• • • We Stand with Israel

• • •  

• • •  

• • • עם ישראל חי

• • • Am Yisroel Chai

• • •  

• • •  

• • • We Stand with Israel

Don’t design what you don’t understand

Don Llanes

5 steps to design (almost anything) effectively.

In the dynamic world of visual communication, creating visually appealing and impactful designs goes beyond mere aesthetics. To truly resonate with your audience and communicate effectively, it is essential to have a deep understanding of the subject matter. Without a true understanding of the concept, it becomes exceedingly challenging to create designs that possess genuine meaning and leave a lasting impact. So, let's explore the significance of not designing what you don't understand and how acquiring knowledge and context can make your design work more effective and get the message across, whether you are a designer or not. Here are 5 simple steps.

1. Ask questions and explore

A quest for context

Design is storytelling through visual communication. Context is crucial for effective communication. Without understanding the subject matter, background, and purpose, your design may lack relevance and fail to connect with the audience. Research is essential to guide your design decisions. Talk to team members, clients, or experts to gather insights and uncover intricacies. Understand the project's context, industry, target audience, and cultural nuances to align your work with the intended message.

(If you’re a designer and you work with a team and have access to your CD’s creative brief, you could skip a few micro-steps from this step but collaboration is still highly recommended.)

2. Put yourself in someone else’s shoes

Empathy and human-centered design

Now that you’re equipped with the context needed for your project, the next step is to de-label yourself as a designer or whatever position you may have. You’ll have to get into your audiences’ mindset, it’s about feeling their problems and thinking how to actually solve them without verbally telling them it’s being solved. Understanding the end-user is a cornerstone of effective design, and it’s the heart of why you’re doing what you’re doing. Without a clear understanding of their needs, preferences, and behaviors, your design may miss the mark. Put yourself in the shoes of the user, empathize with their experiences, and design with their perspectives in mind. This human-centered approach will result in designs that are not only visually appealing but also intuitive, functional, and meaningful to the intended audience.

3. Conceptualize and Sketch

Beer Stage

With a solid understanding of the subject matter, clear objectives, and empathy to your audience in mind, it's time to start brainstorming and sketching ideas. Let your imagination run wild and explore different design concepts. Sketch out rough drafts (doesn’t need to be a really good sketch but something you can understand when you proceed to the next step) to visualize your ideas and experiment with various layouts, typography, and color palettes. This stage allows you to refine your creative vision and select the most promising concepts to move forward. This is what I call the beer stage in the “Sketch drunk, design sober” concept.

An important reminder:

While you’re letting your imagination run wild, don’t let steps 1 and 2 go to waste. Know that it’s up to you to illuminate the path for your audience. Get the message from point A (your design) to point B (your audience), let your audience know where they are and where they want to go. The primary way for this to work is to use the right type of language. (If you have a talented copywriter and/or marketing experts, you won’t have to worry about it for the most part) Don’t use passive voice, it renders a meaningless experience. Your message needs to talk to your audience directly. Here’s an example of CTAs in UI design that speaks directly to the users in contrast with the passive counterpart.

4. Execution, Iteration, & Collaboration

Coffee Stage

The next step is to bring your design to life. Utilize your technical skills and leverage appropriate software tools to execute your vision with precision and attention to detail. *Pay careful attention to typography, color choices, composition, and overall aesthetics - Consistency is the key (and contrast too). Ensure that your design is optimized for the intended medium, whether it's print, digital, or any other platform. You can google appropriate dimensions for the specific medium and platform you are tasked to do. Additionally, if you work with a team of designers, it’s always best to collaborate, and get second opinions. Don’t be afraid of getting neutral to negative feedback, it’s part of the process and an essential part of improving your design.

If you are a non-designer, and can’t afford to pay a designer but have a knack for great visuals, you can look to several tools that can help you execute your design and stand out. Here’s a list of 15 best design tools for non-designers.

Finally, deliver your design on time and communicate its purpose effectively.

*If the design you’re working on has brand guidelines to follow, it’s best to stick with it. 

5. Never stop learning

Learn and Adapt

Designing in unfamiliar territory offers an opportunity for personal and professional growth. Approach each project with a growth mindset, acknowledging that you have the capacity to learn and adapt. Engage in continuous learning by attending workshops, webinars, or even watching free tutorials on youtube or courses to acquire domain-specific knowledge and skills. This commitment to learning ensures that you bridge the knowledge gap and expand your design repertoire over time.

Designing without understanding is like building a structure without a solid foundation—it may appear visually appealing, but its effectiveness and impact will be compromised. By immersing yourself in the subject matter, embracing research, empathizing with users, collaborating with experts, and committing to continuous learning, you can create designs that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also thoughtful, relevant, and impactful.

Remember, in the world of design, knowledge and understanding are the catalysts that transform ordinary designs into extraordinary experiences. So, don't design what you don't understand; instead, embrace the journey of discovery, and let your designs tell powerful stories rooted in knowledge and context.

Don Llanes
Don Llanes
Design Team Leader | Lead Full-Stack Designer

Don is a highly skilled DA design leader with nearly 11 years of experience in different fields of design. His expertise lies in creating visually captivating and user-centric designs that blend form and function seamlessly. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for innovation, Don consistently delivers high-quality designs that exceed expectations.

Light Arrow Icon
arrow icon image