What is Good Design?


What is Good Design?Every Monday morning I post an image of a website and critique the design. I point out what looks good, what looks bad, and, sometimes, what I think could be changed to make it better.

But what exactly makes design good? When we look at (specifically) a webpage, what makes us see it as designed well? Dieter Rams came up with 10 Design principles in the 1970s that I think hold mostly true even to today.

Good Design is Innovative

Designing is never still. You can’t ever reach the end of all the options. Design is always moving forward, challenging pre-conceptions, and thinking outside of the box. It isn’t just the new; sometimes it’s the new with the old. But it’s never created just because – it’s based off what you are designing.

Good Design Makes a Product Useful

We’ve all seen designs that render a product virtually unusable! Buttons placed in unusual places, confusing layouts, or distracting blinking text… Good design will always emphasize the purpose of the website and never detract from its main goal.

Good Design is Aesthetic

Something can be designed in such a way that it is useful and innovative, but not be beautiful. How many technological advances were sold to the public because someone came along with a beautiful design where the same idea had failed before.

Take the ipad, for instance. It’s simple, clean design of the object and its interface made it a huge hit. But Microsoft had created the same product years ago. The difference was the aesthetic of the design. That’s not to say people won’t use something unless it’s beautiful, but beauty makes people want to use it – want to have it.

Good Design Makes a Product Understandable

Information Architecture can apply to several of these points, but this one is all about it. Good design (layout, organization) is about making the product so easy to use that you don’t need instructions or searches. Good design leads people to be able to use the product without questions or confusion.

Good Design is Unobtrusive

This one almost seems counter-intuitive after the other points we’ve just made. But if you’ve ever walked through a mall with a friend who isn’t a designer, you’ve probably seen this before. I am constantly noticing beautiful design, sometimes (if it’s good enough) even taking a picture of it. But most people (ie. not designers) don’t notice this. They like using whatever it is, often feel attracted to buy it (if it’s a product), but they don’t notice the actual design. The truly good evoke attraction without attention.

Good Design is Honest

I found this one interesting. The idea that good design doesn’t lie – it doesn’t make the consumer think it does something that it doesn’t do. If anything, I think this is a starting point for good design – the very base for designing.

Good Design is Long-Lasting

Everything today is thrown away, even high technology cell phones and computers. Everything is updated, revised, and renovated. But Rams makes a good point here. Good design can be looked back on years later and it’s still good design. It may not be “fashionable”, but it’s designed well.

Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail

When I first started designing websites, I would frequently do the large items of design (the header, footer, basic slideshow, links) but not really think about the smaller parts. But when I started really taking apart great designs, the first thing I noticed was the detail involved. Everything was thought through and chosen for a reason. It’s what takes an OK design and makes it great.

Good Design is Environmentally Friendly

While this isn’t a bad thing, I disagree with Rams here. Environmentally friendly isn’t really a part of good design – it’s a lifestyle choice which can be good, but doesn’t necessarily effect the actual design.

Good Design is as Little Design as Possible

Good design means you aren’t burdening your object/website with unnecessary items. This goes hand-in-hand with “Good Design is Unobtrusive”. It doesn’t distract or add more then necessary. It provides the created thing with purity and simplicity that makes it beautiful.