How do you know when something is over-designed?

How do you know when something is over-designed?

I think the term over designed is a bit of a misnomer. I assume you are referring to products that are either overly detailed and formed and or overly featured? I think they are actually under designed.

Have you ever heard the Mark Twain quote “sorry I wrote such a long letter, I didn’t have time to write a short one”. I feel that design is often similar. Given enough time and space we tend to simplify, but when rushed or taking in too mich feedback from too many sources (or both) we end up with these franstein products out there. A little bit of a different medium, but since I’m responsible for marketing creative as well as ID in my current role I’ll bring up the similarity, I was reviewing a rough initial cut of a product launch video. A few people on my brand design team who are working on it felt (justly) very proud of it, but it was clocking in at 1:30 and I felt there was a lot of gratuitous repetition. I understand. When it is your baby you are in love with it. So I directed the team to copy save and work up a second edit that was so radically short it made them uncomfortable. Then we could compare the two and see if short one was missing anything from the long one.

I think a similar thought exercise works in ID. Work a solution until you feel good about it. Go home for the night and try to return in the AM as if you are a different designer radically simplifying the concept. Is the new one missing anything when you are done?

Design is a continual act of building up and breaking down. If you only do the building up part you end with a monstrosity.

Thank you. That was very insightful. I especially liked your closing thought.

I think Yo’s explanation is very on point. But I would also like to point out the section of the public that looks for over featured items. A good example is the Swiss Army Knife. This is a classic product but the reality of it is that it is not particular useful. The knife is fine for simple task but quite a few of the other tools are hard to use at best. But they have a die hard following that loves the knife. So is it over designed yes, but it does meet a demographic need.

I spend a lot of time in the back country I do not choose to carry a swiss army knife because I find it not the best tool. Generally speaking I believe tools and other products should be use specific and have a clear and purposeful thought. With that said I have found that the Leatherman Wave can be very useful. It has solved a lot of the issues of the swiss army knife. Most of the tools are quite useful due to how much larger they can be on it. There is still parts I don’t like and end up carrying extra tools to help fill the gaps of the Leatherman. So in part it helps but it also hurts because if you have to carry extra items to get the most out of you experience then it sort of defeats the purpose of the multi tool. I do think most “do all” products are weak just because you can’t be everything to everyone. Much better to do one thing very well and build success from that.

One of the hallmarks of excessive design is anything that is designed to get attention. This is not always a bad thing as is the case with the design of emergency vehicles like the fire truck and ambulance. The costumes worn during Brasil’s Carnival celebration are overly designed for a very specific reason. The use of chrome accents by many American auto manufacturers during the 1970s is another good example of this. Neve audio recording consoles are also over designed for a very specific reason.

The appearance of highly specialized function, the more design is typically pushed over the top. The more generalized an audience as is the case with many consumer products, then minimalism tends to make better sense from a high volume manufacturing perspective. If you are trying to reflect the sun by adding bits and bobs, then you are also trying to celebrate and bring attention to the object. Most toys are over designed to capture and stimulate the imagination of the child.

It varies depending on the product.
Generally if the aesthetic appearance looks out of place then it is over designed. I would find myself asking why it looks that way.
Too many surface/form transitions to the point where some look out of place.
The side scoop of a Dodge Charger has always bothered me. Looks like somebody said…“hmm in needs a design element there” so they added a side scoop that doesn’t relate to the rest of the car.
The new Prius also looks like they just kept adding and adding design elements…nothing looks like it goes together.

Work a solution until you feel good about it. Go home for the night and try to return in the AM as if you are a different designer radically simplifying the concept.

This is great advice from yo. It feels natural to add, or to reconfigure or substitute things that you already have, but to do that step of utter simplification, looking at what can be discarded, be it form or functional elements, or perhaps even an entire part of the product you before thought would be essential is something you have to consciously adapt yourself to. Especially videos can usually be so much shorter, look at MTV and how they can convey messages by using scene cuts of just 0.5 second - your brain is put on very active and takes it all in.

Digital cameras are a great example of how simplification and reduction can lead to strong products. Where you can have separate buttons for everything you can also integrate them into smart controls, like Joep Frens has researched:
The Polaroid Snap is a good recent example of simplification through reduction - it has no screen and only color and auto-timer settings. I would have liked a few more settings -macro, color profiles- but it’s a good example of utter simplification. The magnetic lens cover fits the snap concept. It has no lid to cover memory card and connector inputs. It has no battery lid. But it works for what it is - a casual camera you’ll just have for a few years to capture precious moments - and you’ll trust that the pictures come out great.

Features that are unneeded by the user is over-design.

Unfortunately “unneeded” can be highly subjective.

As it turns out, Kim Kardashian needs faux marble on her phone case. I do not.

When and where i can i always try for “simplistic elegance” and am a very big fan of Dieter Rams if you don’t have his book Less and More - The design ethos of Dieter Rams I would highly recommend it.

