Start with something to communicate

User interface design is not art. It has a definite purpose. Your design should communicate something.

Visual design is made of elements. Illustrations. Colours. Button shapes. Typefaces. Copy. Everything you choose to include. These elements together are a chorus of voices. They need to speak in harmony. This usually means they should all say the same thing. Otherwise I can’t understand what they say.

Choose what you want them to say. Before you start the design. Maybe you choose “luxury”.

Your typeface can say “luxury”. So can your illustrations. Your colours. Everything.

Look at every element you’ve used. Look at how you’ve styled it. Does it say “luxury”? Show it to someone else. Do they think it says “luxury”? Can you change anything to make it clearer? Can you add any elements that will help? Can you take away elements that don’t help?

It’s OK if some elements say something else. But all of the elements need to speak in harmony. One message should strengthen the others. I’ll be confused if your design says “luxury” and “cheap”. I will understand if your design says “luxury” and “reliable”.

Some elements speak more clearly. Copy speaks very clearly for example. It uses real words to speak. “Hand-stitched snakeskin bags” says “luxury”. It doesn’t leave much room for doubt.

Other elements speak more softly. They’re harder to understand. But you get a sense. The colour green says “nature”. But not everyone hears it. Not all of the time. The colour green can make “nature” louder. But you should not rely only on the colour green.

Most elements say more than one thing. The colour green also says “money”. And “envy”. That’s why elements need to speak in harmony. Otherwise I won’t know want you want me to hear. If all elements say “nature” I can ignore the other things they say.

Semantics, for me, is the search of the meaning of whatever we have to design. The very first thing I do whenever I start a new assignment in any form of design … is to search for the meaning of it … Design without semantics is shallow and meaningless, but unfortunately it is also ubiquitous … How often we see design that has no meaning: stripes and swashes of color splashed across pages for no reason whatsoever.

Next chapter →

← Previous chapter

Back to the table of contents