Good Design

I'm Shivang Patwa
What 'Good Design' means to me

I have been in the design field, learning, practicing and teaching for more than 15 years. This is a good time to put words to how I have been designing over the years.

What is good Design?

Good design is greater than the sum of its parts

Good design is not just one thing, but it is more than the sum of it parts. Various things including both macro level vision as well as small details contribute to good design.

As Aristotle puts it “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”. Similarly, good design is greater than the sum of its design elements (researching, evaluating, conceptualizing, abstracting, iterating, problem-solving, testing, palimpsest, feedback loop, re-designing, layouting, typography, copywriting, color scheme, functionality, buildability, accessibility, community outreach, marketing, politics, etc.)

Good design is thinking out of the box

Being a Designer | Architect over the past several years, one thing that has stood out for me is ‘Think out of the Box’. Not just to be different for the sake of being different, but instead to create unique design solution and in-turn innovative user experiences. I have always believed that good design has the ability to influence and change human behavior and in-turn elevate the human experience.

Good design is breaking the rules

A quote by Pablo Picasso comes to mind “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist”. Understanding the context (user and the environment) and grounding the design process in a data-drive contextual framework is important. Rigorous research/analysis and understanding of the problem that one is trying to solve through the design process followed by developing iterations and testing the design hypothesis: well-articulated problem statement and the power of creativity with the need of analytical thinking.

Good design is process-driven

There are various techniques that we use as designers throughout the design process: Iteration, abstraction, evaluating precedents so one does not have to reinvent the wheel and can hit the ground running. These are just some of them. Trying different or multiple approaches is the key to arriving at a good design solution. As Albert Einstein puts it “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results”.

Good design is story-telling

Letting the user into your design/design process and connecting with them at an emotional level. Telling stories is about being vulnerable and real and reaching people at an emotional level first and a rational level second. Emotion is what makes a story memorable and incites people to act. Ability to connect with people emotionally through stories is a unique ability to have.

Storytelling and design are intertwined. The most classic structure of a story contains 5 parts: beginning (setting and exposition), conflict (a problem), rising action (solving a problem), highest point or culmination (touching the core of a problem), falling action (that leads to solving the problem), and outcome (how the problem is solved). One thing that is exceedingly common is problem solving. There are various modes of storytelling: visual storytelling, product design storytelling, user experience storytelling, sentimental side of storytelling, etc.

By being able to tell a story from a user point of view, we might discover and open the Pandora's box for innovation. As it helps to see old things in a new light and discover yet unseen opportunities.

So what is Good Design?

Good design in my view, lies somewhere between

'Form Follows Function' and Form Follows Fiction'

Form (ever) Follows Function - Louis Sullivan (modernist architecture and industrial design)

Form Follows Fiction - Bernard Tschumi (before functions there are stories, there is culture, there is fiction)

Sullivan’s and Tschumi’s credos are still true, but maybe a new expression that is more in line with Digital Age would be:

Function Follows Human Needs, Form Follows Human Behavior

If I had to distill everything that I said above into just three words, then good design would be Functional, Intuitive and Beautiful.

Any one of these aspects can lead to good design but when those three converge, one may be able to create something spectacular.

Another way to put that with respect to UX Design would be:

Utility: Does your app/website/software help the consumer perform a unique task in a distinctive way? If it doesn’t, the heart of your product is missing, and it will eventually die. Who wants a tool that doesn’t help you accomplish something?

Usability: Do you get out of their way, so they can execute that task easily and intuitively? Is it reliable, speedy, organized?

Aesthetics: Is it attractive in a way that contributes to utility and usability?

This exercise of writing brought back fond memories of my younger teaching days where I was involved with developing the foundation design course curriculum for a new-upcoming design institute in India - NIFT (National Institute of Fashion technology). It was great to once again refresh this for myself and put it into words, what I have taken for granted designing over the years.




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