Invisible design: less, but better

June 2015
Invisible design: less, but better
Steven Key
26th June 2015

As part of the recent Sheffield Design Week, myself and other designers from Diva were fortunate enough to attend the Invisible Design conference chaired by Deyan Sudjic, Director of the Design Museum.

With 2015 being the fiftieth anniversary of the rightly lauded British road sign designs by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert, the session looked at how successful, functional communication design is made, and its importance in today’s society.


As designers, working out how people ultimately experience the products we build determines the hundreds of choices we make along the way. It’s not just the way something looks, but how it functions and how the user interacts and responds to the design. We’re moving into an increasingly connected, digital world where these interactions are continually becoming less physical and more virtual. Making user experiences as efficient and seamless as possible should be the driving goal for designers.

In fact, in his Ten Principles of Good Design, Dieter Rams said back in the 1970s that “good design is as little design as possible” – a sentiment echoed at the Invisible Design conference by Government Digital Service Director Ben Terrett, who oversaw the award-winning redesign of the UK government website

Launched in 2013 with the motto “simpler, clearer, faster”, brought of all the government’s websites together under one domain for the first time. In his Sheffield Design Week lecture, Ben discussed how his team was inspired by the clarity and consistency of British road signs and applied the same principles to its own project.

By stripping away anything deemed superfluous to the user’s immediate needs, they created an experience that is direct, intuitive and easy to use.

“It’s not about browsing; the idea is to get people in and out as quickly as possible.”
Ben Terrett, Government Digital Service Director on

User renewing their driving licence on

This considered approach requires a thorough understanding of what your users want from your site. With well-thought-out research, testing and feedback, you can craft a digital experience that engages and satisfies your audience.

When we talk about the ‘look and feel’ of a project, we sometimes forget that the feel aspect comes more from how a user enjoys using the site or app than its aesthetic. If you create a frustrating or unintuitive experience, no amount of styling will convince people to engage with the project – but address the fundamental need of your users and you can then enhance their experience with a stylish and visually interesting aesthetic.

As more and more of our lives move into the digital realm, the principles of ‘invisible’ design are increasingly relevant. Design doesn’t just make things beautiful. It makes them work.

By Steven Key