Decoding: What is good design?
I will say that this phrase makes me chuckle a bit now. While I do believe, generally speaking, that the premise and the intentions behind the use of the phrase “good design” by myself and colleagues in the communication design industry is pure and honest to mean something more like design that is “useful, functional, brilliantly thought out, expertly executed”.
I now have a decade of perspective on an industry that has seen oodles of changes including the careful word choice when critiquing design. Also, writing this blog has made me take a critical look at my word choice and what my readers may learn from the language I use. I am often concerned maybe overly concerned that people will genuinely understand the message I am trying to convey through words alone.
With that said, I now understand why the use of the phrase “good design” brings an enormous amount of frustration to readers across the blog-o-sphere or maybe worse no reaction at all. You know, the kind of reaction where your eyes glaze over and you tune out the next few paragraphs. Perhaps you will not be quick to judge and disqualify a trusted authority and hear me out.
People don’t want to be good they want to be great, excellent, clever, inspiring and brilliant. They want to create products that influence people make their lives better. They want to inspire a movement with a new product or service and through a deeper level of strategy they want to invoke classic, iconic, and deep excitement from within the end user of the design.
Here are a few of my design truths:
TRUTH: design can be great
People want design to inspire people to connect, clarify a problem, improve a product, explain a new concept, create action and forward movement or communicate value. The use of the word good next to ‘design’ in any industry whether graphic, product, architectural or others, does no one a favor and certainly not the innovators of our world. People of the world want ‘great’ design, great products not just ‘good’ ones.
TRUTH: no design is perfect
Since we can probably all agree that no design is perfect and there is always room for improvement design as Steve Jobs once said, “real artists ship”. Designers have to stop the process and use the work and test the waters. The designer and client have to agree and decide when a design is viable in the market place and when it is time to “ship it” out into the universe.
TRUTH: the design process is full of compromise
Designers work with and for people to solve problems. Project constraints, human interactions, negotiations, budgets, time lines, resources, committees and other external social factors all play into the process of give and take. This means that ultimately compromise must be reached to achieve the best design within all of these negotiated constraints and factors. This is where a designer will show their muscle and flex their skills by guiding a client to focus and prioritize the most important aspects of the project (content, functionality, features and so forth) to reach closure or pause of the process.
TRUTH: great design is determined by varied people and criteria – it depends on who is asked
Who’s standards of “good” are you trying to meet? Is it the small business owners standards, is it your target audience beliefs, is it your competitors views or is it your financial investors personal preferences? Who is in control of the standards of what good is and what defines greatness? This is a critically important point in reaching the peak of design greatness with your designer.
I believe that it should be your audience who holds the secret sauce to claiming power to decide how ‘great design’ is defined. If you are looking for a known checklist of items to succeed at achieving ‘great design’ you will not find one that is trusted or accurate. There are too many factors influencing a business, a service or a products design potential.
TRUTH: design without principles endangers the integrity of the design
Having clear goals and principles to guide your decisions will insure that your designer will try at best to uphold the integrity of the final deliverable. Let me use the analogy of a road trip. You know you are going on a trip to Chicago from Atlanta in a automobile. Your destination and goal is Chicago. Your principles are the road map or your GPS system to see the plan or path you will take. The automobile is your designer. If the designer doesn’t reference the goal and the map the automobile will either drive off the planned course or take a pit stop at a local gas station to get back on track. You see, the lack of principles will endanger the journey and possibly the integrity of the project or business causing delays, friction, a possible halt of the team. I think you get my point – right? If the principles and purpose of the project are skewed the integrity of the design may weaken. You might be driving a an automobile with the wrong kind of gas in the tank.