Craftsmanship in design

I listened to a podcast of a sociologist, Richard Sennett, the other evening. He was talking about the increasing infatuation of the American business with productvity over quality. To take an example from my own past jobs, call centres are more concerned about short calls than the ability of the operator to respond to the customer’s question, or delivering quality customer service.

As I started to think about design projects I’ve been involved with, and stories I’ve heard, it seems some clients are applying this to design. In other words, quantity over quality.

I’m curious if anyone has a feeling about this, especially since design is design is so rooted in the visual arts. Is craftmanship in design under-rated? Have most of your projects been run by people who were more worried about how soon the project would be done than the quality of the design solution?

yep/ a few years back when i was forced into POP design, projects were like that everyday. not all of them, but ~90% were driven by salespeople who wanted the renderings ASAP. of course this wans’t so they could show them to the client, but so they could get something they felt they could sell. rather than give us the time to create and work out the designs, they thought quantitiy ove quality was the way to do it.

it wasn’t completely negative, tho. it taught me speed, time management and sharpened my decision making abilities.

Kung Fu Jesus,

You have a good outlook on pumping out products for quantity vs. quality. I’m currently in that position now. I think of it as experience and a stepping-stone. Thanks for the mental pat on the back.

amen brutha!

I have met many designers to know that quantity eventually leads to quality. Quantity makes you sharp. It forces you to be faster. What took me months now takes days and the designs are much better.

I think quality of design is based in the formative phases of the project: great research leads to goals and objectives which lead to great quality and great quantity.

I think great engineers working with designers can churn out great quality from quantity.

However I think that businesses who do too much cause great waste and low profitability.

Read the Toyota Way. It is more of a business book but it could give you the ability to talk objectively about quantity/quality vs waste and productivity.

Do quality. Because you can’t go wrong eating food that’s made right,
right when you order it. Using anything less than the best and freshest ingredients is just wrong, especially if you want to do what tastes right.
–Quote on the back of a Wendy’s Hamburgers French Fries Box.

Wendy’s Marketing people…seem to imply that you can get both quality and quantity (“right when you order it”) at the same time. Maybe thats what sales and marketing people think…they think they can get both…when in reality you most likely will lose some quality maybe a small percentage of quality but…I think its just common sense the more time you have to work on a project the better…hopefully…you can do your job.

i know our industry sort of looks down at POP design, but i did use that experience to try to be a better designer. those that stay in that field of design i have a lot of respect for. it really burns up your creativity quickly. still, from that i learned how to ‘recharge’ or recover from being flat faster.

i am glad to be back in furniture. :slight_smile:

“right, fast, cheap” pick two.

Best design mantra to offer the sales/marketing guys who want it all.


It’s important to note that ‘speed’ and a ‘tight timeframe’ are two separate things.

I’m a big supporter of speed. I agree that a tight timeframe will reduce quality, but speed will actually increase the quality within that given timing.

Assume the timefame is set -say 5 days until the next meeting. If you can work through the tasks in a rapid manner you are able to DO MORE within the given timeframe, thus improving the content of what you deliver. If you time-manage it well you’ll even have some time at the end to go back in a and improve what you’ve done.

The other component in this discussion is efficiency. An efficient designer will spend his time on the most important aspects and skim through others. The skill here is in knowing which aspects need most attention and pulling out of ruts when they appear.

Timeframes are constantly getting tighter, and very often we are not able to influence the decision of the timing. So it is important that designers understand how to work fast and efficiently and thus still be able to deliver quality designs within tight timeframes.

I also want to point out that speed and efficiency only work well if other circumstances are also controlled. For instance, if you work faster, you can get even further down the wrong direction. So it is vital that the designer doesn’t work alone, and has more interim checkpoints.

yes, i agree with you, but not many environments i have worked in have been controlled. that is something the designer was to do. when you work with deadlines of hours vs days and weeks, you tend to be extremely stressed or extremely focused. not dissimilar to speed vs efficiency.

they are not mutually exclusive.

not many environments i have worked in have been controlled

The word ‘control’ sounds a little harsh here, but a company trying to hit tight deadlines should not rely upon a hap-hazard approach to getting something done in a short space of time. I realize this may be a little idealistic in some companies, but maybe the designer should be the one to create that process from the ground up. He’s the one with the impossible deadline and he’s going to be the one getting the blame for substandard work (no-one cares about how quickly something was designed when it reaches the market).

If you’re a designer working alone towards tight deadlines, then you need to request that you get a casual interim crit/review with someone less involved in the project at least three times per major presentation. Having those local deadlines to aim for with semi-external feedback will drive you towards a faster, more focussed and therefore more content-rich result.

yah, that’s a bit idealistic.

see the end of my initial reponse.

when you work with deadlines of hours vs days and weeks, you tend to be extremely stressed or extremely focused

If I understand you correctly, you’re saying that some projects are just a matter of hours long and there’s therefore no time to implement a new process.

