Design vs Pretty


In this article, I will be briefly covering the differences between prettifying and beautiful design and why it matters.


With the popularity of visual-focused platforms such as Instagram, Behance, Pinterest, Dribbble, and Tumblr, and with the dramatical increase in design programme accessibility, it seems the meaning of beautiful design has been distorted or lost in translation like a game of Chinese Whispers.

In its purest essence, design is problem-solving. It is to give considerate form to ideas to solve complex problems through refined means. Design has a focused aim and a measured effect, and when done correctly, it can be incredibly beautiful. However, what has been lost in translation is that design is not solely visual. Business systems and brand strategy are not visual. Emotional connection is not visual. They can be defined, outlined, written, and explained through visualisation, but they are not themselves visual. Think brand strategy, positioning, sound design, automation, client experience systems, research — These are all core non-visual components to complex problem-solving.

Why should you care?

It’s common knowledge that design can make or break a product. Being able to tell the difference between quality design and prettifying can help save you a heap of trouble in the long-term. Prettifying costs you opportunities for innovation. Pretty things satisfy the eyes briefly but leave the heart empty. That’s worrying considering how much of our decision making is predicated by emotion.

Quality design helps to achieve goals quicker, more effectively, and cheaper. It is an investment for your future. Incorrect design — or in other words prettifying — will cost you in the long-term. A £5 logo from Fiverr is appealing no doubt. However, logos that cheap are often stolen and are not made with your needs in mind. A print run of poster advertisements might be a good idea, but perhaps an online Facebook campaign would be far more cost-effective, robust, and environmentally-friendly?

An experienced designer will ask “why”. They will listen to what it is you’re trying to achieve and suggest the best method of achieving your goal. That is design. It is not to make something pretty; it is to make it work. It saves you time, money, stress, and helps to catapult you towards a future goal you have envisioned.

How do you avoid prettifying and focus on true design?

By giving reason to every design decision. No arbitrary preferential choices but instead ones governed by focus and purpose.


Prime Optixs wanted a brand that was British, premium, and inspired adventure. A sense of Britishness was instilled with a classic muted green, paired with a welcoming, warm off-white. Editorial design and a versatile yet classy typeface Runda created a strong premium feeling. Finally, in collaboration with WeShouldCreate, the imagery and video style inspired adventure delivered with the tagline “Helping you look forward”.


Mortar&Pestle’s brand message revolves around honest food and Welsh pride. It pays for quality produce from reputable Welsh suppliers, releases a bi-annual magazine about issues arising in its area of operation, and focuses on building a community of people who care about Wales, food, and ethical business. This helps build customer loyalty and establishes valid reasons for premium prices.

Those are two very concise breakdowns of Prime Optixs and Mortar&Pestle. They might even seem like common sense, and so they should. Design decisions should not be redundant abstractions; they should be as though there is no other way for them to exist. I encourage you to look through the project showcases to see the full breadth of these two projects.

Celebrating Quality Design

In Smörgåsbord’s Brand Wales, all concepts are a direct celebration of Wales. Welsh landscapes inspire the colours, the nation’s flag anchors the imaging system, and the typeface a first designed for the unique welsh language. Research and logic anchor every decision. The brand language speaks passionately, helping to connect not only the Welsh to their country but to invite and inspire adventure to those outside the country’s borders. Check out the full brand video below for the breadth of detail in this project.


Interbrand Australia’s Prince Akatoki Brand Design is an excellent example of how a design outcome should seem almost like common sense. It is smart, considerate, and anchored in research and reason. Watch the brand video below, and you will see how research, strategy, tone-of-voice, brand language, sound design, animation, video, photography, visual communication, interior design and more are fused to forge a concrete project. It is considerate of Japan’s history, culture, and in what light to show it. It connects with busy people seeking a breather, and what better than to enjoy the hospitality of a country renowned for it’s attention to detail in all it does?


Choose Design

Pretty work is a commodity. It has no function or utility except for looking good. Design, however, will drive towards measured goals and will continue to work for you years after it’s completion.

There’s plenty of great designers, studios and agencies creating great work that stays true to the core principles of design. I think its starting to rise back up above the noise of pretty things — fantastic news! Unfortunately, the number of poorly executed design still far outnumbers these designers. This can give design a poor reputation among those who’ve had a bad experience, adding weight to the shoulders of those striving for better design, and a better world.

Let's stop making pretty things. Let's create beautiful design that works.