Lipstick on a pig

David Winer has a post titled Styling icons that makes the following observation

Design for the sake of design is not good. Design should enhance the utility of the thing being designed. Too many websites are substituting style for design

It’s an issue I see crop up alot. Whenever I hear someone say they want SharePoint to not look like SharePoint, they usually mean in style, not design. It’s a rare case when the reason is based on the flaws in SharePoint’s user interface (of which there are plenty).

As Lee Bryant from Headshift said so eloquently at a Dell B2B meet-up last year:

Investing in shiny corporate web sites is a form of narcism

Will not looking like SharePoint make the site function better?  Because Facebook looking just like Facebook doesn’t seem to be doing it too much harm…  Companies with those shiny web sites are finding they get 10 – 100 times more visitors to their company Facebook pages.  That ought to be telling them something.

And it’s not just web sites.  Improving presentation skills is to be recommended if you need to present. But reading Presentation Zen and then heading over to an online photo gallery will not transform you into Steve Jobs. I’ve muttered about this before:

…are they designing their presentation or creating a piece of art? Replacing bullet points or clipart with stunning visuals only works if those images enhance the message being delivered

I’ve sat through a few presentations in recent years where every single slide, all 30+ of them, consists of a full screen high-resolution photo, with or without a ‘clever’ caption.  It rarely works because it’s no different than a single slide crammed with too many bullet points at an unreadable font size.

Too many points being delivered in the same way means none in particular will be remembered, regardless of the format used.

The most effective presentations are those that vary the pitch throughout and choose a style appropriate to the purpose of the presentation. Got a key message to make that you want people to remember long after the event? Use a dramatic photo or quote that will make people stop and think. One photo. One quote.  Are you teaching a group about a specific topic?  Sometimes bullet points are useful when presented correctly.  Just don’t lean on those bullet points – they should be for the audience’s benefit, not to prod your memory. Too many means you should have prepared a separate handout.

To conclude, I attended an excellent presentation at Cambridge University in September 2006, delivered by Clive Grinyear. It had clip art, bullet points and photos in the mix. And six years later I can still remember the main point he made.  It included the use of an image not dissimilar to the one at the start of this post:

Why lipstick on a pig? No matter how much lipstick you apply, it is still a pig. Design only matters when the product function is also great. There are plenty of great designs that have failed to reach a market because the product simply isn’t good enough. (Examples given included the Sinclair C5 and the Segway)

You may not have heard of Clive. He co-founded a design agency called Tangerine. Commissioned by Apple in 1992, one of the other co-founders – Jonathan Ives – went on to design some great products there during the last decade…


  • Studying Icons by David Winder, Scripting News, March 2012
  • Presentation Zen by  (it is a great book, just don’t fall too in love with the use of photos in presentations)

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