It was in the mid 1990’s, I was working at a digital design studio, the web was relatively small and I recall in a search for the next cool web thing, I landed on an intriguing landing page. It was terribly designed, (awful in fact) clearly designed by a developer, and had very little information about what it actually was. In order to login you had to be an active student and get verified, which was something I was unable to do at the time.
That landing page was facebook. At the time you had to be enrolled in college to join, so it was even more intruiguing.
Original Facebook Landing Page
Hurtle on to today and facebook is a household name used by billions of people everyday. It truly is an amazing story. Millions around the globe use facebook to connect with each other, share their lives, discover lost friends and discuss meaningful things.
What was it about facebook that was so amazing ? It certainly wasn’t innovative. The concept of community driven websites had been tried by everyone: Time Warner, AOL, MySpace… in fact millions of dollars were sunk into companies developing online communities. Not one was successful. The internet highway is littered with websites on a last chance power ride of developing community technology. Facebook, by all measures of good design, was, and still is, badly designed. Not only did it look bad, but it was fairly bug ridden and poorly built. Even today the interface is a throwback to 1996. It delivers content you do not want to see, and delivers up advertising everywhere it can, and the facebook logo is a terrible example of design. I might go ahead and say facebook could be considered the anti-design of the internet.
So how did facebook succeed whilst others failed? Perhaps it was the right website at the right time scenario. Or the one left standing or that it was free. Despite all of the perceived “short comings” that experts could throw at it, facebook is a beheamoth in the digital era. That cannot be denied. But is it too big to fail?
The truth of the matter is that design, good design, is not an indicator of whether or not a product will succeed. In fact if you spend time really focusing on research, you will find that companies spend way too much time and money developing brands, over designing, over thinking and over iterating their products.
Arguably Google, Microsoft and facebook are great examples of companies ignoring design through their initial product development cycles, and succeeding anyway. We designers have to be able to admit that it’s not always about good design, as we define it.
Bad design can be good (to start with)
Good design, as defined by those of us who guard it, is not the golden ticket that agencies sell it as. Over the last 20 years agencies have sunk countless hours into developing how to package and sell creativity, ultimately landing on wrapping creativity around the word “brand,”and why every company needs a brand.
Start ups and small companies can’t afford to spend the time or the money hiring experienced designers or agencies, and as result tend to seek as much design help from friends, family and colleagues. They may be lucky enough to have a designer who has the experience to deliver a design that can help them stand out, but typically what they get is design from the inexperienced, they do it themselves or they copy something else. Non of which are “bad.”
While this “bad design” can impede a start up or small company it does not define the product or company. Bad design does not have to stop a company from achieving their next goal, or evolution on their path to success. In order for bad or low level design to not affect your company or product, you need to focus on other incredibly difficult things to achieve, namely a good product.
Cookie Cutter Design
Over the last 8 years the explosion of the templated internet has helped small and startup companies achieve a base level of design aesthetic, but due to the amount of companies leveraging cookie cutter design, those companies look very much the same.
It must be noted that the internet looking similar was not unexpected, not unlike how magazines, newspapers, paperback books, flyers etc… all have a similar format and feel. It was expected that the internet would adopt formats, grids and layouts as it grew and evolved and begin to have similar looks and feels… its the natural progression of form and function. Think about how car companies, car designs are all trending towards the same aesthetics. It’s no different.
The future of design
This does not mean that design opportunities are dwindling, in fact quite the opposite, design has never been more important. Now is the time for designers to find those clients and projects who are looking to take the leap into something new, something rare, and create the next trend.
Facebook, Google, IBM, and Microsoft are only now focusing on, and investing in, how design can improve their products, business and their bottom line. In fact Google is the 2018 Design company of the year.
Designing through the template noise of the internet is now the most important task designers must tackle. Solving problems utilizing the design thinking, and helping our clients create simple, easy to use products should be the mantra that elevates the design role in business over the next couple of years.
Good designers do far more than making things look pretty, they use their anayltical skills to solve problems and create innovate solutions to drive business forward.