What is Design

On May 14, 2013

"Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works."
- Steve Jobs

A great quote which sums up the essence of design using a few words “Design is how it works.” Understand it, and you'll know what design means.

Design influences every part of our life - from calculators to computers; from water taps to door knobs; from a can of coke to a cup of tea.

Design is what you see when you use a product. For a user, design is the product. A good design focuses on giving a good experience and not just getting the work done.

Design tells you how to interact with a product; you tell the product what to do, and the product does it and gives you the feedback to tell you it's done.

When you use a product - be it software, mobile app, or website - you take specific actions to get specific results.

You take actions like: fill a form, click a button, navigate the menu items, or scroll a page.

And you get results like: get current status, save your data, or find the right information.

You always use a product to achieve a goal. And most times you know what this goal is.

To achieve your goal you've to tell that product what exactly you're looking for. And to do that, you take the necessary actions that tell the product what you want, and the product analyses your action and gives you the desired result.

That's why turning a water tap pours out water and rotating a door knob opens a door.

Between your desire to do something and fulfilling that desire, there is an action(rotating a door knob) and there is a result(the door opens).

Design takes care of this action part and makes sure that you get your desired results.

When you use a product and interact with various elements of the interface, you're using the product's design to guide you in accomplishing your goals.

The design of a product shows you what's possible to do, and what's not possible. It limits your choices and you've to act under these limitations.

These limitations may be intentional or non-intentional. A good design makes limitations intentionally to avoid confusion, and make users easily accomplish the most common tasks. It makes the user complete his task without spending too much thought or energy on it.

A product is more user-friendly if the design guides its making. The purpose of design is to tell the user what to do, without bothering him with unnecessary technical details.

Design should work according to your needs, and not the other way around. You shouldn't have to spend your time and energy to figure out what a product does. Instead, the design of the product should make it easier for you to understand its working.

And to make it easier, a design uses the common nature of objects to tell you what to do; buttons are meant to be pressed; knobs are meant to be turned; cups are meant to be held by your fingers; lids are meant to be lifted.

Any product is limited by the actions it allows users to take. A product may have potential to do more things than it allows its users to do. This is usually a design choice. That's why you keep hearing about how a product was hacked to do more things than what the manual said it could do.

It's design that tells what to show the user and what to hide from him.
It's design that tells what actions should he take next.
It's design that tells the way the information should be shown to the user.
It's the design that tells when to wait and when to do something.
It's the design that tells the capabilities and limitations of a product.

It's design that makes the user like or hate a product.

Once you understand what design is, you gain the ability to create great products and excite your users. And isn't that what every creative person aspires for?

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