Controversial Design Opinions or Redefining Design for a Purpose-Driven Era

29 April 2024

In the rapidly evolving world of design, stepping beyond traditional methodologies and aesthetic considerations is essential. This post delves into eight controversial design ideas that challenge established norms, advocating for a shift towards a more purposeful and problem-solving approach to design. By reevaluating how we perceive and teach design, we can unlock a new era of creativity that goes beyond just looks and functionality to truly resonate with personal and societal needs.

1. Everything is Design & Everyone is a Designer!

Design as Problem Solving

The notion of design as merely an artistic endeavor is outdated. Today, design is recognized as a critical tool for solving real-world problems. The OODA loop—Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act—offers a strategic approach to design thinking that can be applied across various industries to enhance innovation and efficiency. This method emphasizes the importance of continuous feedback and adaptation, which are crucial for navigating the complexities of today’s challenges.

Impact on Organizational Performance

Companies that have integrated design thinking into their core strategies have seen measurable gains in resilience and performance. A McKinsey report highlights how companies embracing design thinking have outperformed industry peers significantly, suggesting a 56 percentage point advantage in total returns to shareholders (McKinsey & Company).

Real-World Applications

Moreover, the application of design thinking in solving complex problems can be seen in diverse scenarios—from improving customer experiences to redefining product development strategies. For instance, a case study by MIT Sloan discusses how a meal delivery service in Denmark redesigned its entire operation, not just by updating the menu but by rethinking the meal preparation and delivery process to better serve elderly customers (MIT Sloan). This holistic approach to problem-solving exemplifies how design can transform ordinary operations into extraordinary customer experiences.

Design Thinking in Action

As we continue to face global challenges, the value of design thinking becomes even more evident. It is not just about creating beautiful and functional products but about understanding and addressing deeper societal needs. Design thinking encourages us to look beyond the obvious, to question our assumptions, and to continuously adapt our strategies based on real-world feedback and changing conditions.

Integrating the OODA loop into design processes enhances the ability to address and solve complex problems efficiently. This strategic integration transforms design from a mere tool for creating aesthetically pleasing objects to a fundamental business strategy that drives innovation and growth. Through real-world examples and corporate success stories, we see the profound impact that thoughtful design thinking can have on a global scale.

2. Most Design Schools are Failing Their Students!

Rethinking Design Education

The prevailing model of design education heavily emphasizes technical proficiency with tools like Adobe Photoshop or AutoCAD, preparing students to execute well within defined parameters but often at the expense of fostering critical thinking and problem-solving skills. This tool-centric approach can inadvertently narrow the focus of design education, underscoring technical skill over creative and conceptual development.

In contrast, there’s a growing call among design thinkers and educators to shift the core of design education from tool mastery to a more theory-based and problem-solving focused curriculum. Such a curriculum would prioritize critical thinking, creativity, and an understanding of design’s potential social impact, aiming to produce not just skilled operators but innovators and thought leaders.

For instance, the Interaction Design Foundation advocates for integrating more theoretical knowledge into the design curriculum, suggesting that a deeper understanding of design principles can lead to more innovative solutions to complex problems (The Interaction Design Foundation) (Creativity at Work). Similarly, Jeanne Liedtka at the University of Virginia has spoken extensively about incorporating strategic thinking into design education, which can help students apply design skills to broader business and social challenges (Creativity at Work).

Moreover, experts suggest that engaging with design theory and critical studies can equip students to tackle “wicked problems” — complex, ever-changing issues that are difficult to define and inherently problematic to solve. These problems require not just technical solutions but adaptive, culturally aware, and sustainable approaches, which are best tackled through a robust understanding of design thinking and systems thinking.

Emphasizing Collaborative and Interdisciplinary Learning

Another aspect of rethinking design education involves encouraging collaborative and interdisciplinary learning environments. By working with peers from different disciplines, design students can learn to approach problems from multiple perspectives, enriching their design solutions.

As the role of design continues to evolve, it’s imperative that design education does as well. By decentering from traditional tool-focused training and embracing a more theory-driven, interdisciplinary approach, educational institutions can better prepare students to meet the challenges of the modern world. This shift not only enhances the capacity of designers to contribute meaningfully to society but also elevates the profession itself, positioning designers not just as creators of beautiful objects but as strategic problem solvers and agents of change.

