Function is greater than Design

This post is specifically for independent starters with small teams.

It may be my peer group, and the industry I find myself in—advertising and marketing. But in this context I seem to see and hear design, design, design. Design is necessary and  important to explore. But what is the purpose of design without functionality? Why focus on design when there isn’t a product?

I wrote a post on perfectionism, which plays directly into this message:

Do not focus on presentation if you don’t have a product that people value.

I see so many people—and I myself—worry about what people will think when we present our idea. We want it to be communicated right, and presented with professionalism. This is great. But, good design shouldn’t prioritize graphical presentation.

Good design ought to prioritize functionality. Good design ought to prioritize an accessible product. Good design should account for product creation, deliverability, and profit. Good design should invest in graphical design for marketing, but that ought to be subsequent to having a tangible product, and a small percentage of conscious deliberation.

I’m not saying that one shouldn’t create a brand and presentation before having the product, service, or idea. What I am saying is it shouldn’t be a priority. That it should be good enough, and honed after users or consumers are using and consuming.

This idea comes from the lean model. And if you use SaaS (Software as a Subscription), you’ve probably experienced this firsthand. I think a notorious example is Dropbox. I use Dropbox for all the files I need to send to clients. When I first started using their service, I criticized their design and said “I could do better.” They used shitty stick figures to communicate their service for crying out loud.

Old Dropbox Branding

But I was missing the point!

I was using their service. They had an amazing product that helped me supply my clients with the raw video files I needed to deliver. I pay $10 a month for 1 TB of cloud storage. And the reason they won my business was because of their product.

There were other cloud services out there like Apple’s iCloud—which had a much better brand, featured rich integration with my Apple products, and a beautiful graphical interface. But their product didn’t function in the way I needed it to—their assumed user base did not need the versatility I found in Dropbox. Who cares about their brand? I want their product!

And you know what, in time, after they had a good user basis, millions in funding, and a product that was being used, then they made the presentation cleaner and more contemporary.

There are countless other examples, and the most famous being in the tech startup world. Because that culture embraces the philosophy of the lean model. If you haven’t already been introduced to the Lean startup, it is a great introduction to how to think like a successful starter.

Good design prioritizes providing value, not just envisioning it.


Dropbox stick-figure image was found here. Notice that the image no longer represents Dropbox’s brand. And it is only used as an illustration piece. To see Dropbox’s branding guide, you can go here.

Title image credit goes to, I have no idea. I looked for the original owner, and I could not find you. If you own the rights to the image, please let me know so I can give you credit.