updated: October 2nd, 2009 / Ross Johnson / 1 Comments

As designers we need to use more adjectives in our work…

Adjectives? Wait am I confused? Should I be talking about copy writing? No no, I assure you I am in fact talking about design. Like many of you I am always browsing through galleries and assessing new web site launches, because I am interested in seeing what type of working is being done outside my Michigan network. Like me, you may come across designs that are stunning and beautiful, but don’t seem to do a think to enhance the subject matter.

It seems there is a stage that some designers easily bypass, and others tend to get stuck in. That stage is caring more about making something beautiful, over making something that is beautiful in the right context. A marketing professional that I have worked with before by the name of Joe Radding once said “Everything is marketing. A blank piece of paper is marketing. Everything gives you an impression…” This could not be more true when it comes to design, which in turn creates a problem when your number one goal is to make something visually stimulating.

Design adjectives

Of course making a design visually stimulating is important and can have great benefits, after all you have on average 3 – 5 seconds to impress a user and convince them they are at the right place before they leave. However you can give the wrong impression, with the wrong design, regardless of how great it might look. The classic example of this is a bold black background white text design, high in contrast and high in impact… used on a site that is trying to communicate higher level knowledge, education, etc (for example, a database consulting firm.)

This is usually the result of not understanding the brand or an ineffective (and sometimes non-existent) design discovery phase. A well done design discovery phase will leave you with adjectives. Oh wonderful adjectives, and they will make your designs sing. These adjectives will describe the FEELING of the design. How should you FEEL when you are creating it? How should you FEEL when you see it? What emotions will be associated with the brand, and what emotions will the user FEEL when they view it?

These are the good adjectives, and they will often be words like:

  • Excited
  • Bold
  • Unique
  • Consistent
  • Organized
  • Open
  • Contained

From those adjectives you can derive DESIGN adjectives. It is important not to let the client skip to design adjectives. Your job as the designer is to make that connection, not them. Design adjectives might be –

  • curvy
  • sharp
  • boxed
  • rounded
  • dark
  • light
  • clean
  • structured
  • simple
  • minimal
  • photographic
  • rich
  • earthy

If needed use some sort of mind mapping techniques to really break out what the design should feel like and why. What adjectives should be associated with the design, what feelings should be associated with it… then think about how you can connect those feelings and adjectives with visual representations.

Earthy will likely be organic shapes, earth color tones, and an open unrestricted layout (ie: no hard borders). Where structured will likely be a design with a strong visual grid, clear boxes of content, and hard edges.

Take some time to develop a set of questions that you can use to extract these adjectives out of your clients, and then practice developing those adjective keywords into feelings, design adjectives, and design concepts.

One thought “As designers we need to use more adjectives in our work…

  1. It’s common that clients want to get right to describing what the site should look like, and how many links should be on it, before they’ve even considered what the goal of the site should be.

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