The design tool they never told you about

While talking to one of my colleagues, a few days ago, I had an epiphany regarding one of the most important — yet underestimated — designer skills: the ability to create order.

Meaningful order.

The power to organize and clean up fuzzy datasets

Everyone has a favorite definition of design — mine is Victor Papanek’s:

Design is the conscious effort to impose a meaningful order.

—Victor Papanek

Meaningful order refers, for me, not only to • expressive order in layers of symbolism, • aesthetically satisfying order in shape and rhythm or • valid order in the hierarchy of information and functions, but also order as in taxonomy.

The fellow designer I was assisting had in front of him the challenge to devise graphic rules scenarios for designing the identities of all the entities in a large portfolio of mixed-purpose client sub-brands and extensions — legacy, current and even future ones — encompassing everything, from business divisions to product portfolio, from standalone media events to website sections, as well as external programs, internal programs and even proprietary tools.

The fuzzy dataset that had to be organized, in order to be redesigned. And not only organized, but organized in as few categories as possible in order to be compliant with Rams10th“Good design is as little design as possible”.

Firstly, the designer had to understand the current architecture of the portfolio and the relationships between business divisions, activities, stakeholders and brand manifestations.

Secondly, he had to design a new classification model, a taxonomy — “a conscious effort to impose a meaningful order” — as part of the identity program.

Only after he created order, he could start imposing it, by designing and aligning the actual visual identity system.

Bottom line

  • Cleaning up and organizing data — a key part of any large design project;
  • Clean-up job — often a design project typology in itself;
  • Order creation — one of the most important skills in designing systems;
  • Order — design itself can be regarded as meaningful order;
  • Taxonomy creation — a black-belt design meta-skill for creating order systems.

Epilogue He went on and did it, knowing that his case was visible enough and will be featured on Brand New — and the design tourists visiting the case will never notice his effort and skill.