Knovel Blog


9 Characteristics of Good Design

Victor July 3, 2012

There is often a trade-off between good design and price: the better the design, the higher the price. Yet companies like IKEA and Target succeed because they make well designed products accessible. The following characteristics–inspired by a list of 10 principles of good design created by designer Dieter Rams–are fundamental rules for sizing up good design.

Good design makes a product useful –  A product is bought to be used. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from its usefulness.

Good Design is Innovative – Innovation does not only imply something new,  it also means product refinement. Good design usually comes from resourceful and creative people who take inventions and perfect them. In 1779, Samuel Crompton of Lancashire  invented the spinning mule, which made possible the mechanization of cotton manufacture. Yet the innovation was continued by Henry Stones, of Horwich, who added metal rollers to the mule; and James Hargreaves, of Tottington, who figured out how to smooth the acceleration and deceleration of the spinning wheel; and William Kelly, of Glasgow, who worked out how to add water power to the draw stroke; and John Kennedy, of Manchester, who adapted the wheel to turn out fine counts; and, finally, Richard Roberts, also of Manchester, a master of precision machine tooling who created the “automatic” spinning mule: an exacting, high-speed, reliable rethinking of Crompton’s original creation. Such men provided the micro inventions necessary to make macro inventions highly productive.

Good Design Makes a Product Understandable – Good design emphasizes simplicity and clarifies the product’s structure and use. At best, it is self-explanatory and intuitive. No one likes things that are tricky to operate. Good design typically provides a high quality user manual, instructions, or user interface.

Good Design is Aesthetic – The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our well-being. Objects of beauty generate feelings of delight and pleasure, but only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

Good Design Makes Products Easy to Transport, Store, and Maintain – Good design reduces or eliminates tedious drudgery associated with the maintenance of a product (i.e., the cleaning of the object is designed to be quick and easy). Good design packages a product in a way that is small, stackable, standardized, easy to load on a truck or train and therefore easy to transport.

Good Design is Long-Lasting – Unlike fashionable design, products with good design are built to last many years. Planned obsolescence is when a product or part is made that is designed to fail, or become less desirable over time or after a certain amount of use. Our culture is trending toward a throwaway society based on over-consumption and excessive production of short-lived or disposable items. Non-durable goods (products used less than three years) make up 27% of all municipal solid waste, with durable goods making up 16%. Economic growth built on made-to-break products, planned obsolescence, and fashion is wasteful.

Good Design is Environmentally Friendly – The population is 7 billion, and we’re expected to reach 9.2 billion by 2050. The planet is naturally able to absorb and cleanse a certain amount of pollution, but with this many people on the earth, we risk environmental degradation. Good 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. Products that take into account the environment are easy to recycle, made sustainably, and use materials with optimal properties. Architects are now designing buildings and communities using green architecture techniques. Architects and designers need to take a leadership role in designing buildings and communities that encourage the cultural change required to restore environmental sustainability. Poor design is responsible for many, if not most, of our environmental problems. Good design minimizes a product’s packaging; containers and packaging now represent 32% of all municipal solid waste.

Good Design is Less Design – Less is more. Good design is well-edited, concentrating only on the essentials. Truly great products are sleek, essential and easy to use.  There’s an honesty in good design–it does not try to make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer.

Good Design is Thorough, Down to the Last Detail – Nothing is arbitrary. Care and accuracy in the design process shows respect towards the consumer.

 What do you think about this list? Are there any other characteristics of good design that you would add?

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