Determine What You Need to Communicate

A single coffee bean

There are two schools of thought about better design: either you make designs based on looks, or you make them based on how they work. I live by the latter. You might try to serve both end goals but you will fail.

In fact, designers that design for the product’s looks often capitalize on pleasing themselves (their own sensibilities) rather than communicating through their design to the market. This is essentially what George Lucas did when he directed the Star Wars prequels. It makes for bad movies and bad design work.

It’s the equivalent of the designer singing to himself in the shower. He does it for his own gratification. And does he really want an audience? Is he serving them well? I don’t think so. If he cares about them then they are at best secondary concerns.

How something looks, sounds, and feels will communicate a great deal—not just about your artistic sensibilities, but it will also invoke the character of the product your designing around. This is how it works.

I design lots of coffee labels for Thrasher Coffee these days. With each one I start with a theme for the new name of a whole bean coffee product. I determine what I’d like its persona to represent. Then, through my design, I want to make something that communicates thoughts and emotions behind the name.

  • I may want the design to reflect the company’s name, Thrasher Coffee.
  • It might be more advantageous to create a design that emphasizes the characteristics of the product rather than the company’s brand.
  • If the coffee is named “Adrenaline” or “Homestead” I want to reflect characteristics of the unique name (and not just the product [the coffee beans]) in the design as well.

A decent designer will be able to elaborate on his project goals. He can share his thoughts about his designs: what he wants his work to represent and why—how the colors, fonts, and illustrations work in tandem to send a specific message to his audience or customers.

The artists that don’t design around how something works can make pretty pictures, music, and other kinds of widgets, but they are missing the point. The design itself is rarely worthy of being the end unto itself.

Joe Darnell

Joe is a UI and graphic designer with prior experience as the creative director for three media-based businesses. Joe’s passionate about web design and graphic design with about 15 years of experience in the media industry. Additionally, Joe is the host of the Top Brew and Techtonic podasts, both featured on iTunes.