Don't redesign on spec

I am about to blow your mind with something life has taught me. Are you ready for this… Design is not Art. Yup, you heard that correctly. Design does not equal art. Okay, you can breathe now.

No but seriously: design, by nature, is utilitarian. Design is the “How” of something – How to construct this chair, How to present the information clearly (or, if needed, unclearly), How to convey a mood with the right aesthetics, How to serve the client’s needs. Design has a brief and/or a goal set by the client which it follows and aims to fulfill.

It's all about utility

Art, by nature, is not utilitarian. It does not concern itself with descriptions but leaves its viewer with the option to develop his/her own interpretation of what he/she sees. Art is its own means to an end, it does not solve problems for its viewer and it is without a specific goal. It is a reaction to an observation made by the artist that is sometimes processed through an emotional filter and sometimes remains in pure documentation form.

This is not shocking news: we established this a long time ago. I bring this up because I would like to address something that I see happening over and over again. It is the art of the self initiated redesign. You know, those Facebook redesigns that you see on Behance or that re-imagining of Yahoo on Dribbble.

These are designs that were never contracted by actual companies, done on the designer’s “spare time”. Usually they only address the aesthetics and never really aim to tackle a particular problem the designer may have with the service. Furthermore these designs are not based on the needs, the brief or the end goal of an actual company simply because they are not known to the designer. They look great on the surface, but that’s all.

Know your goals

Now, go back and look at the way I defined art and design. The process of these “redesigns” does not fall in place with the definition of design. They actually fall closer to the definition of art in that it is “…reacting to an observation that is processed through an emotional filter…”

I am not trying to get all anal on definitions. Trust me, I am not that kind of guy. I bring this up because, as a designer but more importantly as a business owner, when I see these “redesigns” I cringe. My potential clients may stumble upon them in the different social networks and assume that design has no real process or thought behind it, a matter of guesswork or taste. That it takes a few hours of a designer’s spare time to create a beautiful site that functions well. Is this the way that we want to promote web design to all our potential clients out there? Is design really a subjective craft created in your spare time?

I cannot envision a site for a company without knowing what their goals are, without communicating and collaborating with my client. For the same reason, I often refuse to do spec work or pitches for prospective clients, because they are essentially asking me to design blindly or to guess. If I were to ignore my client’s needs, I would be envisioning something that abides to my needs and preferences, thus creating a completely new or different product.

Recognise your motives

It is a shame really, because in the time designers spend redesigning a beautiful yet faux mock for someone else’s existing service for free, they could have been creating something real of their own. Maybe they could have even published it and make a buck or two. I mean, if you are going to create fake goals for an existing product, you might as well create real goals for a completely new one.

Now, it is worth mentioning that there are great examples of services that have been re-envisioned: it’s all a matter of what your motive is. If you attempt to call out a specific problem you have and accompany it with your solution and an in-depth article explaining
the reasoning behind the moves, then I applaud you. This never seems like a vanity act, but a simple call out that a designer has with the service he/she loves. They are also usually interesting improvements, and never focused solely on aesthetics.

Art for art's sake?

The “redesigns” that focus on aesthetics and personal taste are the ones we need to be careful about. I can understand why designers create them – they seem like good practice. An opportunity maybe to brush up on one’s Photoshop skills and to flex those creative muscles while at the same time attract some attention on social networks. But to be honest, without real goals I am not really sure that creating faux redesigns is really good design practice to begin with. Heck, creating your own product and setting real goals to it while tackling them in the design is actually the best practice you can get!

Of course, I'm not against you redesigning an existing product in itself. But maybe it would be better to just keep it private and not upload it to the different social circles. If they do end up on Behance or Dribbble, let’s at least remember to call them what they are. They are not redesigns, but artist’s renditions.

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The Creative Bloq team is made up of a group of design fans, and has changed and evolved since Creative Bloq began back in 2012. The current website team consists of eight full-time members of staff: Editor Georgia Coggan, Deputy Editor Rosie Hilder, Deals Editor Beren Neale, Senior News Editor Daniel Piper, Digital Arts and Design Editor Ian Dean, Tech Reviews Editor Erlingur Einarsson and Ecommerce Writer Beth Nicholls and Staff Writer Natalie Fear, as well as a roster of freelancers from around the world. The 3D World and ImagineFX magazine teams also pitch in, ensuring that content from 3D World and ImagineFX is represented on Creative Bloq.