3. Daily Design Challenges Do Not Make You a Better Designer!

The Value of Daily Design Curation

In the fast-paced world of design, the practice of daily challenges has become a popular method to foster creativity and skill development. However, an alternative approach that may offer deeper benefits is the practice of daily design curation. Unlike daily challenges that often focus on rapid creation under constraints, curation involves the thoughtful selection and analysis of existing designs, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of design principles and their applications.

Deepening Design Literacy Through Curation

Curation allows designers to engage critically with design works, understanding not just the ‘how’ but the ‘why’ behind design decisions. This practice helps build design literacy, where designers learn to decode visual communication and understand subtler aspects of design such as cultural relevance, usability, and aesthetic value. By regularly curating and reflecting on high-quality designs, practitioners can develop a refined eye for design, which is crucial in elevating their own work beyond mere competence to true excellence.

Building a Repository of Inspiration and Learning

Daily curation also helps designers build a personal repository of inspiration that can be referred back to when tackling their own projects. This collection can serve as a powerful tool for idea generation, offering a diverse range of solutions and styles that can spark creativity when designers find themselves stuck or in need of new perspectives.

Furthermore, the habit of curation encourages designers to stay updated with the latest trends and techniques in the design world, which is essential in an industry that evolves as rapidly as design. Platforms like Behance, Pinterest, and design blogs are treasure troves of innovative ideas and exemplary executions that showcase the forefront of design thinking and execution.

Cultivating a Critical Eye

The process of curation isn’t just about collection but also critical engagement. Designers must assess what makes a design effective, critique weak points, and identify potential improvements. This analytical process is vital for professional growth as it sharpens critical thinking skills that are necessary for advanced design work.

A study on design thinking emphasizes the importance of reflection in the design process, where designers are encouraged to step back and consider the broader context of their work, including user needs, societal impacts, and potential innovations (Mural’s Platform). Regular engagement with well-curated design works can enhance a designer’s ability to not only recognize good design but also to implement similar high standards in their own work.

While daily design challenges can be beneficial for rapid skill development and adaptability, the practice of daily design curation offers profound benefits for long-term professional growth and depth of understanding in design. By incorporating both practices into their routine, designers can enjoy the best of both worlds—speed and depth, skill and wisdom.

4. PowerPoint is Better Than Photoshop!

The Practicality of PowerPoint Over Photoshop

In the landscape of design tools, Photoshop and Canva are often heralded for their robust features and versatility. However, for many practical design scenarios, especially in both corporate and educational settings, PowerPoint offers significant advantages that make it a more suitable choice.

Accessibility and User-Friendliness

PowerPoint is renowned for its user-friendliness and accessibility. Its interface is less complex than Photoshop, making it an excellent tool for users who do not have formal training in graphic design. This accessibility allows individuals across various departments in an organization to contribute to the design process, facilitating a more collaborative environment (The Interaction Design Foundation).

Speed and Efficiency

In fast-paced business environments, time is often of the essence. PowerPoint enables quick modifications and adjustments without the steep learning curve associated with more specialized design software. Its tools for creating diagrams, simple graphics, and integrating text with images are straightforward and can be used efficiently to produce professional-looking presentations and marketing materials.


Unlike Photoshop, which requires a subscription to Adobe’s Creative Cloud, PowerPoint is often included as part of the Microsoft Office suite already deployed in many personal, educational, business environments. This integration reduces additional costs and eliminates the need for separate training on another software platform, making it a cost-effective solution for many businesses.  

Suitability for Presentation Design

PowerPoint is specifically designed for creating presentations. This focus means that it includes features tailored to the narrative and flow of presentation materials, such as easy transitions, built-in templates, and straightforward ways to embed multimedia elements. For anyone whose main design tasks revolve around creating impactful presentations regardless of the platform, PowerPoint is naturally the more practical tool.

While Photoshop and Canva offer advanced capabilities for detailed graphic design, the simplicity, cost-effectiveness, and specific functionalities of PowerPoint make it a superior choice for many design tasks. Its ease of use ensures that all team members can participate in the design process, promoting a more integrated approach to creating business presentations and materials.

