You have arrived at the web home of Noah Brier. This is mostly an archive of over a decade of blogging and other writing. You can read more about me or get in touch. If you want more recent writing of mine, most of that is at my BrXnd marketing x AI newsletter and Why Is This Interesting?, a daily email for the intellectually omnivorous.

February, 2006

Design IS NOT Rounded Corners

No matter what anyone says, it's my goal to make people believe that design is not something to be taken lightly.

At Sony, we assume all products of our compeititors will have basically the same technology, price, performance, and features. Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace.

- Norio Ohga, Honorary Chairman, Sony (via Influx Insights Thought Pack Volume 1)

Look, this is not true in every category across the board, but it does speak to the overall importance of design. When people think of design they tend to think of over-design. When you talk about web 2.0 design, you think of rounded corners and gradients. But guess what? It's bullshit! That's not design, that's meaningless. Design doesn't have time to worry about rounded corner's it's got bigger fish to fry.

When I read the very popular Current style in web design, I cringed. Everything looks the same! (No offense to any of the mentioned sites, I happen to think the choices are all quite nice, however, they all fall in same category.) Where is the diversity in design? How about the experimentation?

Recently, in an entry discussing MakeUpAlley and why geeks need to get their heads out of their asses (which I agree with), Umair Haque wrote, "It doesn't have Ajax, it doesn't have gradients, it doesn't have a clever name, it doesn't even have anything resembling a design (the horror)." I was a little surprised by the contempt in Umair's voice when discussing design, although his bigger point is that those other things don't matter as much as MakeupAllley's "deep understanding of what consumers in it's vertical value, how to connect them into a coherent community, how to manage and regulate this community, and how to translate those connections into deep and shallow value creation."

On this point I'm right with Umair, and I think his point is a valuable one: You shouldn't be designing before you have an idea. You shouldn't have decided how something will look before you know what it does. You shouldn't know what language to script in before you decide what you need to code. Over at PingMag (a Tokyo-based magazine about "Design and Making Things" Jon writes that Web 2.0 is not about AJAX and visual effects, but rather "has much more to do with the human and social aspect of the internet. There is much more call for interaction between users and more importantly, much more willingness to interact."

With all this said, though, design is not something that should be forgotten. There's been some talk recently that design on the web doesn't matter. It uses Myspace, eBay, Google as examples. Recently Andy Rutledge called this idea out for what it is: BULLSHIT! "Bad design harms business, it does not help it," Andy writes. "Websites like Boingboing, Google and eBay are successful in spite of their poorly designed sites, not because of them." As I've mentioned numerous times in the past, though, design is more than just the look. Design is the information architecture and it's the copy too, amongst lots of other factors. One of the things that drives me nuts about blog design, beyond the fact that almost no one does anything interesting, is that the architecture sucks. Who thought it was a good idea to make the archives a giant list? How is that helpful to anyone? (Full disclosure: The archive architecture on this site sucks too.)

I guess my point is that when people discuss design it's important to separate the superficial from the important. I'm pretty sure this is what people mean when they compare design with Design (note capital versus lower case . . . something I've always found a bit bizarre). It all comes down to this: If you're using rounded corners for no reason, it's not design. If you're using rounded corners because you're trying to communicate a softness to your design which reflects your product, fine. In design, you need thought behind all your actions. Things don't just happen, nothing is just placed somewhere because that seemed like a good place for it.

Sorry if this seemed preachy, but I'm passionate about this stuff.

February 22, 2006
Noah Brier | Thanks for reading. | Don't fake the funk on a nasty dunk.