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The question of good design

We all hear and use the term "Good Design" but what does it really mean? Often,
it refers to designs we simply like with little or no other criteria in place. I
f we like a design, it "catches our eye" or it is "sexy" or "cool", it is a good
design. Although these may be useful terms and concepts for daily and light con
versation, for those of us who seek to create good designs, these terms leave a
lot to be desired.I would like to offer a number of ways to look at "good design
" in order to provide more substance to what ought to be, an important concept d
ealing with assessing design quality.At one level, a good design can be defined
as one that satisfies and serves a given people, their purpose, place and time.
That is, a design that may satisfy and serve you or me or a group of people may
not satisfy and serve another individual or group. One design may not serve and
satisfy everyone. It should not be surprising then that very few designs are see
n to be excellent by everyone across many diverse peoples, purposes, places, tim
e, cultures, locations, etc.If a design does satisfy and serve a given individua
l or group, the design may very well be seen by them as an excellent design from
their particular point of view. Consider chopsticks. An excellent design for pe
ople who use them daily and whose culture, food, dinnerware, location and eating
stance is appropriate to the use of chopsticks.For some, the chopsticks represe
nt an excellent design, for others, the design is less than good. When we set ou
t to assess a design, we need to consider that design as it relates directly to
a given people, their particular purpose, place and time. Such a broad definitio
n makes it difficult to employ narrow criteria and form limited, egocentric defi
nitions of what "good" can mean.More specific criteria is necessary if we are to
carry out critical evaluation of a particular design. When assessing their own
designs, designers employ criteria they established and used throughout a projec
t as evaluation criteria once a design is finished and open to criticism.Design
criteria used by designers throughout a design project can include such things a
s a user profile, information about context, technologies, ergonomics, cost, pri
ce, life cycle, use and misuse, safety, complexity, legal and environmental issu
es, manufacturing materials and processes,, component selection and layout, asse
mbly, repair, maintenance, disposability, promotion, packaging, merchandising, s
ales, etc.For designers, a "good" design is one that satisfies all of the criter
ia that is identified as part of a project. Of course, all the criteria listed i
s not considered equal. Therefore, criteria needs to be listed and then ranked i
n order of importance. This way, a designer can make appropriate decisions and i
nevitable compromises as a design is being developed.How does the non designer a
ssess a design? Certainly, individuals usually do not have access to the criteri
a established by the designer and those involved in bringing a design to market.
Individual end users are usually left to themselves. They can rely on advertisi
ng , packaging, sales people, and other promotional devices to help inform their
judgment. However, people sometimes feel that these and other informational dev
ices are not always as useful, telling and factual as they would like.People rel
y on what they know and what they see. Often, people must rely on their interpre
tation of a design and those qualities they think they see and feel are inherent
in a design. Few people, other than designers are trained to read the "code" wh
ich is often non verbal and visual information found in things designed. A devic
e may look strong and in fact, be weak. It may look simple and be complicated. I
t may appear to be light and in fact, be very heavy. A designed image, object or
place may look to be of high quality and in fact be less than reliable.It is in
cumbent then that designers create their designs in ways that express what are t
ruly the qualities and characteristics inherent in their designs. This must be d
one in ways that enable ordinary people to see and understand what is before the
m. In other words, designed things ought to state as clearly as possible, throug
h their overall form and as presented or made visible in verbal and non verbal l
anguage, what the inherent qualities are in designs and then deliver these quali
ties accordingly.Once done, a "good design" would be more easily recognized and
those qualities and characteristics that represent and deliver "goodness" would
be obvious, reinforced and in place. The more often designers work this way, the
more confidence people will have in those things we design improving honest and
useful communications between designer and end user. This would be "good".