Don’t Just Love Design Because It’s Beautiful

I have mixed feelings about the Product Hunt Tools for Designers collection, not so much due to the content of the list, but because of what it says about how design is valued by Product Hunt’s community.

As of Monday afternoon, at the top of the list are a number of companies/tools focused on aesthetics. Somewhere towards the bottom are tools that reflect the non-visual work many (all?) designers do.

Throughout the list there are interesting tools, some about aesthetics, and some about other aspects of design. There are tools that I find to be silly or weak but whatever, that’s normal. Overall, it is a well curated list of useful tools for some designers/design tasks. I encourage anyone interested in design to head over to PH, read the whole thing, and decide for yourself which products are good.

What I find interesting, is this list (particularly its ordering) reflects the average understanding in tech circles of what design is and what designers do. Now, this is not Product Hunt’s fault, I assume they just happen to have a lot of tech users and therefore the viewpoints of that group rises to the top.

Really what’s going on is designers (myself included) are failing to explain what we do, how we can help businesses and why they should let us work on their business, not just their aesthetics, or some nebulous activity like “UX/UI” -which often is reduced to aesthetics anyway. Have you ever looked at the Wikipedia entry for Design? It is deeply confusing and borderline useless.

Now, I don’t pretend to know what to do about this. Heck, I have been struggling to explain what Distill does (or could do) for the past 6 years, I will probably continue to struggle for the next 6 years, however, if I want my company and career to grow, I need to get better at describing the value of the design process.

Talk about the value of design and its confused step-sibling ‘creativity’ is increasing these days. VC and corporations are building out talented design teams, design is highlighted as an essential ingredient to successful companies like Uber, Apple, and AirBnB, and design consultants big and small continue to chug along. Still, design is just a buzzword, or a coat of paint to many.

Perhaps Product Hunt is not the best place to change this perception. Up-voting/down-voting may be too binary an activity to communicate such a nuanced idea. Maybe that is why one of the best places for information on cutting edge design is Medium. It’s a place that by definition offers more detailed information.

Okay, so what?

Umm… I don’t know? Seriously. I don’t know what to do. Still, I would be a jerk if I said all this and then didn’t try to offer a solution of some kind. So, here is what I think design is about, and a list of some great tools for designers to use:

What is Design?

Design is a process for turning existing situations into preferred ones.

This is a paraphrasing of something Herbert Simon said.

What are some good Design Tools?

IDEO Method Cards by IDEO. Also available in print.

Oblique Strategies by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt. Also here and here.

Business Model Canvas & Value Proposition Canvas by Alexander Osterwalder

Lean Stack by Ash Maruya

Customer Journey Map from This is Service Deign Thinking and others..

Service Blueprints

I originally learned about this from This is Service Design Thinking, but Cooper also does an awesome job of explaining these.

Prototyping on Paper

Design Kit by

Talkshop by Distill (full disclosure, that’s me and Amadeo)

Oh, and not sure if I would call them tools but Design is a Job and You’re My Favorite Client by Mike Monteiro look at how to do a good job of being a designer, or a client of a designer.


  • Fully agree with you. Aesthetics, in my opinion, are far easier to judge — because, well, everybody has tastes. Principles and practices are what truly distinguishes design fellow from the general public.


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