If this is the case, then it sounds like your company/department is very reactionary towards new projects rather than being pro-active. Some of our clients are reactionary too, which can lead to impossible deadlines and unsatisfying results. So after one or two projects like this we try to draw a line in the sand and outline a process that works with their impossible deadlines with regular interim checkpoints similar to what I described above.

Let your colleagues /boss know about the situation and go to him/her with a few suggestions for change. (Never bring a problem without a solution). If you’re just getting a chain of small 4-hour projects, point out that you’ll be more functional if you can have a 10-minute crit with someone in the middle of each task, or that you need to know more about the overall project that these tasks are being driven towards.

From your responses I think that you are in a common situation, but I’d like to hear more exactly what your typical task/project is, and where the timeline is coming from.

Impossibly tight timelines come from:

  1. Client/sales guy setting up a meeting with Target to present a design that doesn’t yet exist
  2. Internal staff who sat on the project for too long before realizing they don’t have time to do it themselves
  3. Someone created a timeline without comprehension of the time necessary for each stage
  4. Someone messed up in the last phase and you now need to redo the design and catch up on lost time.
  5. Value of ID being unrecognized.
  6. Natural disasters, alien attacks, etc…

Let us know what the source of your tight deadlines is, and I’m sure a few people can offer their stories about how they deal with it.

i know longer work at that job. i know that environment still continues as i keep contact with my former design coworkers there.

your suggestions are beneficial, but i still think they are idealistic. the key to implementing those ideas are to approach them in terms the ‘upper’ management can understand.

your list of reasons for the deadlines are realistic, however. i think what you might be misunderstanding is what this environment can do to your skillset when you realize what is missing. the process becomes condensed to the point of practical, instantaneous response. it is taxing, but not impossible.

the process becomes condensed to the point of practical, instantaneous response

Understood. I guess what you’re saying is that in the heat of the moment its very hard if not impossible to do anything about those kind of long-term problems. The solution is in the hands of the upper management, but the designer is the one who needs to let them know each time a windstorm has passed.

Good to hear you’re in calmer waters now.

any company i have worked with as an in-house, i think a lot of pressure comes down from the manufacturing and cost viewpoint associated with it. mfgr’s want to keep their factories at capacity, but want to reduce waste, so it’s a delicate dance on the edge of a razor. if you ask to slow down the process for better efficiency, you hear the associated costs of maintaining the factory. if you miss something in the design, you hear about the waste it created. it’s an equilibrium that is difficult to achieve. i believe design is viewed as a ‘necessary evil’ that can’t really be quantified by other departments. i think that as a designer, it’s my responsibility to be able to understand these departments better so i can quantify my work to them so they can understand me, or else they translate it themselves and the message is lost. this might be a little off the original topic, but by learning about other disciplines and their business language, i have become more efficient through understanding their directives and tailoring my production to fit them. at some point, you become like a sort of rosetta stone and design is better understood in all departments. that is when you start to gain credibility in your designs and real influence in the direction the company’s products’ design.

I’ve been a software designer and project manager for 5yrs, and not once in that time has any project been worthwhile or rewarding. In fact, the last was so bad, I’m trying to start my own home business and hand build pet furniture. I still use computers in my work of course. But I’m hoping to not work on other peoples crappy projects.

Don’t get me wrong, great jobs, and good pay. But when you see the slick sales brochures, and know the team you had to work with are inexperinced, and it’s version #1 of the product, it’s just not a rewarding experience.

not once in that time has any project been worthwhile or rewarding. In fact, the last was so bad, I’m trying to start my own home business

Get out! Get out!
Doing work for yourself could be rewarding, but would also creates frustrations of other kinds -you spend a lot less time actually designing. So depending upon what you want and what sort of work you enjoy, this may not necessarily be the right step to take.

Not all companies are as bad as what you’re describing, so maybe you should also consider just looking at another place with a better environment. IMO, a ‘small’ consultancy may offer you what you’re looking for, where there would typically be more personal feel to the environment and usually a better ethic towards quality of deliverables.

For me, a satisfying job is worth so much more than a higher salary in a sucky job. A high salary gives a good buzz for 6-12 months, after which it becomes your new baseline expectancy. A satisfying job keeps you going for many, many years.

I don’t think you understand. I design my own awesome products, instead of working on other peoples bad ones. Why look somewhere else for the better environment you describe, when I’ve already created the perfect one for myself. And if something needs improving with what I make, there’s no red-tape to getting it done.

True, I don’t design 100% of the day, but that’s also a good thing, because it’s never boring that way. Sometimes I’m tweaking the website, creating advertisements, placing those ads, hands on building the product, demonstrating the units I made, and even blabbing about it is on forums like this.

Why look somewhere else for the better environment you describe, when I’ve already created the perfect one for myself.

That’s fine then. I misunderstood because you said you were trying to start your own business, so I didn’t realize you had done so already. It’s not for everyone, but of course it can be rewarding in its own way.