How Design Fails

It is my experience that design seldom can do much good for most second– and third–tier companies and organizations. The reason for this is that these sorts of entities almost always fail themselves before they even enlist the services of a designer or a design agency.

More often than not, companies and organizations first need business consulting before they need design – else all the design in the world can do little good for them.

For instance, the following scenarios are pretty much regular fare in our industry:

  • The client comes to us with an ever expanding list of print collateral they need produced. They don’t seem to understand that so much of it is redundant and they insist on spending 3 times what they should. They prefer a scattershot approach to marketing collateral instead of examining what their specific needs are and planning a targeted program to address those needs.
  • The client comes to us for a website or a site redesign. Their reason for this need is to “keep up” with their competition; to “look competitive.” They so often fail to first make their business competitive and then reflect that difference with their online presence.
  • The client comes to us for a website or site redesign in order to better reflect the gravity of their brand. They so often fail to notice that their brand is the problem; that the logo lacks gravity, that their copy writing lacks gravity and direction, that their company culture and client relationships are pure boilerplate.

Now, it is quite understandable that this can happen. After all, it is hard for any of us to grasp just how much we don’t know and to take steps to address those issues. What’s so very disappointing though is that when these kinds of oversights and deficiencies are pointed out, they’re almost always dismissed by the client as irrelevant.

In such cases, there is a high probability that the client will end up being unsatisfied with the agency and its work. After all, design cannot produce excellent results when it is being poorly employed. Design should never be the first step in dressing up or “fixing” a business or an organization.

Excellent design coupled with sound business strategy works. One without the other almost never does. But it’s too bad design so often takes the wrap for this failure.

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This is the personal soap box and playground of Andy Rutledge, principal and chief design strategist at UNIT. A sampling of some of my previous Web design work can be found in my portfolio site.

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