Why is Design Intent Important? An Overview

Idea Fuel

As I stated before, design intent is essential to great art and design.

These two are closely tied together, because without an understanding of design intent, we can’t fully appreciate the richness and design character of any artwork.

Art as design

So if you look at an artwork that is referred to as “art”, then you can infer that it is designed to be used in a certain way. This artwork may or may not be an object, but is more likely to be something symbolic in nature.

A still life with fruit would probably not be considered a “design”, but it could be considered something that helps understand the message that the artist is trying to get across to the viewer, in terms of the traditional senses (sense of taste, sense of touch, sense of smell).

What is design intent?

Why is Design Intent Important? An Overview

As a general rule, we would define design intent as any information that we can associate with the usage of a product/service.

This is quite broad, but by using this idea, it opens the door to the idea that what we say with regard to the use of an item (product or service) can have a positive or negative impact on that item.

There are four main types of ways that design intent can be understood:

Audience Intent

The “normal” way that we interact with things – whether it be your products, your colleagues, your social media posts, or in the case of us, a piece of art.

Decision Intent

This is the same way that a lot of business decisions are made.

A simple example is the Coca-Cola sign.

You probably see that sign in front of a building or at a corner store.

The sign is placed there to get the customer’s attention so they can make the right choice in the future. The purpose of the sign is to influence a customer’s decision about which brand to purchase from.

In the context of design, we can understand design intent as a driving force behind some of our decisions.

Segment Intent

This is a rather broad type of intent, and it’s generally used for things that can be categorized under categories that are deemed as both positive and negative.

As a whole, segment intent can be thought of as the intent of a specific item to influence the behavior of the user in a positive way. This includes designing with consideration for your audience’s needs, goals, or desires.

Behavioral Intent

This is another broad category, but it does refer to designing for a specific purpose.

For example, the idea behind a “smiley” button is that when you click it, the server will then show you a smiley face on the destination site/s of the visitors.

In order for the server to correctly interpret that smiley face, a server needs to have had a conversation with the server, as well as the user, to figure out that what they were doing is a request for a smiley face.

Simplicity Intention

In some of our marketing work, we think of simplicity as a key component in making something understandable.

When a user clicks the button, they have already done a few things – they may have registered with your business, entered a credit card number or sent the text/email to confirm.

This is enough information for your server to understand that they are completing a purchase with your business. This design intent allows us to design a more engaging and useful experience for our customers.

Consequences of Our Design Intents

Why is Design Intent Important? An Overview

From an objective level, we can see the design intent, and our effect on that design intent, as being a two-sided relationship. We must consider both our goals and our design intent while designing for customers and/or stakeholders.

If we design for the audience’s benefit (good intent), then we will likely do a better job than if we design to our own end (bad intent).

Using an example of Spotify’s design, we can see how the streaming music platform has made use of the relationship between the audience and the services they consume.

Impact of design intent

Why is Design Intent Important? An Overview

If we seek to make an impact, it is important that we can communicate to our audience why we’re making that impact.

That is why we need to make sure that the intent of our design intent is clear.

It needs to be expressed explicitly, because most of us design using a medium in which intent can be conveyed without the need for words.

It is also important that our design is not hidden, hidden in plain sight. With all of these points in mind, we will strive to make the positive design intent the default position.

Behavioral intent

The second type of design intent is much more abstract. It is defined as:

“the design of a structure or function for a system or of something for the sake of being in a certain state.”

We can see this as looking at how our design intent influences how the system behaves. The presence or absence of one or other design intent can lead to a significantly different user experience.

A very simple example of the type of behavioral intent design is a car’s engine.

We all know that a car has an engine, which is a key part of the car’s operation. We also all know that cars do not have sentient intelligence.

But, we also know that cars are, essentially, working systems – they need to be fueled, cooled and regulated in order to work. In other words, the car’s engine, its primary mechanism for causing movement, can be interpreted as a behavioral intent.

By being aware of these things, we can ensure that we create a nice, smooth, and understandable user experience.

Consequences of design intent

Why is Design Intent Important? An Overview

One of the unfortunate things about behavioral intent design is that it can sometimes feel self-defeating. In order to know what our intended design intent is, we must be aware of our users’ intentions.

If we do not, and inadvertently make our design harmful, we can be liable for the harm that it causes to people.

You might be surprised at how many large companies, such as Uber and Facebook, have been caught manipulating the ‘cause-effect chain’ for their own benefit.


When you design a feature, it is quite often that you will come across something that is useful, but unintended.

One of the things that we have on our platform is that we show top stories for specific countries. We have a number of ‘trends’, where we look at what our users are discussing the most on the platform.

We recently added a new feature, called ‘Unfollowing Stories’, which is designed to help users filter their feeds.

The truth is that it is very easy to be overwhelmed by everything that is on your feed, and it is easy to look past the parts that are not personally relevant.

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