What is good design?

Good design is not just what looks good. It also needs to perform, convert, astonish, and fulfill its purpose. It can be innovative or it might just get the job done.

Categorized in: design principles, good design, design

Inspired by Dieter Rams, I’ve long kept a list of what I think good design is. It is ever expanding and some things are more important in some projects than other. Below is how my list looks right now – greatly inspired by Dieter Rams, but focused more on online design.

Good design is innovative

Innovative design can both be a break-through product or service, and a redesign of an existing product or service. A break-through product adds a before unseen value and function to the market and the user, while a redesign improves an existing product.

Innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself2.

Good design is functional

Useful design fills its intended function – and likely both a primary and secondary function. A useful design solves problems and through its design it optimizes a given functionality.

Good design makes a product useful

“It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.”2

Good design is aesthetic

An aesthetic product has an inherent power of being able to fascinate and immediately appeals to its users senses.

“Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products used every day have an effect on people and their well-being.”1

A good design is intuitive

Intuitive design explains itself and makes a user manual unnecessary. A design makes how to use, perceive, and understand a product obvious. A good design explains its function.

“It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.”2

A good business

Assuming a product is designed to sell, a good design does well in the competition and stands out in a competitive market. A good business means a positive profit, why a good design sells well.

A good design is honest

“An honest design communicates solely the functions and values it offers. It does not attempt to manipulate buyers and users with promises it cannot keep.”2

A good design is long-lasting

In a society of over-consumption, a good design has an important objective. It builds on sustainability in the sense that design and materials are durable and not just a trend. Waste and over-consumption is not a part of good design.

“It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.”2

A good design is user-oriented

Good design is based on its use and designed to improve a given situation for its user. User-oriented design adds value both intellectual and material value to its product and in turn increases satisfaction and the life situation of its user.

A good design is unobtrusive

“Products and their design should be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression. Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools and are neither decorative objects nor works of art.”2

A good design is thorough – down to the last detail

“Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.”2

A good design is as little design as possible

“Dieter Rams makes the distinction between the common “Less is more” and his strongly advised “Less, but better” highlighting the fact that this approach focuses on the essential aspects thus, the products are not burdened with non-essentials. The desirable result would then be purer and simpler."1

A good design engages through intrinsic motivation.

A good design makes the user want to engage through intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.

A good design is focused

A good design is effective and efficient in fulfilling its purpose. It relies on as few external factors and inputs as possible, and these are easy to measure and manipulate to achieve an expected other output. A good design is always the simplest possible working solution.

Sources

1 Dieter Rams at wikipedia.org

2 Dieter Rams: ten principles for good design at Vitsæ

About the author

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Anders Toxboe builds websites with an outstanding team at Benjamin Interactive in Copenhagen, Denmark. He also founded UI-Patterns.com and a series of other projects.

Published on 3 Feb, 2011
What is good design? What is good design?

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