Design as Veneer (Or as Meaning, Knowledge, Belief & Action)

Mar 07

Some variation of this statement happens in almost every conversation we have with potential vendors, “Wow… you guys really care about design.” And while statement is deadly true, what they typically mean is, “Wow… you guys really care about the way things look.” Veneer. Window dressing. Aesthetics.

But we mean what Steve means:

Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.


Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

Because we know that:

Content precedes design. Design in the absence of content is not design, it’s decoration.
Jeffrey Zeldman


The dumbest mistake is viewing design as something you do at the end of the process to ‘tidy up’ the mess, as opposed to understanding it’s a ‘day one’ issue and part of everything.
Tom Peters

And we believe:

Before you can execute the design, you’ve got to live the design problem.
Kathleen Brandenburg


People ignore design that ignores people.
Frank Chimero

And then we try to live all that out in such a way that:

Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent.
Joe Sparano

I hope we’re succeeding. Miles to go before we sleep.


  1. Liz Wall

    Man, I miss you guys. You taught me so much last semester about how being “good enough” isn’t good enough. You taught me to pursue excellence, not just because it’s pretty, not just because it makes you feel like a great designer, but because people need functional design first, attractive design second. You taught me to strive to make both of those elements requirements for any design and not to compromise.

    Thanks for teaching me character in the workplace and teaching me to strive for excellence for the glory of God.

    It is changing how I view school this semester. It is changing what type of job I want to have when I graduate and it is developing me as a very young designer.

    Thanks for your patience with me and your investment in my future.

  2. Good stuff! I agree! You come with some quite interesting observations, Joshua.. :)

  3. Some simple truths put very eloquently. The word “design” has some sort of a stigma to it when design is relevant to everyday life and without quality design the world as we know it would not function.

  4. A tired dude

    I wish I worked somewhere that believed this, or knew better how to influence where I do work.

  5. Mom

    Tired Dude: Do not wish—wishing is static. MOVE, either in mind—by taking the risk to use what influence you have boldly (if it is indeed influence based on knowledge justly gained) or body—by having the courage to believe in your own self worth and remove that self from a place where all of the above does not apply, to a place where it does (if you are actually worthy of being there). “A place” is out there. Find it. Do not waste your minutes of life and your future learning curve.

  6. Great words Joshua. The Tom Peters quote speaks volumes. The design has to evolve with the content and concept in order to produce something truly remarkable.

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