The Secret They Don’t Tell You in Graphic Design Class

Looking good is important, but working well is better.

People find things that work well endearing. That’s the secret.

When things work well, we see them in a new light. They become more attractive, more pleasurable, more desirable. Our opinion of them strengthens over time.

Our initial reaction, usually a superficial one based solely on looks, is vaporized upon use. If it doesn’t work well, then no matter how impressive your graphics are, it doesn’t matter. (think about all of the graphic design done for American-made cars). If it does work well, however, then we give it even more value than before, we attribute all sorts of things to it that we wouldn’t otherwise. We think it looks great. That its designers are nice people. That the site owners are credible. Etc. Our opinion of all attributes of a design skyrocket if we are happy using it.

In the graphic design classes I’ve taken they never told us that. It was all about directing the eye, communicating the product’s message, and showing priority. There was never any talk about how people related to the product we were designing the graphic for. Perhaps I’ve only taken bad graphic design classes, but this still seems to be the general feeling…that graphic design exists in a bubble outside of the success of the product and that people will appreciate graphic design as long as it looks good. Most people, however, don’t give a hoot about graphic design unless the thing works well…first.

So, as a graphic designer, make sure that you work on stuff that has the potential to work well! If it does work well your great-looking graphics will get much of the credit. And if your graphics help make it work even better (e.g. if you’re doing interface design), then you deserve the credit. But if you’re working on a project that just can’t work well because of an innate flaw in the product itself then you’re on a sinking ship. Say no to it, and stick to projects on which you can affect the outcome.

This secret is why it’s so important to get people using your software/product/service as fast as you can. If any part of it works, people’s perception of it changes and they’ll tell others. Design becomes social. And others, hearing what they say and knowing deep down we find things that work well endearing, are more likely to take the chance and use it themselves.

And then, after they like using the product, they’ll go back and notice how nice the graphics are.

Published: June 30th, 2006

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