Christoph Hochstrasser


Recently something dawned upon me. All activities that encompass design share one term: Motiv.

In German we have the word “Motiv”. It has multiple meanings in English, for example subject of a photograph1 or the motive for the actions one takes.

But in German all these meanings are represented by this single word.

What was astounding to me was that we have one word for all these meanings. It’s the link between all these activities, like photography, graphic design, and web design. This fact hides in plain sight and wasn’t obvious to me at first.

For example in photography, if you take the background of a portrait away the photo still is meaningful. But strip out the subject and you don’t know what the picture is all about. It’s the Motiv.

Photography also taught me another lesson about the Motiv and design in general. Making a good photograph is easier if you are concentrating on a single subject. Put the focus on as less things as possible, and it is easier to make something good.

In User Interface Design, the Motiv is essentially equal to the motive. What does the user want to achieve? Why do they want to do this? What is their motivation?

Let’s look at designing websites. When designing a website there are also things which can’t be removed and are essential. They are the Motiv. Take away the navigation on Facebook and it will stay Facebook. But take away the Newsfeed and you don’t know what to do there2.

The beauty of the “Motiv” also lies in something else. If you are asking what the motive is, you are always looking for the essence.

And this is always a good thing to do when designing something.

  1. Though, you can also argue, that the Motiv in photography is also something deeper. It’s not the thing itself, but you do the photograph because of the thing. It’s the reason you do the photograph, the motivation

  2. Assuming that you know what you do there in the first place.