Tenets of Good Design, Part 1

  

Note: Dan Blanchette is taking the week off. The following is a reprint.

Design is organization. And without organization, we have no plan. We have noise, a cacophony. Let’s cite some examples.

Let’s pick music, for one. When you listen to a tune you like, it’s pleasant to your ears. The blending of instruments and the sounds they make produce something you find easy to listen to. Ever think of music as design? Well, it is. It’s organization of the notes on the sheet of music and the instruments to play that music—musicians call it “orchestration”. But it’s still design.

How about automobiles? There are cars people think of as great looking, others not so much. Why is that? A Chevrolet Corvette is a car most people would agree is a pretty sharp piece of work. A Pontiac Aztec, not so much. This is not comparing apples and oranges here: it’s merely an example of good v. bad design. One is pleasing to the eye, the other not.

How about this one: Let’s say we have a neighbor named Doris who has a bunch of framed pictures on her living room wall that have no purposeful arrangement. There are various gaps among the items, and upon asking Doris how she arranged them on the wall, she might’ve said,”Oh I just put them up in no apparent way. I just hung them wherever.” This is not design. Now we have our neighbor Gina, who has a similar arrangement in her living room. But this arrangement has maybe a close-quarter arrangement or grid pattern to it that makes it a much more pleasing thing to look at. She has a design.

One of the first things you learn in design school is how to compose an arrangement. There are terms like “dominant” and “subordinate” pertaining to shapes in that arrangement; but for the purposes of this article, let’s say you have a bedroom in which to arrange the furniture. You naturally place the bed first (because it’s the largest piece), then the dressers and nightstands follow. That’s pretty much how you design any arrangement. The placement of the most dominant first: that theme that flows throughout the music, the curving contours of that car, etc.

These are examples of cohesion. Good design has cohesion. Cohesive design is something you see, something you hear, even something you feel.

Most people (non-designers) can sense where and when they experience good design. But most people don’t know why they know it. But they feel it.

My cousin is a home builder. He has a good design sense, but he can’t define it. He just knows what “feels” right. And he’ll explain that in his homes that one thing “flows” from another or that the proximity—nearness—of one room or item to the next makes things easier for the prospective owner. To him, this feels like an organized plan. And he’s right. He’s a planner, an organizer.

Design is intentional.

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Tenets of Good Design—a Primer, Part 3

    

Design is impact.

Impact is getting noticed. Anything that sets a design apart from the rest of the pack is impact. Even bad design has a certain impact, but impact of a negative kind is what any good designer has to avoid.

For a product to get noticed, it first has to be promoted. That promotion could be in several places all at the same time: TV advertising, magazine/newspaper ads, and the internet.

Once we see the product, we can see just how much impact it has. Any new product in the marketplace should look different than any that’s come previously in that category. If it does not look sufficiently unique, its impact will be diminished and the product will lose traction—sales—very soon afterward.

Unless something—possibly its performance—is shown to outstrip its otherwise bland appearance. Say, a new laundry detergent: it may have a rather ordinary bottle shape and label design, but it may also contain an ingredient (or an amalgam of ingredients) that removes stains far better and faster than any others available. That kind of differentiation would move this product faster than grocers could stock it.

Visual impact shows up in two primary areas: shape and color. Either could be branded. The shape of a Porsche automobile is distinctive; likewise, the orange color of a Tide bottle makes it very noticeable in the laundry aisle. Each has brand equity this way. Having that kind of equity for many years works toward recognizability and sales that the items practically promote themselves without advertising.

But companies can undermine their equity by making something that has little or no impact.

I’ve removed the branding—logos—from the above images to illustrate my point. The two cars shown are from the same manufacturer. In fact, they’re the same model. Can you tell me what brand of car this is? Toyota? Nissan? Honda?

It’s hard to tell. This car is among many, mostly from the Japanese market, that has lost its branding, and therefore, its impact. The market has become flooded with automobiles that look so much alike in size, features and materials. Even performance. Standard. Unintelligible. Things here have become blurred among brands, even models within those brands.

I can remember in 1976, Honda brought out its first edition of the Accord. It was a great seller. It was different in its shape and function from anything else. It had great impact.

Now look at it.

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Tenets of Good Design, a Primer—Part 2

From time to time, I’ll post entries for understanding the aims and foundations of this blog. Because design encompasses many things, I’ll break down this discussion into four parts. This entry will serve as the second in a series that explains what design is and what it isn’t.

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Design is function. Function is a word that has some different connotations, but as applies to a designer, the term refers more to ease of usage.

Industrial design sounds like a term people might first associate with heavy machinery. But the term applies to anything we commonly use in everyday living, be it in a factory, your home or in a car, even a toy or cell phone. A television remote is an example: it has buttons that when pushed send signals to your TV set. And that’s a basic case of human usage of a relatively simple device.

