I got into a discussion with a client last night about design and what it means in the grand scheme of things. We originally met to talk about his branding needs. He has a new small business that he's ready to launch in 2011 and needed to talk about his marketing materials. His logo began the discussion and it turned into a small debate. To make a long story short, he believes design is defined as "a way to visualize what doesn't have form yet". I wouldn't disagree with that per se, but I feel design is better defined as a visual communication of a story. In other words design tells a story. What that story is depends on each individual story. Storytelling has been an important part of the human race since prehistoric times. Cave drawings conveyed the many trials, tribulations and stories of those times. The ancient Egyptians left behind countless images on walls and pottery, for example. The Greeks as well. These examples have already created a picture in your head as your reading this and already you can come up with different stories from what you've learned over the years.
The same exists today. Stories are all around us each day, everyday. Some are better than others and everyone has preferences, but think about this... movies, music, and art are just forms of storytelling. Design works the same way. Every company's brand tells the tale of who they are and what they do. It's something that is always at the forefront when I'm designing for a client, especially small business. My client asked me "So what about a vacuum cleaner? Does that have a story?" Sure it does, as the technology has advanced so has the design behind these appliances. Very few vacuum cleaners use those old dusty bags anymore and instead use cyclone air passages to pick up dirt. The industrial designers (such as James Dyson) are telling the story of the greener and more efficient needs of the time.
I say this because whenever you're looking to have something designed whether it be a logo, a website or even a brochure. Make sure the designer is telling your story so it will convey what's important to the businesses and clients you work with.
As a bonus, let's try a little exercise. As you can see above, there are no word or thought balloons present on this design. I wanted the image itself to tell the story. It's titled "Welcome to Earth, Spaceboy". Can you tell me what the story here is?