Design Comes in Threes

by Luke Wroblewski June 29, 2006

Though the word design gets used to describe lots of things (visual stylings, system architectures, interactivity, etc.), I’ve always considered it to be three things:

  1. A profession
  2. A problem-solving methodology
  3. Communication

In particular, a lot of recent articles on Functioning Form have focused on the third point –design is communication- especially as it relates to the strategic value of design.

  1. It’s Simple. Design Communicates.
  2. Iterative Holistic Communication
  3. Defining the Problem

So naturally I found it interesting that when was asked to define design in one sentence each of the panelists in Good Design vs. Great Design emphasized communication:

  1. Cameron Moll: Design is about communication but cannot exist without a medium of some sort.
  2. Veerle Pieters: Design is away of communicating emotions. It expresses feelings so its design.
  3. Jon Hicks: Debate how ugly design or no design wins it misses the point that design is about communication.

Also of note was Cameron Moll’s comment that “the feedback I've been privy to seems to indicate the developers enjoyed [the panel], while the designers felt it was a bit too Graphic Design 101.”

On a related (only by threes) note, BJ Fogg pinged me about updating a link to his book on User Experience Comes in Threes. Which made me recall a few Venn diagrams I’ve encountered since the original post.

First up is Diego Rodriguez’s considerations for a great user experience from Design 2.0 in San Francisco:

  1. Desirability (human factors)
  2. Viability (business factors)
  3. Feasibility (technical factors)

Next is Dirk Knemeyer’s anatomy of a product from the Future of Digital Product Design (PDF):

  1. Business
  2. Technology
  3. People

Lastly, to tie it all back to design as communication is my list of three things an interface design should communicate to customers/users:

  1. By addressing the question “What is this?” we communicate usefulness.
  2. By addressing “How do I use it?” we communicate usability.
  3. By addressing “Why should I care?” we communicate desirability.