Imagine that there are two chair shops across the street from each other. Both of them are designing new chairs. One of the shops takes the design of the chair into consideration from the very beginning, before they even start building. They hire the best chair designer they can. The chair designer researches other chairs on the market to find out where they’re lacking, they may ask people what they like and dislike about their current chairs, they research different materials, they consider the chair company’s budget, and they source materials and manufacturing to make sure the chair is built right. The whole time making sure they’re within the profit margin they want, or need, to be in. They test different chair designs. They make adjustments. They test again. They come up with a solid design that meets both their company’s goals and people’s desire. The chair goes into production. It sells well. Everyone is now rich.
The chair shop across the street also makes a chair. These guys select OK materials, they make a seat, some legs, a back. It’s definitely a chair! Then they hire a chair designer and say, “Make this a comfortable chair!” The designer adds a sad cushion to the seat. The chair bombs. Everyone dies of dysentery.
This is the value of good design. We understand it in common objects like chairs, clothes, shoes, watches. But when it comes to web sites, we tend to think of it as a surface layer that can be applied at the end. But in truth, design is happening from day one. It can be intentional, or it can be happenstance. But for design to be truly great, it needs to be built into your projects from the very beginning. Because if you’re not doing it, you can bet your competitors are.