Good design is most always defined as design that effectively achieves a purpose, usually a purpose defined by a client. But what if this purpose is at odds with the well-being of people?
Design is complex and often integrated into larger systems. But, as any working design studio can tell you, it is not only possible to evaluate and assess the quality of design solutions, but also to glean data on alternative solutions. Design, unlike art, has a very clear objective and comparing the results obtained as a way to meet these objectives also helps determine the quality of the design.
An evaluation of the quality of a design solution can include an assessment of the adequacy of response to user needs, the use of materials used, and the economy of resources required, aesthetic attributes, environmental impact, capacity to improve quality of life, marketability, pleasure of use, and more.
UNDERSTANDING DESIGN IS VISCERAL
Because the process of designing is centred around understanding humans and facilitating their interaction with objects and environments, users tend to have an intuitive understanding (‘gut feeling’) about whether a design is effective or not. They might not be able to identify or articulate why, but they know when a design makes them feel good, when it makes their tasks easier. It has been said that "good design is invisible," in other words if the user-experience is well-designed, the user will feel no friction and simply be guided through seamlessly.
OUR DEFINITION OF 'GOOD' DESIGN
The Council would argue that there is a difference between something being well-designed and ‘good’ design. In our conception of the designer’s role in society, we maintain that designers have a moral obligation, first and foremost, to humanity. If their work narrowly serves only the intended commercial purpose but makes humanity worse off, then the design can be called efficient, clever, beautiful, exciting and, even, powerful, without being good. The Council defines ‘good’ design as design that takes into consideration the social, cultural, economic and environmental ramifications of the work. Though there is a lot of exciting design out there, only a small percentage of designs have the integrity to be ‘good’.
Examples of effective but not-good design abound. The internet is full of UI/UX design that imperceptibly guides users to give away their privacy or to choose the desired option, mainly for commercially-driven reasons. The world is full of car designs that are sexy, comfortable, and a pleasure to drive—but are unsustainable. There is increasing criticism from parents that most baby clothes designs actively promote sexual stereotypes. Apple's geolocations tags have been criticised for enabling stalkers and criminals to track their victims. There are clothing companies that are starting to consider environmental impacts, while forgoing concerns on working conditions. These examples show how many designs we encounter every day, while well-designed, fail to consider the broader frameworks and relationships they affect and even create.
WHY GOOD DESIGN MATTERS
Designs have enormous impact on society, culture and the environment, often far beyond the intentions and reach of a particular product or message. A good design contributes value. A not-good design can cause damage. Good designers will acknowledge their responsibility to make good design and even to advocate on behalf of more equitable, accessible, culturally aware, and sustainable outcomes with clients. Sometimes, being a ‘good’ designer means knowing to turn down unethical projects and investing the effort to educate clients.
Welcome to the ‘Polemics’ section of our website. This is a place where we want to explore discourse and thought on the contemporary practice of design. We aim to take a critical view of the profession and the controversial issues that surround its practice.