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Is design really about solving problems?

Matthew Butterick believes that problem solving is actually the lowest form of design.

He notes…

Because what does design want from us, as designers? Does it only want a solved problem? I think it wants more. I think it wants us to take these items that are sort of mundane or boring on their own—like an annual report, or a website shopping cart, or a business card—and it wants us to fill them up. Fill them with ideas, and emotions, and humor, and warmth. Really everything that’s in our hearts and minds. Design wants us to invest these items with our humanity. And the problem that we’re solving—that’s really just the context where that happens.

I agree with Butterick, but I need to clarify something. Solving problems is design. The problem solving element is what separates design from art. I see Butterick’s talk as a call to do more. Don’t just solve problems. Solve them in a meaningful and emotionally impactful way.

Ironically, I’ve been thinking that design today is often too much about the emotional impact and not enough about the problem. I see beautiful, engaging, fun to use websites and apps that don’t actually solve problems. They feel more like another layer of technology to worry about and distract you from life.

So yes, absolutely go create more emotion and meaning in your designs. But make sure you’re actually solving problems, too.

Learn More

  1. Watch Matthew Butterick's talk at TYPO London
  2. Read the transcript on Matt's blog