What does the absence of design look like?

I had this thought a few months back while thinking about how we have to sell design. That is, as an industry, how we have to convince clients that they need ‘design thinking’ and doing, because to a lot of people, it’s not actually obvious.

When you work in any part of the design industry, the need for design is blindingly obvious. Not least because it’s your livelihood, and the thing you no doubt studied for may years, but because: everything is designed.

Any experienced designer will know however, that a lot of the job of design is actually just convincing people that they need it. That they need us, our processes, and our ideas.

A young colleague recently joked about a particularly tricky client and project, saying that 90% of the time is just preparing the environment for design, then just 10% for doing it.


I’d never phrased it quite like that before, but yeah. In many areas of industry, making the case for design is a really big part of the job. It’s basically why The Design Council exists.

You get used to this as you gain experience, and I think I’d become a little snow-blind to the fact of late. But for whatever reason when thinking about it recently, this zen like version of pitching the need for design came to mind.

What is the sound of one hand clapping? If a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear, does it make a sound? What does the absence of design look like?

I’m joking with the suggestion that my question is as profound as these others. But there is something revealing about its simplicity, because the answer feels quite impactful. At least, my answer does, because to me the absence of design is nothing.

It’s the lack of a plan or the intent to improve and make things better.

It’s the acceptance of the status quo, in the face of obvious flaws to that state.

It’s hopelessness.

Luckily though, there is no absence of design. It’s everywhere.

That’s not to say we won’t have to keep selling it and convincing people of the need, but perhaps this question can help us feel less defensive each time we have to repeat ourselves. Even a bit more confident. We’re selling something that’s essential. We just need to help others understand that fact.