WordsWorkBeautiful Design is the Least You Can Do

Beautiful Design is the Least You Can Do

Being “just a designer” is a sentiment I’ve heard many times. Pretty sure I’ve said it myself. I’ve never liked it, mostly because of the reasons why people tend to use it to:

  • Avoid responsibility / accountability
  • Downplay the importance of design
  • Defer to the perceived importance of other skillsets

Frankly, these all suck. Let’s look closer.

Make things look good

This is the most important and insidious aspect of a designer’s sense of self. Making things look good is, in fact, a designer’s primary skill, requiring talent and taste. It’s an absolute must. Or, as my boss would say, it’s table stakes.

It’s assumed.

Whether or not something actually does look good is wildly subjective. Everybody—and I mean everybody—has strong opinions about visual design. Long have I wished for the quiet dominance that developers enjoy in meetings and pitches. More times than I care to count, I’ve watched while they present technical recommendations the client’s eyes glaze over.

Designers work on a thing for weeks, only to hear concept-killing zingers like, “Yeah, I don’t know… I just hate purple.”

We swallow our pride, we learn, we sharpen our eye, and we make it look good. Gotta do it.

Solve problems

This is the next level for a designer with more experience. Hitting the target of looking good is less difficult at this stage, and as a result they begin to see beyond the aesthetic. They can see the constraints and challenges sooner and start to think more critically.

  • Will this UI element create problems for the user?
  • This color choice will present issues for those with disabilities.
  • This layout works great in desktop, but will have to be completely redesigned for mobile. Is there a better choice that will better serve both scenarios?

A designer’s value to the project increases greatly when they begin to operate not-only as an agent of aesthetics, but as a wise guide.

Translate for the client

Problem-solving designers elevate themselves further—dramatically so, I have to say—by developing their soft skills with clients. You’ve heard it before, and it’s true, every time: soft skills are where the magic lives.

Clients all have their own language. They’re just people, after all, with their own style, perspective, and taste. It takes attention and instinct to begin to understand what a client means when they say things like:

  • “It just doesn’t… I don’t know…SING.”
  • “It should feel more…. fun. Why does it feel so boring?”
  • “Can we gamify this?”

It’s during this stage where designers (hopefully) stop taking everything quite so personally. Recognizing that ours is a world of high subjectivity is difficult, but the result is true professional freedom and a deeper understanding of service.

So, you can design beautiful things, solve problems, and speak fluent Client—

Now what?

Drive strategic outcomes

The final form of a designer is the ability to marry design thinking and high-level communication from start to finish. The designer takes ownership immediately on a project, attending initial client meetings and requirements gathering workshops (yes, even the technical ones), participating in feedback sessions, leading iteration cycles, ingesting data from usability testing, and beyond.

Design is not a deliverable—it’s a process. It’s the way we identify goals, understand complex problems, and suggest simple, elegant solutions. Too often, designers see themselves only as visual champions, not allowed to speak up at the big kid’s table.

Strategic designers are very easy to spot in organizations, as they:

  • See the forest and the trees: It’s not just about creating something visually pleasing, but understanding how it fits into the broader user journey, and, most importantly—how it contributes to organizational goals.
  • Bridge the technical and the human: Understanding how a design will impact the development process, and being able to communicate across various teams with clarity and empathy.
  • Embrace iteration: Strategic designers know that nothing is static. They welcome feedback, testing, and refinement, knowing how those factors strengthen the long-term outcomes.

Let’s let “I’m just a designer” die the death it deserves. Yes, clients expect beautiful work, but they stay—and pay well—for strategic minds who deliver value for the business and its users. Any designer who navigates these phases will become something that the entire organization needs and respects:

A leader.

https://charliepratt.com

Charlie Pratt is a Creative Director in Charlotte, NC, with over two decades of experience in UI, UX, branding, and creative leadership.