creativity and happen to know how to use a computer to streamline workflow…

    P.S. HTC seems to be a quality company, however, there are few organizations on this planet that can match Apple’s ingenuity and foresight when it comes to determining market demand for product concepts before going into production. There are still fewer companies that are willing to take the risks Apple takes with regard to launching new products and creating entirely new markets that are product based. HTC knocked-off the iPhone/iPad and even though they are being sued I’m sure their products are quality and they will make a considerable profit.

    • 62

      > My college professor once told us, “always remember—the computer has never had an “idea” key on the keyboard.”

      I think we might have had the same professor…

      Knowing how to do the latest and greatest trick is great. Mastering the tools you’re working with every day makes sense, but decide realistically if it actually makes sense to use it in whatever project you’re working on. Remember when the Aqua effect was EVERYWHERE, anyone?

  28. 63


    April 8, 2010 5:11 am

    Thought provoking. Thank you.
    I have discovered that the time spent looking for just the right free resource is a complete waste. Often, just by creating the thing you are looking for, you save time (which equals money) and end up producing a far more original piece of design.
    However, that being said, I still think that there is a place for using free resources and tutorials. Inspiration material and tutorials are great ways to learn but they should be informative in the design process and not the only part of the process.

  29. 64

    Excellently Amazing article with a great point of view. Merely scrolling through the images was enough impact to make your point loud and clear. Perhaps in today’s society we make everything too complicated. Even design.

  30. 65

    thanks for composing such a great article. Great resource links as well! (Don’t Be a Tooler)
    We believe sketching is FUNDAMENTAL and the FOUNDATION of great design, whether industrial or UX. We developed PixelPads for this very reason.

  31. 66

    I know a lot of designers won’t like this article. Maybe it’s because they recognize themselves in it.

    “If you don’t understand or can’t explain fundamental design principles such as negative (or white) space, balance and contrast, how do you expect to consult with a client on the best approach for a project?”

    I think I’ll print this, frame it, and post it on my wall.


  32. 67

    Is it really dying or just changing? Or is it just that we’re being exposed to so much design now because of the speed of information/communications.

  33. 68

    Edward Calugtong

    April 8, 2010 5:24 am

    I couldn’t agree more!

    Designers nowadays consider anything just to design w/o considering the process, the art process. Its not just making things nice and appealing.

  34. 69

    This may be the best and most valueable article ever written in this online magazine. Thank you and Bravo!

  35. 71

    We live in an age of science, not art. When we approach design today we are now trying to find empirical evidence why specific things work. Cognitive and behavioral science will take over marketing departments in the near future.

    • 72

      wow!! a smart comment… congratulations

      This is the real problem, we are not living on Italy in the 16th century… Today, being pretty is not enough, companies need ROI !!!

      The art of design is still alive, but companies doesn’t care anymore.

      • 73

        I think the fact that people like to see pretty things will continue to keep our skills valuable to corporations. As superficial as it sounds, on first impressions I’m much more likely to buy a product that’s pretty than functional, and if it’s both, then I’m sold. I don’t think corporate competition will destroy good design. In fact it may create more demand for it, especially as programs like Photoshop become more accessible to those without true design skills.

        • 74

          Agustin Amenabar

          April 8, 2010 8:03 pm

          I think there’s a general misunderstanding about design, we are not painters, first designers were architects and design was first called Applied ARTS, function comes first, aesthetics are part of the function, no the whole mission of a designer.

          • 75

            I somewhat agree with your point about the functionality of design, however, I believe art is much more a part of design than you give credit. I tend to think of design in these terms—A piece of art is subjective, that is to say varied individuals can look at a piece of art and take away totally different feelings or thoughts about the work. Design is art that is focused with one communication in mind. Designers are artists with an intense focus on visual communications. When a designer creates something there should be one clear message or view point that everyone can grasp with limited effort.

  36. 76

    Victor Nogueira

    April 8, 2010 6:18 am

    Great one.

