Right and wrong design

I posted on social media that I sometimes feel that being a designer is like being a police officer who can’t make arrests. We can plead for people (clients) to do the right thing, but it’s not in our control. Someone responded that there isn’t a right and wrong in design. That’s a position that I used to feel, but some bosses & clients have mounted a persuasive argument that, yes, there is wrong in design.

Now I’m trying to think of examples. I guess the non-manufacturable Tesla Cybertruck qualifies. The unwanted Aztek too. Architecture has examples too: the Tacoma Narrows Bridge (although maybe we have to blame engineers). The Cabrini-Green housing estate in Chicago that declined into drugs and crime. Product design: the infamous Power Mac G4 cube’s heat problems and the round Apple mouse. I’ve had many products where the plastic part design was just wrong and failed. I need to think if there is a classic example in there.

Does anyone else have some examples of wrong design?

I think there is right and wrong. My design prof put it this way (paraphrasing):

The design brief is to design a device for sitting.

You design a stool.

Maybe that’s good or bad depending on the details of the brief.

You design a table.

That’s wrong.

Design is politics. It has to push the right buttons of the right people at the right time. I’m sure there are times a table will be a correct sitting device depending on the details of the brief.

I have a hunch this wasnt meant as a deep philosophical discussion, but a frustration vent. In that case - consider that the risk averse decision makers may see a whole other level of business implications that will make the seemingly right design wrong.

Interestingly enough, all of your examples are daring designs that overshot the target. Almost like the decision makers weren’t risk averse enough and listened to the designers what would be the right design. Yet we remeber all of them. So was it wrong or right?

When I was a kid I loved cars. The ones I liked least of all (hated) was the Citroen, especially the DS. Much later I learned the history, and now I drive a Citroen. So was the DS design wrong or right?

For me a “wrong” product is something that wasn’t totally thought through. A product that missed something. It might be intentional, because BOM cost wouldn’t allow it. It might be incidental, because the timeline wouldn’t allow it. It might be accidental, because it was just overlooked. Whatever the case, I agree that we as designers can definitely make “wrong” design.

I think that snow-blowers are designed wrong, but I have a gravel driveway and a tendency to shoot rocks at my house on accident. People with asphalt driveways have no reason to agree with me. Sometimes wrong for a product user isn’t wrong for all product users. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to cover everyone though.

I think that AirPods are wrong, because the small battery is impossible to replace once it no longer holds a charge. It’s a great product while its working though. Sometimes wrong for one part of a product’s lifecycle isn’t wrong for every part. Again, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try anyway.

That said, when we talk styling more than design, the better it is the more people will hate it. That’s kind of the point. A bland design doesn’t inspire any reaction positive or negative by most people. Something crazy will give you 50% haters and 50% fans.

You mention the cybertruck. It’s a pain to manufacture, but its proven great for making a stock price go up. (Which I think was probably its main purpose more so than being a functioning vehicle.)

You mention the Aztek, (So much Aztek hate out there!). It was wrong because they spelled Aztec wrong. It was also wrong because it was way ahead of it’s time in terms of vehicle proportions, but it proved to be the perfect used car for millennials with college debt and kids.

I think we can interchange the word “wrong” and “flawed”, but I’m not sure everyone would agree to that. For some, a “wrong” product might be an entirely unusable product. That seems like way too low of a bar to me though, and I’m sure we can aim higher.

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As a shorthand - What if a design didn’t comply with a majority of Dieter Rams’ Rules of Design, would that make it completely wrong?

I have a Braun clock. It’s right because the draft on the case back presents the clock at a pleasing upward angle. It’s wrong because the clock barely works. :grin:

We do not know for a fact the cybertruck is not manufacturable…yet.

There are examples that the media will highlight, and just like social media, they are doing so for the eyeballs and the clicks. But it does not mean it is a ‘right’ design.

