Please Stop F*cking Saying “Design”

Every day it’s “design this” or “design that” being thrown around in organizations, teams, media, and even respected design leaders are using it ad nauseam. Design! Design! Design!

img - design3

And it drives me f*cking nuts.

Some might be scratching their heads about this since “design” is a beautiful method for creating anything successful… digital products, brands, marketing, advertising, whatever. So what’s the big deal?

The problem with it is that with one word you’re literally describing a litany of diverse design skills that range from Advertising to Engineering to Fashion. These are all unique and rely on different skills, teams, processes, and have completely different outputs. And beyond that you could be describing one or more design phases, various departments in an organization, or even design thinking.

So the short answer of using the word “design” is that it doesn’t make any sense and actually makes you sound, well, stupid.

For example. In the digital world of building websites and apps, theimg - question emoji most common expression is, “please work on the design for Project X.” Riiiiiiiight, so are you referring to the software design or visual design or the user experience design?img - dinosaur

Whenever I hear someone using it incorrectly, I typically just ignore them and go back to drawing dinosaurs.

Because “design” has so many meanings, it also means nothing. It’s like saying “art,” which can mean anything to anyone and almost always has different interpretations depending on your tastes, style, background, etc. For you non-artistic folk, it’s like saying “food.” As in, “Hey Bill, I’ll meet you tomorrow to eat food.” Um, what kind of food? Fast food? Cuisine preference? Do we need to hunt it first?


How to use “design” correctly

Add one or more descriptor words next to “design” to describe the field, skill, department, output, or whatever the hell it is you’re trying to explain. Some examples:

  • “Please send me the website user experience DESIGN.” Bonus points if you can call these out by their specific name of “wireframes,” but make sure you specify the device or interface: desktop, tablet, mobile, watch, Voice User Interface (VUI), etc.
  • “Let’s review the mobile visual DESIGN tomorrow.” Bonus points if you know the difference between user experience and visual design in these instances.
  • “We should start discovery efforts for the customer experience DESIGN.” Bonus points if you know the difference between user experience and customer experience.

It’s that simple. And I guarantee you’ll sound much much smarter.


Exceptions to the rule:

  • You’re a designer and know when to use it. Obvi.
  • You are on a specific design team and have one primary skill area (e.g. mobile user experience design, etc.), where everybody knows what you mean by the word “design.”
  • You are teaching a class on a specific facet of design (e.g. iconography, user experience design, etc.), and are therefore allowed to say “your designs are due tomorrow.”
  • You’re literally talking about the entire design universe. But don’t do that. Ever. Unless you’re Leonardo da Vinci, Pablo Picasso, Raphael, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Rand, George Lois, Michael Bierut, or Jony Ive.

So now that you’ve been properly trained, go out and spread peace and love throughout the world. But whatever you do, don’t say…


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