Design is…

[Joy Stauber is the designer of our gorgeous banners (see more here) and one of our favorite people. Learn more about her at her site.]

I got an email this morning [08/24/09] with this Tom Peters quote: "Design is... an understanding that all the senses were created equal."

It's true. And it's interesting to think about what that on earth that might really mean.

I was talking with a marketing colleague this morning about a potential project she has for a website aimed at moms. As a mom, I'm always very suspicious of any kind of "marketing to moms" because it's often like other marketing to women... lots of pink and cuddly photos, as if that is all it takes to be relevant to me as a female consumer.

What does any of this have to do with "Design is... an understanding that all the senses are created equal."?

It is this:

Design is not about making something look cool (or cute, or mom-like, or macho, or techie, or whatever it is you think the audience is).

Design is about making something relevant.
It is about making a connection with your audience.
Which means you have to truly understand them, and you have to have a clear communication strategy.
The messages need to be relevant to the audience.
The way in which they are delivered needs to be relevant.
Remember which senses to address. (Is the color palette friendly or serious? Is the nomenclature for website sections based on an internal organizational structure or does it support the user's needs? Does the paperstock feel rough or smooth, heavy or light? How should all of these elements, and more, feel to the user/audience?)

Designing a website for moms, like any website, requires the integration of a site architecture with a communication strategy and a careful prioritizing of messages. (Written and/or visual messages.) Then the final design and all of the details of its execution (words and images used, color palette, type styles, and so on) supports the higher communication goals, serves the end user well, and tracks back to what you figured out needed to be done in the planning stages.

I wholeheartedly agree with Tom that "Design is... an understanding that all the senses were created equal." Creators (marketers, designers, writers, technical developers, etc.) of websites or any type of communication have to remember that all of the senses truly are involved. The eyes, hands, heart, brain.. a website user or brochure reader takes in many elements and processes them via all of their senses. All of the elements require careful attention and need to be considered from a user's point of view. If the visuals are strong but the naming of website sections isn't right, the user won't respond as well as they would otherwise. If the brochure copy is great but the typesetting makes it feel like a chore to read... oh no! All of the details need to work together in a holistic, integrated way to support each other and the user experience—and thus build a relationship with your brand.