Industrial designers look to make items that perform a function. Beyond that, they make those things happen more easily with each new model of the same item, ergonomically. If you use an item in your kitchen such as a food processor, you’re using something that took careful planning on the part of that designer.

He had to regard things as simple as the size and shape of shredded food items before looking at how he might design the blades; how they rotate and how fast they move; the size of the chamber for how much it will hold; the shape of the chute for pouring in liquid; what materials it would be made of for durability; and, perhaps any additional things like safety measures. Then he had to encompass all that into an attractive outer case that looks appealing and will sell.

Sound complicated? It is. But these are all considerations for the designer/design team.

Some things have the same function but are designed differently. Take the Norelco shaver, the first to use rotary blades instead of unidirectional ones. Or that Dyson vacuum cleaner, with its cyclonic action. Engineers designed these to perform the same functions as their predecessors, but doing them better or faster.

Automotive designers make cars and trucks, and here the stage is more familiar (and glamorous) to us as consumers because we tend to appreciate these things design-wise more than that vacuum cleaner. Maybe it’s because we regard an automobile as a work of art, something to behold merely sitting in our driveway rather than a means of transport. Of course, that new car has things on it that go outside the sphere of people moving.

Which brings us to this: that car has a system on it (Bluetooth) that allows it to communicate with your cell phone, an extension of your computer. And that brings the consumer to the interconnectivity of your daily living with the Internet of Things (such as your doorbell, your security camera(s), your heater and air conditioner, your door locks), items you use together because they literally talk to each other over the Internet.

And through all that, we have things that are designed to work together. They operate and communicate for safety and convenience. Function, expanded.

Which leads us then to harmony, but that’s another discussion.

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Tenets of Good Design, a Primer—Part 1

Design by definition is—according to Merriam-Webster—“the way something has been made [or] the way the parts of something are formed and arranged for a particular use, effect, etc.” And that’s fine for dictionary purposes. But design is much more than that. It’s bigger and more important, it’s larger. By that I mean it’s everything.

From time to time, I’ll post entries for understanding the aims and foundations of this blog. This entry will serve as the first in a series that explains what design is and what is not design. Because design encompasses many things, I’ll break down this discussion into four parts.

____

Let me first explain that, in math, we have a symbol representing no items in a certain category. That symbol is “0”, a zero. The fact that we have the zero is an example of an organizational factor that came about centuries ago when it was discovered that there had to be a difference between “no items in a category” and “nothing”. A good example of organizational thinking.

  

Design is organization. And without organization, we have no plan. We have noise, a cacophony. Let’s cite some examples.

Let’s pick music, for one. When you listen to a tune you like, it’s pleasant to your ears. The blending of instruments and the sounds they make produce something you find easy to listen to. Ever think of music as design? Well, it is. It’s organization of the notes on the sheet of music and the instruments to play that music—musicians call it “orchestration”. But it’s still design.

How about automobiles? There are cars people think of as great looking, others not so much. Why is that? A Chevrolet Corvette is a car most people would agree is a pretty sharp piece of work. A Pontiac Aztec, not so much. This is not comparing apples and oranges here: it’s merely an example of good v. bad design. One is pleasing to the eye, the other not.

How about this one: Let’s say we have a neighbor named Doris who has a bunch of framed pictures on her living room wall that have no purposeful arrangement. There are various gaps among the items, and upon asking Doris how she arranged them on the wall, she might’ve said,”Oh I just put them up in no apparent way. I just hung them wherever.” This is not design. Now we have our neighbor Gina, who has a similar arrangement in her living room. But this arrangement has maybe a close-quarter arrangement or grid pattern to it that makes it a much more pleasing thing to look at. She has a design.

One of the first things you learn in design school is how to compose an arrangement. There are terms like “dominant” and “subordinate” pertaining to shapes in that arrangement; but for the purposes of this article, let’s say you have a bedroom in which to arrange the furniture. You naturally place the bed first (because it’s the largest piece), then the dressers and nightstands follow. That’s pretty much how you design any arrangement. The placement of the most dominant first: that theme that flows throughout the music, the curving contours of that car, etc.

These are examples of cohesion. Good design has cohesion. Cohesive design is something you see, something you hear, even something you feel.

Most people (non-designers) can sense where and when they experience good design. But most people don’t know why they know it. But they feel it.

My cousin is a home builder. He has a good design sense, but he can’t define it. He just knows what “feels” right. And he’ll explain that in his homes that one thing “flows” from another or that the proximity—nearness—of one room or item to the next makes things easier for the prospective owner. To him, this feels like an organized plan. And he’s right. He’s a planner, an organizer.

Design is intentional.

In the coming weeks, I’ll discuss design in many areas—practically everything. In magazines, in cars—even in television commercials.

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