"Design is a difficult thing to discuss," said a colleague of mine. We were eating lunch together.
I looked wonderingly at him and asked him to elaborate.
"You see, design is a matter of taste," continued my friend. "You cannot say one design is 'better' than another. That is up to you to decide."
People who know me will believe I was provoked, but I actually kept quite calm.
"No," I said. "Design is not a matter of taste!"
I reached out for a jug of water on the table.
"Look at this jug. Is this a good design?" I asked.
"Yes, I think it looks nice," answered my friend wonderingly.
"I also think it looks nice, but try using it to pour water into a glass."
My friend filled his glass. When he put the jug down, we both noticed a last drop of water moving from the edge and meandering down the moist and cold exterior of the mug, down on to the table. When it reached the bottom, it spread out along the round container like mercury, forming a wet ring on the table. I looked at my friend. We looked at the table. It was littered with rings from other guests who had poured water using similar jugs.
"That is no 'nice' jug," I said. "That is a jug failing to fulfill its purpose."
Thus, an expensive and 'designed' jug can be totally worthless in practice. At the same time, a dead boring jug bought for $2 at IKEA can be fantastic to pour with, not spilling a drop. And when we are talking about design to be used and interacted with, function has to take priority over form – if the design is to fulfill its purpose.
I am a communications designer and the type of person who often asks difficult questions to colleagues as well as myself. "Why" here and "why" there. It has to be tiresome, but also invaluable in design processes. There is always a reason why we do what we do. There is always a goal. In such cases, a pixel here and a pixel there can not lack purpose.
When we started working with Malmö Arena, the biggest challenge was to make the site accessible for the general public. Of course seniors and youth navigate differently, but it is our priority to make sure everyone finds what they are looking for. On the event pages, we wanted to make five parameters extra accessible: date, price and target audience (age limit), as well as a button for buying a ticket and one for sharing the event to a friend. But how could we reach such a broad audience in the best possible way?
I racked my brain looking for inspiration and came to think of a situation where it is near impossible to get lost: at airports. Where-ever I look, it is easy to see what is around the next corner. In every hall, I can easily see where I am and I can easily see a board displaying arriving and departing flights.
The answer was signs. Signs that clearly separate one message from the rest of the content and that elegantly frames the most interesting information. It sounds simple, but when you design a web site for the world's broadest audience – arena visitors – easy answers are difficult to find.
In the end, malmoarena.com is a well-functioning site. It is easy to navigate for all target groups and has been positively received by the customer's business relations. Whether it looks good or not is up to you. It fulfills its purpose and leaves no undesirable marks on the table.