Over the weekend I spotted an article in The New York Times being grumpily passed around Twitter. Reading quotes like the following made me grumpy, too:
When Peek, a start-up for booking travel activities, designed its first iPhone app, its co-founder and chief executive, Ruzwana Bashir, said she prioritized design over other factors. The app shows large photos instead of a list of activities, for instance, even though it meant Peek could not fit as many activities on each screen.
Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because it looks better is not design. Designing Peek to have less activities per screen because showing large photos makes it easier for users to navigate the app is design.
Unfortunately, this article was another story making a false distinction between how something works and how something looks. It refers to the former as 'function' and the later as 'design,' but really the design is how the two interact.
This is not to say all the examples in the article failed to be design. After all, in other cases the aesthetic improvements also increased usability. Despite the constant confusing of aesthetics as design, the concluding sentence gives hope: "first and foremost I look for empathy, because design is not art, it’s actually solving real problems for people."
Design can be functional. Design can be aesthetics. But design can never ever be aesthetics over function.