We wrote on our studio wall “One mans bland is another mans clean”

Aesthetics one way or another are a part of design - as much as designers tend to hate ornamentation there exists a large population of people on earth who “like” ornamental design (design features which are added for no functional reasons whatsoever other than they “improve” the appearance). This is obviously a lot more prevalent in architecture, furniture, but you can see the same logic applied to the design of power tools, cars, etc.

For every original Audi TT there is a Pagani Huayra - and there is no way to argue that a Huayra is “wrong”

Cliffnotes: If someone is willing to buy it, it is easy to argue that it’s appropriately designed for that audience, even if it makes the Bauhaus in us cringe.

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I disagree with this Mike. As designers, we are not merely pencils filling in the picture of someone else’s vision. We are not slaves to the dollars of others, though we are in service of it. A part of our value comes not only from are hard skills of creation, and our soft skills of empathy and insight gathering… but from something intangible, something only very few people have an intuitive sense of. That attribute is taste.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the word taste over the last year. As Jay Z said “you can go to class but you can’t buy taste”. Clearly our culture acknowledges both “good” and “bad” taste. It is hard to quantify, and sometimes difficult to explain, but it is usually pretty clear when something is not tastefully done. One last note on taste, it goes across styles. For examples, there have been hotels I’ve stayed in that are not my personal style preference, but they are so tastefully done that I love them. On the flip, there have been hotels I’ve stayed in that fit my personal style preference but they have been executed with a lack of taste and it falls apart.

I’m rambling a bit, just understand your paid as a designer to have a point of view on these things, not just execute what others tell you, and not just to do what you like either.

We’ll have to part ways here.

The point of view of the designer is to fulfill the needs of the user. While the designer determines the solution, we have no say in the problem.

Or maybe we are saying the same thing.

In general,
Good design fulfills the needs of the user
Great design fulfills the unknown needs of the user
Over design fulfills the unneeded needs of the user (never said English was my forte :wink:)

There are times when a designer must follow a clients brief (specially in consulting) and design outside of his/her comfort zone or point of view.
Taste, style, modern, elegant, high end,…these are all subjective across age brackets, nationality and time.
What do you envision as a Luxury Airplane Interior…


or this

Overdesign is adding features/design elements for the sake of adding them, not because the product needs them or calls for them. Usually you can spot them because they stand out and look out of place.

Not necessarily true. Many times at frog we helped the client realize the brief needed to be amended, or showed a design option in direct opposition to the brief that was immediately seen by the client as the way to go. It depends on if you can convince the client and if you have the guts to walk away. We walked away from work several times in my experience there… I would walk away from the client in the second option, or charge them 4x for the permeant eye damage they caused me.

I think I’m choosing slightly more provocative language to say the same (or similar) thing. I feel it is my duty to work with the client, not for them. And by that I mean educating them on the best solution. I might fail, but I have to try.

In the end people have to buy it… but hopefully you provided your definition of great design, fulfilling the unknown needs… the old Ford “a faster horse” quote comes to mind.

Yes, there’s always those clients that we rather walk away from. But being selective and accepting that clients have different ideas/markets/price points are two related but different subjects. My comment was directed to young designers and designers that have to, will, and are currently designing the thousands of non ideal projects.

Like the marble phone case mentioned earlier. There’s a market for marble phone cases. Over designed, tacky, superfluous…maybe. But still somebody had to design it to fill a void in the market. It’s probably not over designed if done right but definitely a very specific market.

But back to over designed. Again, adding design elements, not knowing when to stop or how to make them come together in a cohesive manner. Too many shapes, colors, materials, design elements to the point of becoming superficial styling. It’s like having a band and everybody playing at their instrument at the same time as fast as possible without a common direction.

But this one is too easy. I’ll try to find a more subtle well executed design that may be suffering from over design.

see below…

Yes…I agree with this yo. Name dropping and referencing cliches in support of an argument can also be recognized as an example of overdesign. Let’s hear more about designer duty yo…How is designer duty related to overdesign aside from the fee for service aspects?

This is an interesting claim and follows the Steve Jobs philosophy when it comes to his decisions to omit memory drives ahead 0f the market in favor of emerging technologies.

From my experiences designing and discussing with other designers, when your clients are “royalty” there are certain design details that must be included to communicate the branding messages to satisfy the position and place of the intended client/user. This is not overdesign to the client/ user, but instead is usually interpreted by those who are not intended to experience the design as being in poor taste. This is very different when designing for high volume manufacture of unsustainable mass produced consumer goods.

Is claiming to have sold over 1 billion smartphones or fossil fuel burning cars overdesign of a different definition?

When it involves fashion people. They will waste inordinate amounts of time on details that absolutely do not matter to anyone but other fashion people. Being in their presence makes me feel sociopathic.