Some thoughts on good design

Now a then I get involved in discussions about good design, where the other part says: "Architects want to make everything beautiful, but in the first place it has to be practical. Why should we pay more only for some nice features?"
Why actually? How to explain this to someone without a degree in design? Are we talking just about nice features or there is something more behind it?

"I like it" is not an argument

When I went to University to study interior design, I was shocked when our professor in Furniture Design said: "The argument that you like something because it is beautiful doesn't count in this class." I didn't understand what she wanted to hear from us. She talked about Charles and Ray Eams, explained details of Eileen Gray's furniture pieces and asked us to design an egg holder. I spent a week working on my design and was proud of it. But on the day of the presentation, I got so afraid that I didn't show it and said that I hadn't done anything. This answer was sorry for my notes and my reputation by my professor.
The reason I didn't present my design was I didn't know how to explain it. I wasn't able to say why I choose wood as a material, what shape of it means, why is it better than others, etc. The "Why" questions are the most complicated in design, but the most important as well. To answer them one needs to understand the product or the situation, which means to see the meaning behind the visuals.

Design basics

There is the famous phrase "form follows function" established in the 1930's, which works as a simple rule while developing products or architecture.
While graphic design's focus is on transporting information, the function here is the meaning of the graphic. If colours, typeface and composition make it easy for the customer to understand the message, then we can label this graphic design as good.
The question is: is it enough to enable the function to call a design as good or not?
I would say: No.
Beyond the function there is an area called aesthetic and even if some people say "Taste is personal", I believe that the majority of us admires the truly beautiful things.
It sounds pathetic but there is a rule for this as well, and this is the Golder Measure, some of you know it as the Fibonacci Numbers.
Human sense this proportion as pleasant, organic and comfortable.

Design and emotions

One of the oldest examples is the Pantheon in Rome. Built around 3000 years ago this is even today a masterpiece of construction and architectural design. The proportion and simplicity of it spread the feeling of calmness and peace when you entrance it. It fulfils its function, but much more than this it attracts one's feelings.

Pantheon Dome


Pantheon Section

In the two-dimensional art like painting or graphic we recognise excellent design on their perfect technique, but again on the feelings, we associate with them. The way how it makes us feel while seeing a poster or touching a business card is the reason of saying: "I like it"
Here a few samples of a good graphic work. The three following images show the work process for an Art Book, The Art of Robin Denny, designed by Studio AS. The layout grid based on the golden measure. The beginning looks complicated, but the end product is pure art - straightforward and impressive:

Grafikdesign - Grundmuster des kreativen Gestaltens by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris


Grafikdesign - Grundmuster des kreativen Gestaltens by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris


Grafikdesign - Grundmuster des kreativen Gestaltens by Gavin Ambrose and Paul Harris

Golden Measure, "form follows function", and the appeal to one'sfeelings - all this culminate it brand design works. Successful brands present perfectly designed marketing products which transport the simple brand concept to the costumers.
The most familiar example is probably Apple. What does the bitten apple mean? Knowledge and desire of learning. The computers are the way to it.
The background of the idea is in the Bible, which is reinsurance that everyone (at least in the western world) will understand it. Not necessary to mention the simple and clean Apple design that underpin the easiness of using their products and therefore the easy approach to knowledge at the end.
But this is Apple and the question from the beginning are about the beautiful features.
Nice features are useless if they are just nice.
Good design is based on the combination of function and aesthetic, and emotional approach in cases you need it. An egg holder needs to be just an egg holder and nothing more. If you like to see it on your breakfast table every morning, then this is the perfect product for this situation and you.
Good design needs only this—to support optimal function and to bring joy—nothing more... but nothing less.


Yours, Eva