The boundaries of pretty design

We all love a well-designed webpage. The days of ugly, drab listings are over. It’s all cool now.

Well, that thought struck me when I saw this UK Government site addressing the issues of student loans.

Initially, I might have cheered this swanky design for a government website. But what bothered me later, is how the design may not at all be in tune with the message, with the subject matter.

Not to go into politics too much, but from what I gather, student loans in the UK have not been very popular. A new law was passed that makes costs and pay-backs heftier for the students, and protests (and even riots) were all over the news.

So, when a subject is that tricky to touch on, does it warrant a ‘pretty design’?

I can’t help but think that a ‘look and feel’ like this would in fact work adversely on its audience. But the same goes for all matters of social and public services: does Amnesty International need to look cool? Does cancer research need a cutting edge logo? In fact, did Obama need the visual identity his campaigners applied so well?

Here, is part of a redesign for something called the Center for Land Use Interpretation.

It’s a great example of data visualization of public space “through dif­fer­ent dis­ci­plines of geog­ra­phy, art, sci­ence, and architecture”. But this is a conceptual project. Would it be the right design choice for examining “the often overlooked and seemingly desolate fringes of Los Angeles”?

As designers, it seems we sometimes lose sense of the boundaries of what belongs on Dribbble, and what is appropriate for a public, mainstream website.

It’s no crime to design with style. However, what happens to professionalism when everything you do has to impress your peers, rather than work in function of the intended audience?

Let’s finish with an elaborate quote from what Andy Rutledge in Design Professionalism calls the ‘Sports Culture’ in design.

The unhealthy preoccupation with industry or association contests and awards is a common mistake that leads designers into unprofessional practices and distorts functional ideals.


Yes, it is heartening to be recognized by your industry peers, yet only seldom are awards and recognition based on the efficacy of a design’s results. Therefore most of this activity hovers around decoration and daring.

That, to me, is spot on.

Designing is a great job. It’s work hard, play hard. But it’s not all play, and only the true professional will realize that and work accordingly, delivering work that is not just pretty, but good.

We can all be good, professional designers, but we need to want to work on becoming that; not just act it out on Twitter.


Share and Enjoy: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
  • MisterWong
  • Y!GG
  • Webnews
  • Digg
  • StumbleUpon
  • Reddit

One thought on “The boundaries of pretty design

  1. “Would it be the right design choice for examining the often overlooked and seemingly desolate fringes of Los Angeles?”

    Yes. You’re missing something about design, how it’s a superficial (but necessary) layer overlaid over the real world. It’s not the real world. Furthermore, the CLUI design work is suitable for the target audience – designers and architects. I mean, did you want the UK loan site to have pictures of protesters and police? Design is a frame, a way of changing the tone of a message so that it’s more palatable and engaging to the target audience. Your job is to manipulate. Even an “ugly, drab listing” – if done intentionally – is an act of manipulation.