    Sometimes I find SM frustrating because of the huge amount of lists and tutorials. I prefer to visit sites like A List Apart, because they offer more conceptual and in depth articles, that really make me think

    I ordered the SM book, and I was a little frustrated because they shoot in every direction, talking about inumerous topics in a superficial manner.

    Other than that, books like the bible “The Elements of Typographic Style” are always ahead any kind of web article, and also require more commitment, time and patience to learn.

    One point that should be more emphatized is that it’s more efficient to inspire yourself from another media. If you are doing a website, maybe take a look at some posters, or book pages, or vinyl sleeves can give you a wider perspective. Look at another related websites, for instance, leads to poorer and cheaper results.

  37. 77

    Victor Nogueira

    April 8, 2010 6:25 am

    You should check this list out:

    favorite: “Don’t try to create and analyse at the same time. They’re different processes.”

  38. 78

    I have interests in a lot of different areas and every major topic has people writing articles like this because they are afraid of change. It’s not that design is dying, it’s that the old way of design is dying and that is not a bad thing.

    I’m an amateur photographer and read all the time about how people think that the art of photography is dying because of digital cameras and Photoshop.

    I work in marketing (partially) and I see stuff about how traditional marketeers just don’t get it with the new way of marketing through web.

    The list goes on and on. People need to learn to accept change or they will find themselves obsolete.

    • 79

      Victor Nogueira

      April 8, 2010 6:32 am

      Brad Proctor, I think you misunderstood the point of this article. The author is not talking about tools, but about processes and thinking. Though he suggests pencil and paper, he’s just saying you should think while you design. You should plan, before doing. You shouldn’t be a robot applying textures, shines and trendy effects. These tips are golden and timeless.

  39. 80

    Jonathon Monkhouse

    April 8, 2010 6:31 am

    Superman and Batman are DC Characters, not Marvel as the title suggests! Should have took that as a bad sign and not wasted my time reading this hopeless article.

    • 81

      I thought it was weird that he used DC characters instead of Marvel characters.

      Yea, it seems pessimistic to think that design is dying. Everything is dying at some rate but to view the current state like that is truly counter intuitive. I do agree that people should look at the beautiful designs nature has shown us and be inspired from it. Design is everywhere, you just have to look at it differently.

  40. 84

    It’s nice to see an article from to time that essentially say “don’t read our website and all of its tutorials. You’re wasting your time. Books are better. Seriously. Stop looking at the screen. Our site can only get you so far. Seeing the top 100 designed sites from Brazil can’t ever compare to a 400 page book on Typography” I love it. It’s as if SM is publishing an article going directly against itself.

    Also, I agree that more people need to start creating their own illustrations and photographs. I’m guilty of using stock in a timecrunch as well, but it’s always a timecrunch and there’s no good excuse.

  41. 85

    I don’t agree at all.

    Design is like life itself. New designs are made everyday, some crap, some perfect and most of them somewhere in between. I think the ‘survival of the fittest’ applies to design as well. The best designs in their genre stay and will be remembered, the worst designs will be forgotten. So yeah, there will be some bad designs, a lot of them, but none of them will stay.

    Designs are simpler to create, everybody now has the tools to make them. And whether that’s good or not (I think it’s positive) a lot more crappy designs will be made: Most people just aren’t good designers. The good designers, however, will be respected and honoured.

    I think no design will ever be truly original, but that’s no reason not to enjoy it.

    • 86

      I agree. Design itself is not dead, but it has regressed a little or merely transforming to a whole different aspect since the arrival of computers and the internet. Take a look at T.V.’s for example, the designs for the teleV has taken huge leaps over the past few years since it was first created. Computers, Cars, Shoes.. design is all around us.

      I think design has lots of influence on current art movements. I havn’t seen anything besides some boring modern art and some low brow stuff for the past 40 years or so and i’m getting a bit tired of it myself. I believe we just need something new!

