Design as both deliverable and plan.

It can be easy for people from different arenas to talk about design and completely misunderstand each other. Why? Because the concept of design is so wide and varied that the crux of understanding between players is often knowing the broad scope of the word’s definition.

Here’s two examples:

Architectural design refers to the planning and construction of buildings and physical structures. User-centered design is a field within digital interface design where the needs of the end user are given direct attention during the creation of the interface.


One is a broad term that covers a vast amount of planning and construction. The other is a specific term that infers a particular mindset to refer to when designing.

So, not only does design cover a multitude of disciplines but also, semantically, design can refer to one or both of the planning and the deliverable.

In creating the visual communications of a particular brand, the inherent design disciplines (graphic design, web design, interface design, user experience design and so on) are often refered to in the deliverable sense. As in “we know what we want, let’s just get it made”. So much so that graphic design often gets substituted for the entire process of branding. As if research, audits and strategy play no part.

It is this blinded singular concept of design as deliverable only that most often contributes not just to misunderstanding but also lost opportunities.

Design in visual communications comes as a two-in-one concept. If design is only thought of as the deliverable, it won’t have the buttress of a plan underneath. Form follows function, as they say. And it’s true.

It may sound simplistic, but working out ‘why’ you’re saying it before the ‘how’ of the saying will help your brand elicit that emotional response you’re after. At every point, the ‘why’ of the saying needs to be planned for.

“But we’ve accounted for strategy”, you might say. “We’ve ‘designed’ that, we know what we’re saying. We’ve got all the research, written up campaigns, site plans, spec’d the briefs. We just need to get it made.”

Here’s where it gets messy. The translation of the strategy into the deliverable needs someone fluent in design to convert the words into a terrain map with a clear path to that brand deliverable.

Ideas are easy. It’s assessing the quality of them in the context of human emotion and the visual languages we all subconsciously know. And its knowing 50 different ways of making that into a product and choosing the right one for the right occassion.

Designers in whatever field will bring knowledge to their craft for both the plan and the product. Because they go hand in hand. Both inform eachother. It’s a chicken and egg thing.

So next time you’re speaking about the design, think again about it’s double meaning. One’s design can be another’s plan. Or product. If you want your message to work harder for you, it really does depend on knowing both design meanings.

Callum is Ellis Jones’ new in-house designer. He knows his stuff. Call him.

 Image credit:  Joseph WhiteFlickr Creative Commons