5. Originality is Overrated, Just Use a Template Instead!

The Efficiency of Editing Design Templates

In the modern design workflow, the use of pre-designed templates is often debated. While crafting original designs from scratch showcases a designer’s creativity and skill, editing pre-existing templates can offer significant efficiency and consistency, especially in fast-paced business environments.

Accelerating the Design Process

Templates serve as a foundational framework that can dramatically accelerate the design process. By starting with a template, designers can skip the basic layout and structural elements, focusing instead on customization and enhancement to meet specific project needs. This approach is particularly valuable in scenarios where time constraints are stringent, and the demand for quick turnarounds is high.

Ensuring Consistency and Quality

Using templates ensures a consistent aesthetic and functional quality across multiple projects or within a single campaign. For businesses, this consistency is crucial for brand recognition and reliability. Templates are designed to meet certain standards of design quality and usability, which might take considerable time to replicate from scratch (The Interaction Design Foundation) (IdeaScale).


From a cost perspective, templates can reduce the hours spent on designing, thereby lowering the overall project costs. This efficiency makes templates an attractive option for small businesses and startups that may not have the budget to hire full-time designers or to commission bespoke designs for every project.

Facilitating Broader Accessibility

Templates also democratize design by making good design accessible to non-designers. Tools like Canva and Adobe Spark offer vast libraries of templates that can be customized with minimal design skill, empowering more people to create professional-looking materials without a deep understanding of design principles (IdeaScale).

Balancing Creativity and Practicality

While there is a valid concern that reliance on templates might stifle creativity, they can also be seen as a starting point for innovation. Designers can inject creativity through customization, choosing to alter layouts, color schemes, and typographies to create something unique within the bounds of a pre-existing template.

Editing design templates offers a pragmatic solution for many design needs, striking a balance between efficiency, consistency, and accessibility. While the art of design should never lose its creative spark, the use of templates can complement the creative process, particularly under constraints of time, cost, and expertise.

6. Unorganized Layers Are a Sign of Poor Design Skill!

Organizational Skills as a Reflection of Design Thinking

Effective organization in design not only reflects a designer’s technical skills but also their strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities. Organizational skills in design encompass the methodical arrangement of elements, efficient layer management, and coherent file structuring, which are critical for successful project execution and collaboration.

Enhancing Workflow and Efficiency

Good organizational practices streamline the design process, making it easier for designers to locate, modify, and reuse assets. For instance, well-organized layers in Photoshop or Illustrator allow designers to quickly make changes without disrupting the overall structure of the design. This efficiency is crucial in fast-paced environments where time is often a limiting factor (The Interaction Design Foundation).

Facilitating Collaboration

In collaborative projects, the ability to organize and clearly label design files becomes essential. It ensures that team members can easily understand and contribute to the project without confusion. This is especially important in large teams or when projects are handed off between different departments or stakeholders.

Reflecting Professionalism and Maturity

A designer’s organizational ability often reflects their professional maturity. Organized files and structured workflows suggest a thoughtful approach to design tasks, indicating a level of professionalism that clients and colleagues value highly. This professionalism helps in building trust and reliability, key attributes for successful long-term relationships in the design industry.

Aiding in Scalability and Maintenance

Organizational skills also play a crucial role in the scalability of design projects. For example, a well-organized website’s CSS file makes it easier to update styles or adjust layouts globally rather than page-by-page. Similarly, a systematically arranged graphic asset library can significantly reduce the time required to update marketing materials or product packaging (The Interaction Design Foundation).

Organizational skills are more than just a convenience; they are a critical component of effective design thinking. These skills enable designers to work more efficiently, collaborate effectively, and maintain professionalism in their work environment. By fostering good organizational habits, designers can enhance their capacity to solve complex problems creatively and efficiently.

7. Bespoke Design Can Compensate For a Subpar Product!

Bespoke Design Overcoming Product Shortcomings

Bespoke design can significantly elevate a product’s perceived value by focusing on customization and attention to detail, which may appeal to consumers’ sense of uniqueness and luxury. For example, a beautifully designed smartphone case can make the device more attractive, possibly overshadowing limitations in battery life or camera quality. This approach leverages design as a key differentiator in competitive markets (The Interaction Design Foundation).

