What is good design?

What is good design?

July 4, 2019 Anders Innovations

One of our newest talents, Jere Laine, is a passionate UI/UX Junior Designer and a student at Tampere University of Technology. Jere is eager to share his thoughts, his LinkedIn posts have reached hundreds of thousands of people. This interesting guy wrote a blog about the philosophy behind his work and what features make a good design.

Product placement may contain program.

A while ago our Marketing Manager asked, what things are the latest fashion in website design nowadays. I gave her a lecture about design and how aiming for something fashionable ruins everything. My aversion to fashionable design stems from the "ten principles of good design", design guidelines in which I got interested in after reading about how Apple products are designed in Steve Jobs' biography.

When working with backend code, there is usually a specific ruleset that defines if the code can be considered good or bad. For various reasons, it is considered a good practice to use 2-space indents, insightful comments, aptly named variables and so forth. But what about user interface design? How does one determine if a user interface is well designed?  User interfaces need to be both functional and aesthetic, and there is no correct answer to this question.

Nevertheless, many designers and artists have compiled their own lists about design guidelines. My favorite list is written by Dieter Rams. He is a German industrial designer who wrote his "good design" principles in the 1970s. He greatly contributed to the success of Braun in the 50s and the best-known follower of his design guidelines is Sir Jonathan Ive, the person responsible for Apple's product design.

Dieter Rams design example

According to Rams, the ten principles of good design are as follows:

Good design...

1. is innovative – The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.

2. makes a product useful – A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.

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

4. makes a product understandable – 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.

5. is unobtrusive – Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should, therefore, be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user's self-expression.

6. is honest – It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.

7. is long-lasting – It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today's throwaway society.

8. 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.

9. is environmentally friendly – Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.

10. is as little design as possible – Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

Source: https://www.vitsoe.com/eu/about/good-design

I feel that most current designs satisfy the requirements set in principles one, three and four. New, improved technology that allows innovative user interfaces is released every day, and it is also being used. Aesthetics can always be debated, but many companies are at least willing to try making their products pleasing to the eye. Companies have also realized that UX design and testing pays for itself many times over and consumers are willing to pay for understandable products and good user experience.

Where do designers fail then?

I came up with some common examples of what would be considered bad design according to Rams' rules.

I browse LinkedIn frequently. People often post their CV's there, either when looking for a job or asking for advice. Nowadays most of them have all sorts of patterns, bright colors, and ornaments. The same thing goes for many websites. I find myself thinking that designers create unnecessarily complicated designs, maybe to promote their design skills or perhaps for some other reason. Customers no doubt enjoy the eye candy and their behavior encourages making such designs. However, your CV, website or ERP is not a decorative object or a work of art as stated in principle number five. Excessive details and design result in the user being distracted from the content itself. Good design supports the content and makes it more understandable. This is why good design is as little design as possible.

Example of colourful CV

As I told the Marketing Manager, if your design is fashionable it will inevitably go out of fashion (unless you constantly update it) as stated in principle seven. Time is the only currency we have, and a significant amount of time could be saved by creating long-lasting designs. From the perspective of designing physical items and devices, this also contributes to principle number nine: when your design is long-lasting, there is no reason to throw it away because it doesn't look fashionable anymore.

I visited a popular Swedish furniture retail store with my uncle a few years ago. He picked up a product that seemed to be made of solid steel, but after evaluating the weight of the object he was quick to deliver judgment: "fake". Due to cost savings, honesty in design is something that has not been embraced for a long time. Plastics are used in place of metal and leather, and real wood can be surprisingly hard to come by in a furniture shop. 

Finding something that is thoroughly designed to the last detail is perhaps the most difficult challenge of them all. Consumer or client is respected precisely as long as they are willing to pay for the product or service, and few are willing to pay for the time required to polish the details. Dieter Rams is not the only one who has published a set of design rules and there are many ways of designing a good product.

Looking at how well Rams' designs have aged through the years, "less, but better" still remains my favorite design philosophy.

Jere Laine, UI/UX Junior Developer at Anders

Writer: 
Jere Laine
UI/UX Junior Designer 

“We live only to discover beauty. All else is a form of waiting.”