How to Design for the Real World

Rodrigo Marques


How to Design for the Real World
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Design for the real world could be compared to a process of creating an experience. From graphic design to product design, from UX and UI design, all types of design have one goal: to solve a problem. That puts you, the designer, in the role of a problem analyst, that have to find the best solution. For that, you need to research and collect helpful information.

Bottom all like Charles Eames (American designer, architect, and filmmaker) says:

“Design is a plan for arranging elements in such a way as best to accomplish a particular purpose.”

Let’s start by taking a tour of today’s digital repository of design to analyze better the creative process and the solutions that came up.

Dribble and Behance are the Disney movies of design!

Art by Tran Mau Tri Tam

Oh! Amazing right?! At first sight, the colors seem spectacular, the dashboard looks so harmonious, and the menu is so minimalist. Love it!

Yet, behind the layer, you can notice a lack of legibility, lousy contrast, unrealistic and irrelevant information. Those are some of the problems you can encounter when looking closely at some of the designs presented on platforms like Behance.

You don't need to go very deeply to realize that the works presented have entirely lost the essence of what design is supposed to be.

You can consider platforms like Dribble or Behance as places to search for aesthetic demonstrations. Still, you need to remember that the designs presented there are mainly without a real function or had any problem-solving process in their creation.

That brings us to another question, what is a perfect design? Is it the design that solves a problem functionally and appealingly? Or is that utterly disruptive design with no function or chance to be implemented in the real world?

So, What’s the problem?

Illustration by bahuelbardi

There is nothing wrong with practicing your visual design skills or even using those platforms as a place for brainstorming. I do it all the time for inspiration. Sometimes when you don't know which way to go in a project, it can help you unlock. You can use Dribble and Behance to generate ideas for a specific problem you intend to solve.

The problem is platforms like that tend to create a new meaning of what design is. Leading you to misconceptions and misunderstandings that what you are seeing is what designers do in the real world. Creating pressure on “real-life” designers like yourself. Pushing you to feel the need to be disruptive and original to make your work good and original.

Your design doesn’t need to be disruptive to be great

How many times have you encountered a design in Dribble or Behance that had design restrictions such as:

- The design already incorporates styles created by third parties or by the client.

- Digital limitations of the technology in which the product is being developed.

- Budget or timing limitations.

- Too much information or features on a screen.

- The needs of users.

Think with me! Would the shots you see on those platforms be so appealing aesthetically if they had accurate information? Or if they had the client’s brand styles? Or perhaps, if they had some limitations that you face daily?

When designers create beautiful designs for Dribble without having the users in mind or with no concerns about the businesses’ goals, as you do in your work, the design will not create the expected experience. If your plan isn’t real-world-based, you can’t define customer graphic lines or any business aim or objective or even problem to solve. The result is a design ends up becoming just a piece of art visually beautiful. Although it is very similar to a design project, what is done for Dribble is only one of the components of real-life design, the visual component.

And this is the main difference between “dribble-design” and “real-life design”. In real life, good design is defined by the visual issue and its process. And the process design, as you know, contemplates real problems, sketches, diagrams, and the evaluation of the pros and cons of a given solution. On the other hand, “dribble-design” does not face any of these issues.

Design goes beyond the surface

Illustration by Patswerk

Design for the real world is balancing great-looking products with their usability. The look is just the final touch. Underneath, there are a set of complements that make the product pleasant to use.

“A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.” - Dieter Rams

In addition to the final touch, you also need to consider design thinking. During that design process, you must go through five phases.

1. Empathize

The first phase allows you to gain an empathetic understanding of the problem through user research. Empathize phase includes Research, Workshops / Focus Groups, Personas definition, Benchmark, Interviews with stakeholders, and Interviews user and User journeys.

2. Define

In this phase, you analyze your observations and systematize them to define core problems that need to be solved. Doing Workflows, Information architecture, Sitemap, and Wireflows.

3. Ideate

This stage happens when you start to explore what will be the solution. When you work on what will be the best alternative to solve the problems at hand. Doing Brainstorms, Wireframing, and a UI Moodboard.

4. Prototype

This is the stage where you design high-fidelity prototypes for the best possible solution to the problems identified.

5. Test

In the last stage, you test the product created and look for errors or possible improvements. Then you redesign the weaknesses found.

As you can see, it is only from the end of phase 3 and phase 4 that, in real projects, the visual component is worked on, so there is a whole process until we reach that phase. A process that, in most shots presented in the Design platforms, does not exist. Creating an idea that design is just making some drawings.

In addition to the design process, you also find daily constraints that influence your design, such as time, budget, and technology limitations used for development.


There is no problem in treating the shots you and I see on design platforms as visual arts or using them as visual references. But you need to distinguish the difference between these shots to enhance the visible part and the design process. Keep in mind that the design process focuses on solving a problem and that it is more complex than simply designing a pretty interface without any limitations.

And let’s face it! Most of those shots have no function or purpose, and they are impossible to develop in real life.

More important than making an aesthetically appealing and disruptive design is to create a product that is pleasurable to use and meets the end-users needs and the client's guidelines and requirements.

So, as a designer, don’t feel the pressure to make a disruptive design in the projects you create. As you and I know, it is often impossible to do completely creative work and out of the box with the limitations that we have.


Where design meets thinking.