Ethical Considerations in Design

While bespoke design can make products more desirable, it also poses ethical challenges. Designers and companies must navigate the fine line between enhancing a product and misleading consumers about its capabilities. The ethical use of design involves ensuring that improvements in aesthetics do not mask deficiencies in performance or quality, thus maintaining transparency with consumers.

Case Studies: The Impact of Design on Product Success

Several case studies illustrate how design can compensate for product shortcomings. For instance, certain luxury goods might not offer functionality significantly different from their less expensive counterparts, yet their design, branding, and marketing create a perception of higher quality and exclusivity. Similarly, in the tech industry, products with exceptional design can achieve high sales, even if their technical specifications are not the most advanced on the market.

The Role of Design in Consumer Decision-Making

Design plays a crucial role in consumer decision-making. Products that are aesthetically pleasing and ergonomically designed tend to be more appealing to consumers, which can lead to higher sales, even if these products are not the best performing in their category. This phenomenon highlights the power of design in influencing consumer behaviour and the importance of integrating ethical considerations into the design process.

Bespoke design, when used responsibly, can be a powerful tool to enhance product appeal and marketability. However, it is crucial for designers and businesses to ensure that design enhancements do not deceive consumers regarding the actual quality and functionality of the product. Balancing aesthetic improvements with transparency and honesty in product capabilities is essential for ethical design practices.

8. Universal Colour Theory is Pure Bullshit!

Challenging Universal Colour Theory

Universal colour theory, which posits that certain colours have specific, universal meanings, has long influenced design decisions across various cultures and industries. However, the assumption that these meanings hold true across different cultural and contextual landscapes is increasingly being challenged.

The Limitations of Universal Colour Theory

The notion that colors like red or blue hold the same significance in every culture oversimplifies the complex ways in which colour is perceived and understood globally. For instance, while white is often associated with purity in many Western cultures, it is traditionally worn at funerals and represents mourning in many Eastern cultures (The Interaction Design Foundation) (IdeaScale).

Cultural Sensitivity in Colour Usage

Understanding the cultural contexts in which designs are used is critical for creating effective and respectful visual communications. This sensitivity can prevent potential miscommunications and ensure that designs are appropriate and effective for their intended audiences. For example, marketers and designers working on global campaigns must adapt their colour choices to align with the cultural norms and preferences of different regions to ensure the message is conveyed correctly.

The Impact of Contextual Colour Use

Beyond cultural implications, the context in which a colour is used can significantly affect its interpretation. Factors such as background colours, lighting, and surrounding design elements can all influence how a colour is perceived. Designers must consider these contextual factors to effectively use colour to support the communication goals of a design.

Case Studies and Research

Studies on colour perception illustrate how personal experiences, cultural backgrounds, and even biological factors can influence how colours are interpreted. These studies advocate for a more nuanced approach to colour theory that goes beyond universal assumptions to include more personalized and culturally aware strategies (The Interaction Design Foundation) (IdeaScale).

Challenging the universal applicability of color theory encourages a more thoughtful and inclusive approach to design. By recognizing and respecting the diverse ways in which colors are understood around the world, designers can create more effective and empathetic visual communications. This approach not only enhances the relevance of designs but also contributes to more globally conscious design practices. 


These points underscore the need for designers to be versatile, culturally aware, and ethically responsible. As the field of design continues to evolve, embracing these principles will be crucial for designers who wish to not only succeed professionally but also contribute positively to societal and cultural developments.

We have aimed to spark a conversation about the future of design practices. We invite designers, educators, and industry professionals to reflect on how these ideas can be integrated into their work to navigate the complexities of a rapidly changing world. The goal is to foster a design community that values creativity, ethical practices, and a deep understanding of the diverse world we design for.

By questioning established norms and continuously adapting to new insights and challenges, the design community can ensure that it remains relevant and impactful in an increasingly interconnected and dynamic world. Let’s continue the conversation and work together to redefine the boundaries of what design can achieve.

Further Readings


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