“Design is the application of intent– the opposite of happenstance” – Robert L. Peters

Design is a lot more than just making aesthetically pleasing things – it’s also problem solving and visual communication. Designer Saul Bass summed it up nicely when he said design is thinking made visual.” The field of design is a gradient of many different disciplines – from traditional graphic design to illustration, web design to user experience, product design to fashion design, and many more. But an underlying thread that connects these different disciplines is the crafting of an intention or purpose.

So what does it mean to design with intention? Art and design are often very subjective things, and it’s easy to create things for the sake of creating something beautiful or simply because you want to. But I believe great design considers both form and function, and thoughtful design lies at the intersection of the two. Let’s take a closer look at some of the elements that drive thoughtful design:

“Design is really an act of communication, which means having a deep understanding of the person with whom the designer is communicating.” – Donald Norman

Thoughtful design is intentional. This may go without saying, but start off by setting an intention. Clearly define the purpose and objective of your project before you try to design a solution. Figure out what you’re trying to communicate, and how. Are you introducing a new product or brand? Trying to drive sales or online traffic? Making a bold statement? Figuring out and setting an intention or goal will also help determine what the end deliverable is, whether it’s a social media campaign, landing page, or print ad.

“Socrates said, “Know thyself.” I say, “Know thy users.” And guess what? They don’t think like you do.” -Joshua Brewer

Thoughtful design is empathetic. It’s important to consider the whole picture: from the initial goal to the concepting phase to the end product and end user. Who is the target audience or end user? In what context will they be viewing or interacting with the design? Understanding and empathizing with the user and their needs will ultimately help you create a design or product that resonates more deeply. So ask the right questions, and know your audience. Design can also be very subjective, so sometimes our own personal biases and preferences can keep us from being objective. There are times that I’ve had to take a step back and put my own aesthetic preferences aside, because i’m not designing for myself. Try to simplify and take away ideas that don’t fulfill the original intention and purpose or benefit the user.

“The history of discovery is full of creative serendipity” – Tom Kelley

Thoughtful design is collaborative. There are many different ways to go about the ideation and concepting process, but collaboration is a great way to foster creativity, teamwork, and fresh perspectives. The design process is often a dynamic one, with different parts and teams often working in tandem– copy and design, design and tech, etc. Communication and shared accountability is important too, and both will help streamline the design, development, and prototyping process. When we have concepting meetings, cross-functional teams will collaborate in a room together by brainstorming ideas and writing them down on a whiteboard. Not every idea will be successful, but that’s okay! The ideation phase should encourage good ideas, crazy ideas, and “bad” ideas before you begin to narrow them down.

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

Thoughtful design is dynamic. Keep learning and be flexible, because at any point in the design process, there may be changes, iterations, or even mistakes. Sometimes a bad idea seems like a good idea, and vice versa. And even after the product or design is finished, the work is not done yet. Evaluation is important too: how did the design fare against the initially defined objectives and metrics? How did the viewer, audience, or client react? What can you learn and apply for the next time? Thoughtful design also takes into consideration industry best practices, trends, tools, and technology– which are always evolving.

“Everything is design. Everything!” – Paul Rand

Thoughtful design drives innovation. Brands like Apple, Google, Coca-Cola, Nike, and Airbnb are known for their attention to detail when it comes to thoughtful design, user experience, and creating products and platforms that improve our daily lives and bring joy. A thoughtfully designed product, website, or poster has the ability to impact the way people interact with a brand or product. Design is everywhere– and influences us daily.

It’s all a learning process, but as with most things, you learn by doing and making mistakes. The design and creative process might differ slightly from person to agency to brand, but that’s okay! Just remember to keep an open mind, stay inspired, and embrace challenges.