Is design mostly faux, unreal, partly based on illusion which combines different elements and combines into one beautiful piece, which is not scalable but give a nice look to the eye. Consider these images when answering the question.

tencentBoston Gaming company

First Image. This second image which gives an illusion of if the edges are lift, I draw a rectangle in the left side and you can see it still give that look although it is a pure rectangle.

enter image description here

Basically what I am asking is : I am a programming and think strictly in terms of logic. When I look at these effect, I say wow but when i look deep into it, I see that these are just images sticked together to give a beautiful look. They are not scalable. If you change the font on these page for example (make them bigger), everything will fall apart. My question is is most of the deign based on this faux design, illusion and piecing things together to give a better design and look but they will not be scalable at all. My question is strictly related to websites and website designs.

The following is just a few more pics which basically says about illusion which may or may not be used in designing a page. I don't know, that is why this question.

enter image description here

The building on the right is leaning more towards the right but actually it is the same image. The three pillars are actually the same size! Are these types of illusions used in Graphic Design (web pages in particular) to get the desired effects. Here is an explanation for these and more. Are they taught in graphic design schools?

  • 2
    This is really asking about visual media and depiction, not design. The short answer to that is: YES. All drawing and depiction is illusion, and the more "realistic," the more illusory.
    – horatio
    Nov 1, 2011 at 15:25
  • Of course I meant the visual effects of a design.
    – TheTechGuy
    Nov 1, 2011 at 16:42
  • Errr... The three pillar example isn't good. I didn't even realize this was supposed to be an illusion (until I read the rest of your question, and realized it was a 'classic' illusion), and I subconsciously knew they were 'equal'. Nov 2, 2011 at 3:32
  • Tromp l'oeil is a whole set of techniques in the world of visual arts. They may creep into designs once in a while, but (other than the "optical illusions" like there that one sees in children's books and on the web) they are used for specific purposes. A stage set, for example, is often built with faux perspective to give the illusion of depth. One can't extrapolate backwards and say that, therefore, all stage design is based on illusion. Nov 2, 2011 at 5:05
  • Anything which depicts something is an illusion, at its core, but really, this whole question is off topic IMO.
    – horatio
    Nov 2, 2011 at 20:59

5 Answers 5


If you're basing your design on illusion you're doing it wrong. design is a translation of reality, you're trying to communicate something via the visual senses. It gets subjective that is why you are having trouble.

When you get into some of the modernist ideas like Bauhaus you will see a lot of math. Even in Roman times they had a lot of math to build structures and is even used today (for example, pi or the golden ratio). This is a good starting point; from there you have to ask the right questions and answer those questions.

Design is all about answering questions.

When you get into metaphysics and even quantum physics, some would argue even reality is flat, and an illusion. so it depends on how far you want to take it. Design is as real as you want it to be. A shadow is simply communicating to the visual senses for a specific purpose -- to give an object depth.

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    Phi < Pi... Phi eats pie! Phi pwns. Nov 2, 2011 at 3:33

Graphic Design is based not on illusion, but on communication. Design may use illusion to help get a message across or create a desirable user experience, but that is a matter of particular techniques used for a specific purpose, not a fundamental of design. Modern tools make some of these visual tricks easy to employ, which is why drop-shadows became so common after they were introduced as features in Photoshop and InDesign, but the craft of design existed, and was mature, long before the web or desktop publishing.

At the very bottom of the stack of design fundamentals are three unvarying rules: a) know what you want to say (the message); b) include what contributes to and focuses attention on the message; c) remove things that distract from the message. The effectiveness of a design is based on how well these three are done. These rules also apply to photography, writing, theater, dance, sculpture or any visual arts.

Too literal approach to design or art can be an impediment, as this hilarious M.C. Escher spoof from Worth1000.com illustrates:

Escher exercise

  • +1 For the text, and +1 for the picture. Oh wait... Well, thanks for giving me a new perspective. ;) Nov 2, 2011 at 3:36
  • question re-edited for you, what I am asking for. Strictly about website designing.
    – TheTechGuy
    Nov 3, 2011 at 1:20
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    Got it. The question appears quite illogical now. If you radically change one element of a design, you can break the design. Of course. If you change a 32-bit float to a short int, you can break a program. What's the difference? Nov 3, 2011 at 4:46

Design is a broad term that applies as equally to a graphic designer as it does a programmer. When you are creating something, you are designing it. Design has lots of elements to it. You mentioned two (of many): engineering and illustration.

In the context of graphic design, most of what we create is illustrated as a facsimile. Typically printed on paper or presented on a screen. As such, it's all illusion. A photo is an illusion of reality. An 'OK' button in my web browser is an illusion of a physical button. Just as code is often used to create an illusion of a real object's functionality (ala the Calculator that comes with your operating system).

  • You mean that design is based on 'real-world' concepts and things...? Nov 2, 2011 at 3:38
  • No, I don't mean that.
    – DA01
    Nov 2, 2011 at 3:42

Graphic design, at the end of the day, is communication and persuasion. A good illustration, poster, web site, etc. will communicate specific facts (this is what our company does, these are the services we offer, this is our underlying philosophy) and evoke specific emotions in an attempt to influence the viewer's behavior (nostalgia for a particular time, happiness associated with particular childhood feelings, excitement over a particular event, etc.)

Your statement that this "is somewhat fake" is, in fact, completely wrong if considered this way. The emotions evoked by good design can't be created whole cloth out of nowhere - they're completely based on shared experiences and cultural understandings.

For someone with a background in programming your statement that you "think strictly in terms of logic, but when it comes to designing, that idea totally fails" seems odd to me - User Interface and User Experience drive the programming process. Even if the software you create doesn't have an HCI element to it (like programming binary load lifters) a good program relies on an initial good design - what is the program's purpose, how does it move through the various functions, how does it re-use these to be elegant and compact code, etc. "Design" in this sense is closer / truer to its broader meaning - careful consideration of the required elements and a methodical approach to carrying out the engineering of the required product. A door with push bars on both sides had better be able to be pushed from each direction or it's poorly designed. A computer program that doesn't efficiently use resources or allow a user to easily perform its desired functions is poorly designed.

I would suggest you read "The Design of Everyday Things"; in this you'll find that good design requires both creativity (which I believe is what you're actually asking about, and not "design") and logic. The two principles are hardly discrete; often an easy to use design will be so because of creative use of logical principles ("I want people to pull on this side of the door so I'll put a handle on it. I want them to push on the other side of the door so I'll put a push plate on it.").


Both images could be scalable. The post-it one could be made to scale in height, and with a little work so could the website. It is bad practice for them not to be scalable and although sometimes you might lose a little of the design - probably not noticeable to the user - it is definitely best practice. Now with current browsers accepting much of CSS3 it has become a little easier - drop shadows, rounded corners etc

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