Invisible design

Originally published on Design Think


Few people know of the world of graphic design. Design surrounds us but is largely invisible to the lay community. Even the design section in my local bookshop is filled with the equally deserving, but far more documented, design in popular culture such as fashion and 3D. When people ask what I do and I say I’m a graphic designer, their reaction is often along the lines of “So you design furniture?” or, “What’s that then?” When people think of an advert, they often think that the company is innovative, not the designers behind it. And when a piece of graphic design is talked about in non-design literature, there is little mention of the designers who painstakingly designed the concept, sourced the images, set the type and made it look beautiful.

But could this be a positive thing? Is this because good design should be invisible? There is a theory called ‘polishing the glass’1 which says that designers should make the message absolutely clear and not let anything obstruct it or detract from it. It says that the design should not distract the viewer from the meaning of the text or the purpose of the communication. Perhaps this shows that graphic designers have succeeded in being designers by keeping the industry largely invisible?

  1. See Beatrice Ward’s essay: The Crystal Goblet.