There’s a video by Mule Design’s own Michael Monteiro, from his presentation at UX Lx in Portugal. His lecture was called “How Designers Destroyed The World”, and he covered the many ways in which design, while inherently necessary to our way of life, fails to better the community it serves. The scenarios he brought up in his lecture were striking, and while they were more broad in content, they still covered a lot of bases that even the smallest project can face.

Believe it or not, just because something is “designed”, doesn’t always mean it’s well done. It can be for many reasons outside of just the superficial, because even the best looking design can fail (yes, a design studio is saying that design fails at times). In many cases, for reasons such as lack of budget or overall apathy, a design can fall short and sometimes that fall could be significant; compromising everything such as that lack of budget, your brand’s outreach, and the trust of your current audience.

Now before we get into this, know that design is very subjective. Not everyone is going to have a positive reaction to everything. But here are a few guidelines of how design can fail, so you’ll know where to spot any flaws:

Lack of concept

Graphic design is defined as “the art or profession of visual communication that combines images, words, and ideas to convey information to an audience, especially to produce a specific effect (Random House Dictionary, 2015)”. This principle applies to everything from logos and print, to packaging and even modern web design. When you look at an advertisement on a bus or in a magazine, what ultimately attracts your attention is the concept that’s being communicated to you through word and image. It arrests your mind, maybe hit on an emotion or two, and ultimately you’ll remember it or even act on its call-to-action. Simply put, If the design isn’t communicating anything, it is nothing but meaningless decoration.

Lack of execution

Have you ever gone to a restaurant, order the Special, marvel at how beautiful it looks and taste it, but then feel a slight or significant disappointment? It’s kind of the same with design, except you have at least 5 seconds to reel in the viewer’s attention. The execution of—well, anything—can greatly determine the success of your design at face value. The concept itself could be great, but if it looks poorly done, no one will take it seriously. For instance, you may have intended the package design you had done to create a high-end or chic vibe; but if the execution is off even by a tiny bit, your ideal customers may lose out on the intended effect and, therefore, not buy your product.

Lack of functionality

Design applies just as much to the visuals as to the actual construct, or the framework of the design. It’s the reason why most web designers and UI/UX designers always start with wireframes or rapid sketching and prototyping. It even applies to things like designing brand identities and logos, in which the created visual mark must work in different contexts. In the case of a brand identity, say that after five successful years in the business, you’ve decided that your breakfast restaurant is going to begin serving dinner. If your brand’s logo is specifically breakfast-related, or even if your name is specifically breakfast-related, your identity automatically doesn’t work. Another example could be that you haven’t been experiencing much sales from the e-commerce platform on your website, but the experience of buying your products may be too confusing or not trustworthy. With whatever project you go through with a designer or design studio, make sure that all objectives are being met, especially functionality.

Lack of ethics

Last but not least, we are all responsible for what we put in the world. As designers, we share a grand responsibility to make sure that what we design for will ultimately bring about a positive effect in our communities. There are some things out there that, even with good design, have little to no ethical or moral standing. There are things out there that may be a detriment on people’s health rather than an improvement. There may be a social media platform with a new feature that may compromise its users rather than consider and maintain its privacies. Whatever project you begin, make sure that it won’t pollute our way of life instead of improving or enhancing it.

There are many beautiful looking things in the world, but not all of them are of a beautiful cause. There are many functioning things in the world that look crude and poorly designed. Take a walk through the city. Can you spot the good and bad?

Oh, and check out the video below

Chris Santoro graduated from Massart in 2012 on a mission: to start a kickass design agency and make awesome brands even more awesome. Fast forward to 2017, and alongside three longtime friends, he's helped lead the visual direction and execution of beautifully designed and dynamic brands for tech start-ups and small businesses alike. With clients in Northeastern University, VELCRO, and Saucony, alongside various Boston agencies, he works fast and efficiently to help his clients meet their goals.