It really depends on the point of view you are arguing from. Is it the consumer, the distributor, the engineer, the marketer, the manufacturer, the editor or the EPA. All of these participants now have their own two cents to add to the project.

Until there is jail sentencing for ‘wrong’ design, then its just a matter of opinion. Design cops need to constantly sharpen their ever evolving arguments. Constantly.

No. No black and white, no right or wrong. I’d also say the parameter should be successful, not successful. And that will depend on your definition of success. The answer will always be grey.

And I have designed and fabricated multiple coffee tables that can serve as seating. Multi-function for the win. :slight_smile:

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I think this is a good point, and could be probed by asking “is the theme of the design clearly articulated and executed”… something like that. Like did the designer have a goal, and is that evident in the final product. It stays away from stickier questions like “should this thing have been made to begin with.”

All this talk, but I fail to see a differentiation between “right and wrong” and “good and bad”.

Surely there’s a difference. Semantically they are different concepts, no?

If we succumb to the “it’s just opinion and words” approach, what value can we purport to bring as professionals who are supposed to know (and sell) difference between ends of the spectrum and targets for our clients?

The customer gets to define success. Not us.

It has been literally years since the announced release date. Tesla claimed a base model would be available for under $40k with these specs:

So at the very least, it wasn’t manufacturable within their own set timeframe… plus two years.

The customer defines success, but it’s our job to tell them how to get there, isn’t it?

The lead designer behind the Aztek (allegedly) is now teaching at Cincinnati, very nice lady. But of course, no one will admit any responsibility.

We may soon have another entry in this category.

I’m actually not trying to vent. I’m happier at work than I think I’ve ever been. From time to time, I think about the state of the profession and what clients or employers are looking for.

I go to the doctor to have their judgement. I wish all clients hired designers for our judgement. Doctors can misdiagnose and I think designers can make bad design decisions. Civilians who try to design can make even worse design decisions.

BTW: I respect the hell out of the Aztek. The concept was spot on.

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I find this thread annoying. Dissatisfied with the answers so far, and aggravated that I don’t know how to answer it either. :face_with_spiral_eyes:

Probably touches on something we - as a profession - take for granted.

(editing a day later…)

“Good” and “Bad” seem to align more closely to aspects of a design that ID’ers govern, like form, usability, materials, so forth.

“Right” and “Wrong” might relate more closely to “what does this mean for the Brand?” You could check all the boxes in the design but a misalignment with brand expectations would make it wrong.

Example: Steph Curry’s UA shoe in 2016.

Here is a good one. A design that cost way too much for what it needed to do (and apparently, it didn’t do much). I can imagine the designers even challenging the client, but who would turn away the billables on this project? Shoot, I could have opened a studio and kept the lights on for two years with this project.

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Here is the example that keeps coming to my mind, because I encountered it.

The up and down buttons for this thermostat are side by side. I had to have a war of attrition to get a boss to let me put a control with up and down buttons. For some reason, they thought it looked better than any possible up and down combination, but no one else does it. We’ve agreed as a species that if we want to make something go up, we push a the top most button of two and the bottom button to make it go lower.

The only thing I can figure is that people that grew up around crappy 1980s GM cars think that the heater control was the greatest design ever. It’s not, it was bad and we should stop doing it.

Love those examples of poor interaction design, not sure they constitute as much wrongness as the Juicero. I just love dogpiling on FP.

I don’t really get the button issue Ray. Is is that they have a row of buttons instead of a column for up/down?

I’m not familiar with the thermostat or the car control. The slider actually looks a bit similar to the ones I have in my 60’s era Mercedes.

Looking at it, as a designer/user I would want the area on top of the screen to be “up” and the area below the screen/buttons to be “down”. In my eyes, it’s the only reason the top and bottom would have an arc and not be square. Otherwise the curves for no reason bother me much more than buttons. Anyhow, I’m assuming you don’t really press them that often once it’s set?

Was this a right/wrong example or good/bad? To me, seems definitely in the realm of good/bad vs. wrong.