I’ve been practicing design for a long time, however It’s only recently that I’ve had a bit of a breakthrough and been able to take a step up from the plateau I’ve been wandering around on for a while.

Visual design is an area I have particular interest in. However, I’ve learnt to understand that design means so much more than just the subset of visual design and that the principles of good design can be applied in so many different situations.

Take some common visual design principles that most people might understand:

  1. Reduction of a design down to only it’s most essential components
  2. Appropriate use of whitespace
  3. A pleasing aesthetic

I now realise that by using sensible abstraction, I make use of these same principles, and a whole lot more, in almost all the different challenges I work through. Such as when I’m figuring out the most efficient workflow for a user to achieve a task, when I’m figuring out how data needs to be stored and structured within an application, or how a series of developments should be planned, executed and reviewed.

Take, for example, figuring out the most efficient workflow to achieve a task. An efficient workflow starts with number one from the list above. Just as a UI element may contain excessive textures, gradients, shadows or other ornamentation, which may in some circumstances have some benefit, this visual idea can usually be communicated most efficiently by stripping back everything except the absolute essential components. Any workflow that contains anything more than the absolute essentials is clearly not the most efficient. Anything additional just serves to distract and overwork the user.

An appropriate use of whitespace, in visual terms, can equate what is not immediately visible. It could refer to the space around or between elements, or the space that the designer has purposely left void of controls, images or text. It can have such a dramatic impact on the user’s focus and their ability to understand the information they are being presented. For our workflow example, we can think of this as allowing the user to clearly comprehend each step in the process and providing room for them to think and effortlessly make simple decisions without being bombarded by a mass of cluttered and confusing data that may not all be entirely relevant.

A pleasing aesthetic is a rather straightforward example in the workflow case. It goes without saying that the workflow should be presented beautifully to the user. I always find that a well constructed interface gives confidence that the product or service is of high quality and sufficiently robust. But to look at a slightly different angle, if any project or process results in any documentation, not just for the user, but for other teams in the development, test or marketing process, that documentation should look as good as it can. Bad formatting or confusing layout can make documentation difficult to absorb. It seems to me, that whatever effort you put in to style guides and visual identity for your outward facing deliverables, you should apply similar effort to internal deliverables. Internal customers are still customers.

It’s really interesting to me, how influences and techniques from different disciplines can cross over into others and have such profound positive effects. These principles of design are just one example. It’s one of the reasons that I love to keep learning and get involved in other fields. Something learnt is never wasted and will have a use in other areas as long as you can abstract it and apply it creatively.