Design is the defining of an object or system, and in this way touches so many parts of our lives. From the way products in our manufactured environment are designed, to the design of systems we interact with. To see the value in good design, we can have a look at examples of poor design to inform our viewpoint.
A specific example I have run into are juice bottles (company and product name withheld) not having proper sealing at the lid, so when it is tipped upside down, juice leaks out. This results in frustration as you then have to clean the spill and rinse your hands, not a good experience. Another example is the email protocol and the effect on productivity it can have. Email can become unwieldy if you have lots of email to deal with. This partly comes from using the email system in a way that was not originally designed for. The volume of email that can be received, is orders of magnitude higher than could be comprehended when email was first used and can result in a lot of cognitive load. This can lead to email bankruptcy, when your inbox has too many emails to rationally deal with and you delete, archive or ignore all previous email. You end up feeling worse as you wonder if there is something important you have missed in there, and you place an unrealistic expectation that you won’t let it happen again. There is a good chance it will. These examples show how bad design, leads to a poor experience.
In contrast good design can make something so much better. An example of this is the MagSafe connector on Apple’s MacBook laptops. This power cable attaches to the computer magnetically so if you trip on the power cable, you won’t send your laptop flying off the desk and have an expensive accident.
Another example of good design is toilet paper. This is such a mature system that we rarely think about it, and couldn’t be further from email. In some ways this shows how good design can easily be over looked, as it just seems logical and how things should be. But in reality it takes time and energy to get there.
So what are some principles of good design that we can measure against? Dieter Rams former lead Industrial Designer for Braun has a series of principles that are still relevant today as when he wrote them.
1. Good design is innovative.
2. Good design makes a product useful.
3. Good design is aesthetic.
4. Good design makes a product understandable.
5. Good design is unobtrusive.
6. Good design is honest.
7. Good design is long-lasting.
8. Good design is thorough down to the last detail.
9. Good design is environmentally friendly.
10. Good design is as little design as possible.
Copyright Dieter Rams [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0] from: https://www.vitsoe.com/rw/about/good-design
Design can be a loaded word with many connotations. But design plays a role in everything we do. If you think about how something works in its context, the last 5% of improvement to its design can make all the difference in the final result.