What is "Good Design"?

Hi everybody, this is my first post here. I’m an industrial designer based in southern california. Recently I was asked by my boss to try to define the meaning of “Good Design”, share it with the rest of the designers at our firm, and hopefully inspire them.

Since this is a pretty tough question for me to answer alone, I want to ask you all what is good design to you?

Deiter Rams is a great place to start:

Dieter comes to mind of course but I find his view and style almost dogmatic to the point where it becomes restricting. I am almost a bit annoyed by the fact that he now is synonymous with the term “good design”. That being said, of course he is a legend for a reason.

I can be immensely inspired by someone like Jamie Hayon and I would definitely call his work “good design”. However, it probably will not fair well, judged by Dieter’s rules.

I always liked to define “good” design as appropriate design and always thought that creating the appropriate response through the right process, is the true art.

For me so far there’s a couple ways I’ve been thinking about good design. One is to design by thoroughly thinking things through during the process and not make any design “mistakes”. If somebody can come to the design and poke holes through it, then there are design flaws. If a design is thoroughly defensible and reduced to its purest, most honest and elegant form then it can be considered a good design. I believe this is what Dieter Rams’ principles are great for. A good design is one that is what it wishes itself to be.

Another way to good design, in my opinion, is through the designer’s expression. Although Dieter Rams believed products should not be seen as neither decorative nor works of art, I love designs that excite, inspire me, and stir up emotions. In this case, I think “good design” may be very subjective. It’s like asking a musician to define “what is a good song?” Maybe it has something to do with honesty and purity in expression, and that well depends on the designer’s own mastery of his art.

Ditto everything bepster said

Something that does what you set out for “it” to do. Able to be understood by someone else easily. Able to be “added” to (i.e. design enhancements, etc)…but I’m thinking of product design.

Something that fulfills the needs of the end user and the producer of the design.

This is a good exercise. When I was a couple of years put of school my boss brought our team to Manhattan and told us to split up and come back with the answer to one question “what is the difference between good and great design?”

I would define good design similar to Iab. And I think there is quite a bit of it out there (not enough mind you, but still, there are many good products out there that fulfill their purpose nicely). What is hard to find, and harder still to define, is great design.

Good (industrial) design is a compromise*. Might sound silly, but I believe it to be true. To determine the success of a design, or how good it is, you need to consider all the premises for the design and how well these are balanced. There’s is much good design out there that does this well, and it will not all blow your mind or ‘change society’… that is imo left to great design.

*I use the word in the most positive meaning possible :wink:

Great design? I’ll give it a go.

While good design fulfill the known needs of the end user and producer, great design fulfill the known and unknown needs of the end user and producer. Or, it fulfills unexpected needs.

Or something like that.

Iab, I know we usually like to disagree, but you pretty much nailed it in my opinion. Definitely something to do with an unexpected solution. It reminds me of the old Arthur C Clarke quote: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”. I think great design taps into that a little bit. So simple and so obvious, yet so unexpected as to be surprising with an element of delight. Rambling…

Oh crap. I think hell just froze over.


I like where this is going. An unexpected solution sounds to me like Shibumi. Effortless, elegant solutions that make you slap yourself on the forehead and say “Why didn’t I think of that?” And as far as being elegant, I believe this is elegance achieved by being so extremely and thoroughly thought out, simplified, and refined until all of the thoughtfulness is understated.

Designing according to the requirement by analyzing all the possible errors,considering the manufacturers difficulties,using available products.Main thing our design should be simple,cost should be bearable and easily understandable and should be usable by all too.

What about this perspective:

Good/great design can be made cheap and sold expensive at great profit.
Good/great design communicates the brand values and works as one with marketing.
Good/great design is what reaches the masses and therefore has impact (opposed to great ideas that stay on paper)

nothing about being a benefit to the user? Interesting.

Since user centered definitions were already covered multiple times in previous posts I didn`t feel the need to repeat.
I intended to add another side that I feel is also important in real world and truly great design should also include.

gotcha, so in addition to previous definitions…

I mentioned that. If there is no benefit to the producer of the design, it won’t be produced.

And I think the fulfilling the expected and unexpected needs of the producer would still hold as good and great design.

We just launched a product that does what we claimed, it reduces sacral pressure ulcers (bed sores on the butt, and whatever you do, don’t look at an image search). In addition to that claim, since it makes the process of turning a patient so easy, it also reduces back injuries. So not only do we fulfill an unexpected need of the end user (the nurse instead of just the patient), our sales force have an additional call point with the people who deal with workman’s comp. And sales folks love selling. The more people they can sell to, the more they sell, and the more they sell, more commission is made.