Good Design is Invisible

This is a topic I recently tweeted about, and one I think we forget about sometimes:

As designers, our job is to make our work invisible. Good design just looks ‘right’ without being obvious to the user. Without fuss.

If a user notices a dark blue background and red text, it’s clearly for the wrong reason (in this case probably due to poor legibility). A high contrasting text colour would make the design choice seem ‘invisible’ – the user sees the content rather than the design. This is what designers should strive for, but getting it right is tricky and does take practice. However, there are design fundamentals to take into consideration, such as contrast, spacing, legibility, layout etc.

I recently saw a forum post of Boagworld on the idea of adding Art into web design more. But there is a clear differences between Design and Art. Art attracts the user to the form, whereas design is created to aid function. That does not mean that design has to be boring, just that it should not distract the user. Art is also a personal expression. Something design should not be (unless you are designing for yourself, not others).

If you have any opinions, comments, thoughts on feelings on this subject, then please do leave a comment.

6 thoughts on “Good Design is Invisible

  1. Cennydd

    There’s a related concept in typography known as ‘the crystal goblet':

    I used to agree with this sentiment wholeheartedly, but now I don’t think it’s quite accurate. Yes, most of design should be invisible, aimed as it is as helping users achieve a task – be that fill a form, drive a car, squeeze a lemon – but design can also be successful by calling attention to itself. I think of something like Juicy Salif – – that is very much a piece of design, albeit not a functional one. It causes us to question the role of aesthetics in our products, our concepts of beauty versus utility, and so on. Of course, some might simply label this art. But I think it is so tightly related to a daily object (even if it functions poorly as one) that it doesn’t for me meet the criterion of “ars gratia artis”.

  2. Paul Post author

    Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Cennydd.

    I do agree that there are some grey areas, particularly in the area of so called ‘Art Directed’ sites and blog posts – where the design is equally as important as the content. But it also sends the message that good design isn’t about using a ‘cool’ font or rounded, glossy, reflected buttons either.

  3. Jamie Knight


    I would agree to an extent, i would also add that Great design may not be noticeable until someone points it out to you, my personal favorites in design are elements which are not immediately noticeable, which may show some wit, or humor in the design.

    jamie & Lion

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  5. aska

    I have been doing a lot of research on the notion of invisible design as being regarded, generally, as a rule of thumb in successful design. Certainly there are designs based in aesthetic exceptions (as mentioned in comments above – something created by a designer as an art piece, or potentially critical design…); but what of those designs whose purpose is to be noticed, and yet go under the radar? I am speaking in particular about signage, or way finding – I can see how in this instance, signage’s method of being unobtrusive would be to blend into the environment, but does it go unnoticed and therefore not able to fulfill its task?

    In certain contexts, such as wayfinding, signage and revealing a history or encouraging social interaction and intrigue, would you say that being invisible is actually a detriment to the intention of the design – i.e. existing for being noticed, and yet becoming invisible?

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