Design vs. Decoration



As we drift into the holiday season, decorating becomes a major part of the process. We decorate our homes, our yards, our balconies, our offices, our gifts, our trees, our doors, our cookies, our tables, and even ourselves. Decorating matters, especially at this time of year. It’s how we enhance our experience of the holidays. Decorating is a temporary, ever-changing thing, but designing is entirely different.


The best way to describe the difference between a designer and a decorator is to parallel it with interior design. An interior designer cares about the functionality of a space – the flow and feel as you walk through it. They care about the craftsmanship and building strong “bones” as a foundation to a well-designed space. Interior design is about understanding people’s behaviour and using this to create functional spaces. Interior decoration is more superficial. It’s about choosing props, colours, and finishes, and adorning a space with beautiful, fashionable objects and materials that will give it immediate appeal. Interior designers may decorate, but interior decorators do not design. Decoration can be trendy and transient, whereas the best design is timeless, and does not date quickly. It takes a lot more study and technical skill development to become an interior designer. A decorator might just have a natural knack for creating stylish interiors. A great interior designer is a blend of both skills.


Good graphic design is not unlike good interior design in the way that it uses a solid foundation, design strategy, and strong conceptual thinking to create something that will be right for the client’s business needs. Just as an interior designer creates functional spaces for their client’s needs. This is especially true of branding, where a solid strategy and timeless design that will last for at least five years and possibly decades, is imperative. Graphic design needs to be functional, too.


Some projects require more of a decorative approach, especially if they need to reflect a certain period of design history or specific culture or they’re branding a trendy new product, or are part of a short-lived campaign that relies on looking decorative, current and attractive to a certain demographic, but at the heart of the design, the communication objective should not be obscured. This can easily happen if the project is over-designed. Sometimes good design and decoration can go hand-in-hand, but more often than not, over-decorating can cloud the message or water it down with extraneous design elements which make it busy and less effective. It’s just like over-decorating cookies and obscuring their flavour. There is nothing worse than over-designing. It leads to confusion and clutter. When in doubt, leave it out. Clean, smart, conceptual work will be clear, effective at communicating, and will stand the test of time, always looking fresh and modern.

black and white shot of nicely decorated Christmas cookies


The importance of clear objectives and a well-defined foundation through a well-thought-out strategy and brief cannot be stressed enough. It will help you focus on what’s important in your design process, and what’s just fluff. It will prevent you from over-decorating. It will help you deliver powerful work that brings home the intended message. Remember that if you throw a dozen tennis balls at someone, they are unlikely to catch any of them. Throw one, and they will almost always catch it. The same goes for design and messaging. Keep your message focused, and your design clean and clear. Less is more. Design, don’t decorate.

Written by Vida Jurcic, Founder and Co-Creative Director – Vancouver, BC