A Need to Design

Designing for needs, is there a need for your design?

Feeling inspired by the Beazley Designs of the Year show, I can’t stop thinking about why we design. The show “celebrates design that promotes or delivers change, enables access, extends design practice or captures the spirit of the year.” An eclectic mix of graphics, technology, architecture, product design and much more, for me the collection as a whole illustrates the strength of ideas.

Ideas are tricky. They can be hard to find, and frustrating to tame. It’s easy to fail if you’re simply trying to have “a good idea”. 

In my working world, I engage with clients who come to me with a brief. A brief usually includes a description of what they want, and some tools to work with e.g. brand guidelines. A brief can often miss the most crucial piece: the need.

What is a need?

The need will inspire the idea, define the solution, and inform the design.

A need, when stripped back, is usually a basic concept. By asking questions and stripping back you can discover the need, and once you’ve got there, the need will inspire the idea, define the solution, and inform the design. 

The statement above makes it sound easy, however a brief will often be driven by a collection of needs, adding complexity to the solution and requiring ideas that work together in harmony. But discovering the basic need(s) is an effective way of starting out on the best path, and a useful benchmark for evaluating your final solution.

If you find yourself with a collection of needs, these can become user stories. User stories help to focus on what’s necessary, and filter out unnecessary and time consuming tangents. They are also an effective way of rationalising ideas and decisions when opinions are contrasting, a user story can facilitate a right and wrong answer in place of arguing personal opinion.


Let’s look at some designs featured at the Beazley Designs of the Year, and their original need.

Design: Better Shelter - A social enterprise designed by Johan Karlsson, Dennis Kanter, Christian Gustafsson, John van Leer and Tim de Haas, in partnership with IKEA Foundation and UNHCR
Description: Robust, efficient and affordable shelters for refugees, using flatpack technology.
Need: There is a need for better quality shelter for refugees
Associated need: There is a need for affordable shelter for refugees
Associated need: There is a need for readily available shelter for refugees
Associated need: there is a need for easy to construct shelter for refugees

Design: LEGO City Fun in the Park - City People Pack
Description: A new set of LEGO depicting a nice day out in the park that includes a person in a wheelchair. 
Need: There is a need for a toy that promotes inclusive attitudes in Children.

Design: Blackstar by Jonathan Barnbrook
Description: Artwork and graphic visual design for Bowie’s final album Blackstar. A remarkable aspect is that the main elements of the identity are open source, enabling anybody to download and pay tribute to Bowie in their own way. 
Need: There is a need for a memorable, poignant identity for Bowie’s final album and ongoing legacy

And so

I hope this quick post might make you think a little about the origins of a design, and how a great design can often be a simple, rational answer to a question or need. 

Of course there are exceptions, and times when the need is for enjoyment and creativity, and nothing more, but I guess that still counts as a need!

I’d like to end on something intelligent, but in the spirit of another design seen at the Beazley Designs of the Year show, better done than prfect.