Style vs. Design — From the Inside Out

Guest post by Tim Masters

Apart from meeting the challenges of finding good solutions to clients’ communications problems – and convincing them that they are the right ones – I’ve often found it necessary to explain the difference between design and styling.

This is the way I see it; if something is well-engineered or well constructed, its inherent strengths are echoed in its outward appearance. So the design enables it to be used reliably and continuously. This applies equally to a piece of graphic design as it does to anything else. Whether it’s a website, brochure, car, mobile phone or food mixer; if it’s well-considered on the inside, it stands a far better chance of looking good on the outside.

The designer Ray Eames said; “What works good is better than what looks good, because what works good lasts.” She was right. I would go further and say that working good is only part of the appeal; the thing also has to look good to stand any real chance of commercial success.

Dieter Rams, Braun’s chief designer knew this. So did Steve Jobs, Apple’s late CEO. Braun’s products were beautifully made (and they looked as good as they functioned). Apple’s Mac computers, and iProducts are wonderfully engineered and they look beautiful too. The BBC’s website is another example, so are Audi’s cars. All of these companies offer great services and products which work good and look good. So these products are, in my view, well designed. They work from the inside out.

Styling on the other hand is a cosmetic exercise; something that makes an object (or an organization) look good irrespective of how well it functions. We’ve all come across businesses selling goods and services which look stylish, but which turn out to be poorly thought out or dysfunctional. And we don’t buy from them again.

How does this apply to brands? Well, a brand is far more than a logo, colour scheme and a few nice images. It’s how an organization represents itself to the outside world in everything it says and does. The most successful brands have firmly-held beliefs and values and a great story to tell. They speak the truth, they behave ethically and don’t make promises they can’t keep. They employ the right people and give them the right training. And, whether knowingly or not, they provide great customer service by following David Ogilvy’s maxim that ‘the customer isn’t a moron.’ In other words, the most appealing brands are authentic. And it’s no coincidence that they put good design at the heart of their operations.

So the inside out concept simply follows one of the laws of nature; if something is unhealthy on the inside, sooner or later the disease becomes visible on the outside. And no amount of cosmetic overlay can disguise it.

Do you have a favorite brand that is authentic — that you would say is designed from the inside out?

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Tim Masters

About Tim Masters

Tim Masters is a graphic designer with over 25 years’ experience working with corporations and SMEs. He has helped clients develop their brands including designing logos, identities, literature, websites, exhibitions and all the other elements that combine to create a compelling brand image. Tim and his wife, Chris live and work in Newport, South Wales. (Website:

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