Design written in a geometric constructed typeface with aesthetics written in a decorative script font

Design beyond aesthetics

Friday 26 November 2021

When designers make decisions based purely on aesthetics, they are concerned only with creating something that looks ‘nice’.

There is a seemingly widespread view that design equates to aesthetics. I even recently heard a designer define it as the practice of ‘making things look pretty’.

When designers make decisions based purely on aesthetics, they are concerned only with creating something that looks ‘nice’. But ‘nice’ and ‘pretty’ are wholly subjective concepts that ignore how the design might function for the end-user.

What is design?

To me, almost all graphic and typographic design is communication design: supporting the successful communication of a specific message or messages to a specified audience.

Designers cannot control the message – that is generally a product either of the needs of the audience or the aims of the organization. But design can and should support its successful transmission to the intended audience.

Aesthetics do have a role to play. Style and colour, for example, can subliminally amplify overt text-based messages. And designers can use the subjectivity of visual appeal to help target the right audience, adjusting the design to match their preferences.

And beyond aesthetics?

Beyond aesthetics, there is a vast spectrum of techniques that designers can use to support communication.

There are psychological design theories, such as the Gestalt Principles of Perception, which tells us what users will infer from particular placements of information.

There are design recommendations to help make design accessible to users with low vision, colourblindness or cognitive impairment.

And there are accessibility standards, such as PDF/UA, to help users of assistive technologies more easily engage with PDF documents.

It is these topics that will be the focus of my next series of blog posts.

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Photograph of Sarah Cowan

Hello! I’m Sarah, an independent typographic designer, helping businesses to communicate their unique selling points through printed marketing and communications.

I’ve been sharing my knowledge about design, typography, marketing, branding and printing since 2014. I hope you enjoy reading my blog.

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Sarah Cowan