Posted in good design by hemmant jha on December 31, 2009

As the beginning of a new decade draws near, perhaps it is time again to ask : what is good design?

Is good design uber resolved, painstakingly detailed and meticulously crafted? Did the team of designers, engineers, marketeers and support staff work like a seamless, well organized and purposeful machine – all for the purpose of providing you, dear consumer, with the ultimate experience? And for providing MOMA with another tidbit for their permanent collection? That’s certainly one way of looking at it – and if that’s the question you asked, you’re right. After all, there’s not much of that kind of good stuff floating around – it’s the product of tough, painstaking work by genuinely talented people, of which there are few.

A prime example from recent production is the stainless steel iPod Shuffle. We’re not talking about the regular aluminum kind, which has the gravitas of a paper clip, however adorable it might otherwise be. We’re talking about the limited production, only-available-at-brick-and-mortar+online Apple stores, hewn from solid stainless steel version. It’s a little jewel that deserves a display area on the winter collar of every self-respecting design aficionado.

Is a workman’s tool an example of good design? After all, isn’t something that’s superbly utilitarian also a fabulous design object? Absolutely. Products by Braun and Snap-on come to mind. Leica and Ricoh too.

What of design that does not appear to be well resolved – something that might have been put together with just basic knowledge of Illustrator? Something humble?

Not Martha Argerich playing Bach, but a happy drunk at a bar piano?

XEX vs. Sushi Ota?

The parts might not fit together too well, proportions might be a bit off, sometimes too much info, sometimes too little. But magically enough, the product manages to convey exactly what it needs to, in spades. It’s not intimidating – after all, you could have designed it [shades of Palin here]. But you do get it – it is endearing, it is compelling – and it is readily and happily purchased. Is it good design if success is a chance occurrence instead of planned certainty [ha]?

Take a look at the example below – Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soap, and decide for yourself. Was the somewhat unfinished nature of the packaging the intended look? Is it a product of canny design and marketing, or of part-time help from a friendly neighbor? Whatever the intent or process, it just plain works. And isn’t that what really matters?


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