Been thinking about this a lot lately, sparked by a big, fat design project, as well as questions about the foggy role of “creatives” in a technical environment. Then Amber Naslund polled her readers about their line of work. I had just started following her on Twitter, and mentioned something about how Design is Communications (grouped with PR and Marketing on her poll). She tweeted back with a rather pointed and clarifying question, which leads us here, to these five essential ideas:

1. Design Guides an Audience
Outstanding designers observe and speak to the human experience, and how people respond to their environment. As a hopefully-inflammatory example, the idea of handing website architecture to a specialist can be either really smart or really wasteful. Designers have been building complex wayfinding systems, from product catalogs and professional directories to zoo and parking signage, for decades.

2. Design Anticipates Growth
Strategically-minded designers look beyond what their client offers to what they plan, dream and hope to offer. This prepares both the client and the audience for a healthy, long-term relationship.

3. Design Influences
At some point in their career, a designer must consciously choose whether they will manipulate their audience or connect with them. Sure, you can connect for the purpose of manipulating, but you can also connect for the purpose of connecting.

The idea is not at all new, but the effectiveness of genuinely connecting with your market is being dramatically proven by the social networking movement. And this choice is a kind of rudder for all intentional influencers.

4. Design Listens
Really another look at how design influences, consider that the most successful design manifests itself not as a statement, but as a conversation. As an example, here’s a link to the old NYT mytimes welcome page.

5. Design Individuates
Whether it’s a billboard, a discussion forum or an injection-molded gift, great design does something more than give form to function: It creates an individual “face”—with all its subtle nuances—by which people recognize it as being familiar, valuable, approachable and relevant.

These five points need more fleshing-out, but then designers talk about this stuff all the time, probably too much… Perhaps that’s a good reason to keep these short and sweet.

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