What is design?

Ever since I graduated college I've been of the mind that design is much more than just the visual and aesthetic quality of objects and places. It spans all different aspects of life and, in a sense, defines who we are as individuals.

When I was growing up, I loved running. My friends and family would often ask me why I liked it so much. The typical response I gave was that running was a lifestyle, not a sport. Don't get me wrong, I loved the sport from a competitive standpoint, but it was much more than that. The feeling of being outside—being able to let my mind wander and get away from the daily tasks of school and work—that was why I ran. It became part of who I was.

In much the same way, design permeates our lives in many more ways than most of us realize. There are a lot of sub-divisions within the design community; architecture, industrial, branding, UX, UI, packaging, and visual design, just to name a few. While each has their own eccentricities and unique challenges, at the very core, design in any discipline is about creating an experience.

For example, a branding specialist will most certainly create a strong visual language from color, photography, typography, logos, etc. And while that is a very important aspect of branding, I have never subscribed to the notion that branding only involves the visual alone. It has as much to do with a company's logo as it does with the customer service and feelings the consumer receives when interacting with any given touchpoint of a brand, from the sales reps to the website.

The same goes for any one of the individual sub divisions within the design community. An architect would never design a home with the soul purpose of making it visually beautiful. Neither would a web designer create a website that only looks unique. To do so would be serving half the purpose of design. The architect will always keep in mind the usefulness of his design and how it relates to the person living within the walls of his creation. And the web designer should always keep in the back of his mind how the end user will interact with the buttons, navigation, and content of the site. To do so any other way, is missing the real usefulness and purpose of design.

Drawing this back to my analogy of running. Design has much more purpose and tact than just competing for the next customer (although that is definitely one of the main goals), but should define the lifestyle and experience surrounding whoever or whatever is the end user. That definition sounds a lot like what some people have said to me is the role of a user experience designer. But I believe that experience is something all designers should be aware of, and well-rounded designers will always have in mind when creating anything. I subscribe to the philosophy that form always follows function.

My point is that whether I'm a branding specialist, user experience designer, or any other role; my execution should always have a purpose. And that purpose should always be rooted in the experience of the end user.