What is design?
I define design as function + aesthetics, meaning a well designed work should be both beautiful and functional. If a work is only functional, then it is utilitarian, not well designed. If it is only beautiful, then it is decoration, not design.
For example, a brochure needs to catch the eye as well as communicate information and possibly sell a client on a product or service. If it's only pretty, it's useless for anything but hanging on a wall to add color. If it isn't pretty, it's little more than a specifications listing. A website needs to look cool as well as be easy to navigate and find information. No one is going to spend much time or return to a website they can't find anything on.
This idea first began to jell in my head at art school when an architecture instructor talked about Frank Lloyd Wright's philosophy and how he didn't believe in decorating his buildings, but wanted everything to serve a purpose. For him, at least according to this instructor, he believed in enhancing his buildings using the structure to increase the aesthetics, not merely decorating it to make it pretty. That struck me.
So why am I bringing this up? Recently I've been working on a brochure for a high end client who has very clear ideas about what they want. That part is good, because it makes the job go much quicker and the client usually ends up more satisfied. The bad part is they make requests that actually hurt the effectiveness and/or quality of the work. This client wanted boxes that contained the most important information in the brochure and therefore should be the most prominent to be more transparent so they blend into the background and make the text less legible. The transparency may add to the overall beauty, but it makes the text difficult to read and therefore less valuable. The boxes with a small transparency looked nice. But this request pushed the design into decoration territory. They're paying for it, so I'll give them what they want, but it is a lost opportunity.
When I first started working professionally, things like that really bothered me. I used to argue and fight with clients trying to bend them to my way of thinking. Sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn't. But I've been in this business long enough that I think very little of it. I've reached a point where a tell a client honestly, "Version A is more effective because of Reason 1, 2, and 3. Version B is less effective because of Faults 1, 2, and 3, but you are paying for the Work so I'll do what you want." It's worked well. I've done my job by informing and educating the client on what would give him or her the best results, but I don't fall into the typical graphic designer trap of "I'm so great and wonderful you should do whatever I say and not speak little dumb, uneducated public." That gets annoying and makes additional gigs hard to get.
The menu above is a design prototype to show a client what i thought would make a nice design for his Hostel. It looks quite inviting, but it's also practical in that it clearly lists items you can order, cost, a description of each, and they are divided by when you can order them. Beauty and functionality.