Yesterday I judged the entries in the competition for the Objectified DVD.
I started by separating into a shortlist the programatic principles that I felt I can bring to the work table and use as filters in my thinking process. Here is the shortlist:
1. Good design is invisible.
Although it seems to revolve around Rams’ “Good design is as little design as possible,” it also brings in new meanings. In the contemporary world everything is designed, but — I think — only the most efficiently designed objects and processes are taken for granted without questioning their meaning and mechanism.
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Lately — especially since the arrival of the iPhone — I am intrigued by Clarke’s third law “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” and I wonder how much truth it holds and whether it describes how technology (and consequently design) has the potential to transcend its limits.
The postulation is somehow ambiguous: it can mean lack of visibility and impact if taken literally, which is not desirable — think signage or package design.
2. Good design is simple.
This seems immediate and I wonder why Rams didn’t put it on his list. I think that even if “Good design is as little design as possible,” the overall solution might be pretty complex.
3. Good design is adaptive.
Customization and flexibility are hot themes, yet I think that only some areas can afford them. On the other hand, the walled garden approach seems to work really well in some cases — by completely controlling the user experience.
A community of users/designers that works to help the design evolve: open-source.
A certain kind of flexibility can be achieved by putting design process in the hands of a community of users/designers that works to help the design evolve: open-source. The underlying business model is tricky, though.
The divergent devices might be desirable, but they seem enormously difficult to get right, while the convergent devices are less complex and easier to conceive.
4. Good design is not noticeable as design.
This might be a better interpretation of the design invisibility theme and I like it because it somehow enunciates one of the messages behind Jonathan Ive's words from his segment in Objectified:
- “A lot of what we seem to be doing [...] is getting design out of the way”
- “It feels almost undesigned” and
- “You spend so much more time to make it less conspicuous and less obvious”.
“Good typography is unnoticeable typography.”
In graphic design there is a similar saying stating that “Good typography is unnoticeable typography” noting the fact that a superior virtuosity need not be noticeable as such.
As a designer I think it’s flattering to achieve a by default status by having your creations seamlessly interwoven into the very fabric of day-to-day life, like a staircase banister, a computer mouse, a ball or Google’s homepage.
5. Good design improves living.
This one gravitates around “Good design is concerned with the environment.“ Ethics and sustainability are advanced notions in the design ethos, right at the top of the pyramid — definitely very advanced for a our current economy’s status.
6. Good design is obvious.
The simplicity theme once again, yet... I don’t know. It would be oversimplifying, don’t you think? Good design might seem obvious in some instances, but I don’t think it always is.
7. Good design is elusive.
See Clarke’s first — you cannot put your finger on magic.
8. Good design is user friendly.
I think that user-friendliness is contained in Rams’ principles “Good design is unobtrusive” and “Good design helps us to understand a product.” Of course, principles in this category become more and more important as web design (inherently complex, as new technologies often are) becomes embedded into the core of everyday life.
9. Good design is relevant.
Relevance, like a corollary of Rams’ ten principles.
Beautifully stated! Yet, it seems more like a corollary of Rams’ ten principles. If there was a bottom line, I think this would be the best one.
10. Good design is optimistic.
I really enjoyed the theme of optimism in design, yet I don’t think it should be one of the main rules — I cannot start working on a project by focusing on designing something optimistic.
It might work as a secondary selection filter: between a sad, nihilistic solution and an jovial, optimistic one the latter might work better.
And the winner is
“Good design is not noticeable as design.”
Ok, it was tough (and it can only be a subjective choice) but I came to a decision. Because of the synergy with some of the opinions stated in Objectified movie and also because of the questions haunting me — and especially the answers I would like to be able to give to those questions — I elected as the winning principle
"Good design is not noticeable as design."
I hope that applying this principle, will make me (and others) more humble, committed to simplicity and more willing to conceive my design not to be disruptive but rather seamlessly integrated into the fabric of objects, sensations and experiences everyday life is made of.