What is good design and why do we need it?

What is (and Why Do We Need) Good Design

Jan 16, 2019

Design principles can be taught; good design is hard to learn.

From the time I was young, I understood that purposefulness was a thing that was unique to a certain group of folks, and I have always counted myself lucky to be among those who paid close attention to it, and also to it’s first cousin, mindfulness, another hallmark of good design.

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For me, it manifests itself as a special form of OCD – the kind that means you just can’t leave well enough alone when something isn’t quite right – the kind of thing that creates all kinds of wars between perfect and good enough.  Take the feature art on this very post, for instance  – I had an idea, in my mind’s eye, but I just could not get it to extrapolate into Photoshop.

I wrestled with it for awhile, but I’ve got other work to do, including some fun projects for this week, I’m just back from a few days in Hawaii, so that means I’m also behind on my scheduled tasks.  Finally, “good enough” won out over perfect and the whole thing got moving again with a completely different image.

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Yes, I know it’s silly that I should worry about how I can resize the Memphis style pattern I wanted to use as a background for the original graphic, but when we talk about good design, I mean to talk about things that work for the process or purpose they were intended to aid.  Again, sometimes you have to go with what you know in order to make a deadline and keep things moving in a good direction.

How many people actually understand what good design is?

It’s hard to say, but I think the actual percentage is maybe 25-30% of the average group of people.  Of course when you add in the code poets, the creators, the makers…  that number starts to climb.  I’m strictly speaking of good design as a form meets function intersection; I’m not referring to beautiful things with no purpose, and artful objects that do nothing but decorate (and perhaps inspire) aren’t included in my observations either.

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Going back to the feature art I initially chose for this post, I was originally going to write about the Memphis Group, Ettore Sotsass, and how they pioneered a type of design known as Memphis.  They weren’t from Tennessee, they didn’t come from Egypt; Sotsass was Italian and the collective were based in Milan.  They created a plethora of items, goods, furnishings, and art pieces in the 1980s, and the work – which I always have had a soft spot for, is now making a comeback.  It’s fresh, youthful and exuberant, but most importantly, when they created a coat rack, it looked crazy – and crazy good – but it was also an excellent example of a coat rack.

Good design enables the user to do a task more quickly, more easily, or more efficiently.

When you are creating a new ad campaign – let’s say you are launching a new product – the design of the campaign starts well before you send out the first email or write the check for the initial ad buy…  for the sake of argument let’s assume that you, your client, your boss, whoever, has actually built a decent product and we’re going to work from that base – let’s do a quick rundown of what a well designed campaign should convey and how it should do so.

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First we are going to identify the product uses and the end user who would use the product for specific reasons.  In most cases, a 75 year old man will have a different use case than a 25 year old woman, although that’s not always the situation.  If there are multiple use cases that span multiple groups, we’re going to develop avatars.  I’ve mentioned this before, it’s simply creating a fictional character that’s going to represent one of your cohort groups.

Next we will take our avatar, and we’ll decide what the most likely, most effective, and most efficient way to reach him is going to be.  At this point, we are going to make a list of possible branding or marketing opportunities.  Our list, if we are smart, will include things like email, online or mobile opportunities, OOH (out of home) collateral that could include printed signage, digital billboards, flyers, snail mailers, there is an endless list of possibilities, although they all have different conversion ratios.

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Once we have created – and ranked – the list of places where we might catch his eye, and therefore his interest, we next need to determine what our budget will allow us to use as collateral points.  I cannot overstate enough times that the more places you make contact with likely prospects, and the more facets to your story (which is already created, edited, and refined,  I am assuming, although at my own risk) that you can present in a logical manner with each additional opportunity to reiterate and reinforce the story parts, the more likely you are to succeed at selling something to your prospect, and moving them over to the customer side of your contact list.

What does any of this have to do with good design?

My point in this blog article is that creating anything – whether it’s a freaking soup spoon or an ad campaign that’s delivered on the side of a soup kitchen – it’s all about designing something that has form as well as function.  You can have one without the other, you can have neither, but it’s only when both sides of the coin are the same size that you tend to end up with currency of the realm.


If you design a spoon that has slats in it, then you’re only really making a fork in a different shape.

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