Good Design is Invisible: Understanding Design’s Impact

February 17, 2020
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Thoughtful design is necessary for a business to grow to the next level.


In spite of that, there’s an ever-present lack of awareness on design’s impact for businesses. Design is frequently seen as something that’s either too expensive, or easy enough to be done in-house by a non-designer. The digital tools of the twentieth century have provided a false sense of design ability. Behemoth companies with huge budgets like Coca Cola spend about 4 billion dollars on design per year.  One billion of that sum is spent in the United States. So, if all the corporate giants are in on the secret — why doesn’t it seem as valuable to everyone else?


Good design isn’t always invisible…

If you’re involved in the creative industry, you’ve probably heard of the phrase “good design is invisible”.  If it doesn’t ring familiar, no worries, we’ll explain. It means that when something is well-designed, you don’t notice it’s there and how easy it is to use. For instance, think about what the visual interface on our smartphones looks like. We use it every day and don’t take the time to notice the design itself.

Naturally, if we take that phrase at face value, the logic falls apart in certain cases. Poster design, for one. A poster can’t be well designed if it is invisible. A quick Google search will tell you the phrase was intended for UX (User Experience Design). The full quote reads, “Good design, when it’s done well, becomes invisible. It’s only when it’s done poorly that we notice it”. — Jared Spool


Example of a smartphone interface — something that we often forget is design. iPhone X prototypes by Jae Jeong [x]


Good design should be easy to understand

The saying is referring to two things: the experience of interacting with a design, and the process of designing it. When a website is working smoothly, no one takes notice of the design. Of course, users will absolutely take notice of the design if it’s broken, slow, or annoying to navigate. A good design process will strike the perfect balance between aesthetics and functionality.  Good design is intended to be simple for the end-user to understand and interact with. And because people mostly interact with the end product, it’s hard to understand the complexities of what goes into a good design.


Simple is easy to understand, but hard to come up with.

Consider the font on highway signs (or the typeface, if you’re a stickler for terminology). Now imagine if every single sign was designed using Papyrus.



Obviously, this would be pretty awful for legibility when driving at 50 miles per hour. Its thin, distressed letterforms do no justice for reading at a distance, or while moving at fast speeds. You probably can see the font in your mind’s eye? The signs are clean and easy to read.

Exactly what they are designed to do. All the signs you see on the roads were designed by the United States Federal Highway Administration, and the font is called Highway Gothic. Since it was first released in 1948. It has gone through years of edits and updates, backed up by research. Each letter and number was meticulously designed and tested for maximum readability at high speeds and distances. Simply put, the goal wasn’t to make something purely visually beautiful, it was about something that would enhance our overall quality of life and safety. Good design doesn’t necessarily mean a work of art. Sometimes it just delivering a good user experience using good design principles.  



The ’90s were excellent — but this 2020. 

Because people are mostly just concerned with the end-product, there is a profound lack of awareness of the design process. This is what leads to misconceptions such as design being easy. That it can be done by non-designers in-house. Of course, if it were actually so easy, then great design would be everywhere — and there wouldn’t be any websites looking and functioning like they were stuck in the ’90s. That would be most excellent!



Like any other field of expertise, experience and talent matter. It’s the same reason why we rely on plumbers to help us out when it hits the fan. We leave that to the experts because they know what they’re doing. But fundamentally, designers are no different. Businesses should think of good design like plumbing. You have to have it! Design touches most aspects of a business — branding to web design and beyond. When creative directors and designers work on rebrands or brand refreshers, there is an extensive amount of research that goes into the entire process. We do everything from a deep-dive into our client’s company to competitor analysis. And that’s before the pencil hits the paper. Remember our Highway Gothic example? Just try to imagine how much research has been done for visibility tests over the 70+ years it has existed. Whoa.


Design is meant to make it easier for the users — that’s just how it works.

We might be able to say part of the reason for the lack of awareness of design is, ironically, by design. The end-user doesn’t want or need to be overwhelmed by what went into its creation. However, it’s our job to help clients understand the process and the time it takes for a thoughtful campaign. It’s our duty to create something that’s going to make an emotional connection with the targeted audience and get them excited about our client’s brand. Good design can give a business the confidence it never had. One of our main goals as a creative agency is to deliver collateral that our clients will be proud of and want to openly share. 


Businesses that invest in design, thrive.

Even if your customers don’t need to be invested in the details, all businesses should. Companies that recognize the value that design brings their customers will always stand head and shoulder above their competition. The window of opportunity to capture a potential customer or client is limited — so making an impression that counts is key. Having good design gives you a proven competitive edge. For instance, Stanford studies actually show that 75% of consumers will make a judgment on a company’s credibility based on its website’s design. You can read more here if you’re interested in what makes a good website.

Furthermore, this is always supplemented with a consistent branding strategy. Half-hearted measures and mish-mashed assets won’t do much for a business. Therefore, it’s important to take a holistic approach. So, the important takeaway is that good design isn’t necessarily invisible. It’s always as loud or quiet as it needs to be for the end-user. But garnering the trust and confidence of your customers is well worth it. And as always, if you have any questions about design, feel free to reach out to us. We’d love to chat.

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