  42. 87

    Design as I remember it is certainly dead. I’ve worked for some great creative firms, specialized in creativity and original ideas. What happened? They all went out of business. Not because we didn’t know how to run a business, not because our work was bad; but because no one wanted to pay for creative thinking and original ideas. Most projects had such a low budget that we couldn’t build a decent/original site without outsourcing over seas (which kills the US design industry). As a result, we had to “dumb down” our designs to make them “cookie-cutter” templates just to keep up with demand and price points.

    I’ve been doing websites for over 10 years, and the industry we face today is certainly not the great industry it once was. For the past 7 years I’ve tried to get people on board with quality service, design skills, and overall quality of work. What people want is cheaper, faster, and “make it look like this site”. All the education in the world will not change that. Until people outside the design industry truly understand and appreciate design as more than “looks pretty”, the design industry has a long ways to go before we see anything new.

    Now, I will say larger firms (Nike, Apple, MS, etc) they get design and what it can do for them. The average firm doesn’t get it, and despite my efforts to educate and inspire, the wins are few and far between.

  43. 88

    Interesting how these ideas translate across all types of design. I am a product designer and I often troll for freebies since I am under stringent deadlines. I also am solely responsible for obtaining inspiration since this economy means I have no budget for outside activities and if I want to keep my creative tank filled, it is up to me to do it. So, yeah, while I would love the time to spend sketching, thinking and conceptualizing, I am overloaded with projects (due to downsizing) and must take shortcuts. But, nothing lasts forever, and eventually the economy will turn around. Maybe then I will have the time to be innovative, and creative.

  44. 89

    I thought the article was good and it did get me thinking. It pays a lot of attention to everything ‘designers’ are doing wrong and hardly anything about what they are doing right. A good opinion to take on board (but not rely on).

  45. 90

    I agree with everything you said. I’m studying Industrial Design at Ga Tech, and I own a freelance web business. Even though I am in many ways a “self-taught” web designer, I have learned through my education that there needs to be an “intention” behind every design choice I make. Designers are not just people that “make things pretty”, and the problem with our profession is that many people believe that is what we do.

    We [designers] are multidisciplinary: we can communicate visually and verbally, organize and manage projects, and also build intuitive interfaces that address issues of usability, accessibility, technology, and aesthetics.

    I define design as the intersection between engineering and communication, and I wish that more web designers would talk about design intention when they are reviewing an interface, versus just focusing on the aesthetics.

  46. 91

    If I see one more blog with a huge banner that says, “HELLO” I swear I’m going to barf!

  47. 92

    I totaly agree. Design is not about tools or photoshop tricks. Design is thinking and make things usefull ..

  48. 93

    Great article!

    Bugged me a little that the “Draw Comics The Marvel Way” bit had an image of two DC characters though.

  49. 94

    A silly, alarmist article – or title, at least. Like any other field, there are a small number of great designers (not me!) and a bell-curved distribution of people who follow them. It’s generally a passion-driven curve.

    People are peripherally more aware of design now; it’s a commonly used word and more people are “designing”. The vernacular use of “design” (to simply mean creation) isn’t the same as the classical definition of hyperconscious study and application of discipline-specific techniques.

    I’d argue that a proliferation of “bad” designers probably is the best sign that design as a true discipline is alive and well. At the least, this article is a good poke for people who are on the edge of subscribing to design as a study / philosophy.

    Doug – I totally noticed that too re: DC.

  50. 95

    Very interesting read SM, lot’s for designers of all levels to take on board. I freely admit I have used freebies from time to time, i’m sure most designers have (even if they won’t all admit it), but the satisfaction and originality you get from a completely custom graphic, icon, web site etc is unmatched, and knowing it can only be found on your work is even better.

    Until someone comes along and gets a little too ‘inspired’ by it… :p

    Loved the line ‘Many designers have traded in the pencil for the pen tool.’.
    So true.


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