Rules

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Rule 4: Good Design is Inquisitive

Posted by on 25 Mar 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

Rule 3 ended with a few questions to stir the mind.  But honestly, good design should START with questions.

  • Who’s the intended audience?
  • Who’s the client? (sometimes they’re different!)
  • What’s the intended use?
  • What are the desired results?
  • Where is it being used?
  • Will it need upkeep?
  • How is it expected to maintain upkeep?
  • Why is it being commissioned?
  • How does it work?
  • What resources are at the designer’s disposal?
  • etc
  • etc
  • etc
The list is endless, but each question has the potential to unveil new things that may make your life easier, give you insight into the project, or completely change your POV about a project.
Ask questions, get answers.  If the client can’t answer them, hold their feet to a fire until they have an answer.  If they think it’s irrelevant and don’t want to answer, just wait.  It’ll become relevant enough. 
Ask them of everyone, especially yourself.  If you can’t answer, “Why is this particular item here?” in your own designs, then maybe you need to reevaluate your design.  “Because there was no where else to put it,” is not a good answer.  Be truthful, be brutal.
Sometimes the question that needs to be asked is, “Is this any good?”  And the hard answer might be, “No.”  And then you have to ask yourself, “How do we fix it?” or “Can this be fixed?” or “Is it worth fixing?”
Sometimes the right question will save you an enormous amount of time.
And as a last bit of sanity checking, don’t forget to ask questions of your answers. “Does this answer make sense?”  Because not every answer is the right one.

Rule 3: Good Design Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum

Posted by on 11 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

Okay, I know, this totally sounds like the previous Rule.  But it’s not.  Rule 2 talks about ubiquity of design.  This rule talks about the need for good design to consider its environment.  In The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman makes the point that car radios should be designed with the fact that the radio should be controllable without needing to look at the controls, obviously because you’re driving at 65+ mph and probably shouldn’t be fiddling with your radio controls just so you can turn on your Easy Listening.

I have a TV stand.  It’s good.  I’ll post a picture when I get a chance.  It’s by no means the end-all-be-all of TV stands. But what makes it a good TV stand as opposed to using say, a sturdy box or a coffee table?

Well, the features that strikes me the most and most relevant to this conversation is adjustable shelving (ooo!) and an extremely accessible back (aaaaah!).  That’s it.  It doesn’t need to be complicated design, it just needs to be relevant design.

For what we’re talking about, the adjustable shelves accommodate the various consoles and peripherals that I keep for use with the TV.  Simple enough.  But more useful than a box.

The design of my TV stand is that the top roughly looks like a trapezoid sitting on top of a rectangle.   It was originally designed for a CRT TV, which is why it has such a large amount of space.  As it stands now, it fits my flat screen TV on the back, leaving some table space for various knick knacks.  The smaller side faces the wall, which means that the angled sections give easy access to cabling along the back.  I’ve had far too many TV stands either try to cram all the cabling through a 2 inch hole, or the back of the TV stand is completely blocked off.  And while some TV stands (or a coffee table) do have an open back, their sides don’t have an angled access point, making for some contortioning of the hands just to get to the cables, much less manipulate them.

The shape of my TV stand if looked from above.
And if it were a tray instead of a TV stand.
Oh, Google Image Search, how you’ve failed me.

Obviously, I have an unhealthy obsession with my TV stand.  But the point remains, Good Design Doesn’t Exist in a Vacuum.

You want another example?  Okay, here’s a good one.  Think about your fridge.  Open the doors.  Which way do they open?  Do the doors block the flow of traffic?  Does the door opening face an adjacent counter?  Why would that matter?  You tell me.

Oh, and I thought I was done for the night, but I just came across this article for a public toilet.  With regards to our discussion, the material used for the piping is in keeping with the city ‘aesthetic’, the pipes themselves are hard to vandalize, and are durable and cheap, all good qualities for the purpose of a public outdoor toilet.

Rule 2: Design is Everywhere.

Posted by on 05 Feb 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

This second rule is so obvious, I had considered making it Rule 1.  But the very fact that the first rule is so effective that causes this second rule to be forgotten.

If good design is transparent, then it’s easy to overlook how prevalent design is.

Stop what you’re doing right now (reading) and look around the room (or where ever it is that you like to compute).  Look at every light, table fixture, chair, sofa, box, and thing that you can see.  Pick one.  Like that weird lamp sitting off to the right of you.  No, not that one, the other one.

Deconstruct it.  Well, in your mind.   It’s not very practical for you to take it apart right now (although, at some point, maybe we will).  The base of the lamp was made a certain way, a certain radius, a certain weight.  The plugs are positioned off of it in just a certain way.  The light is made a certain material, the stand is so many inches tall, the light itself hangs just a certain way and shines the light at just a certain angle.

Someone consciously (hopefully) made all those decisions.  That’s essentially design.

Look at another object.  Someone designed that.

And that other one cluttering up the room?  Someone designed that too.

Every time you bang your knee on a table leg, that’s someone’s design at work.

Every item you interact with that occupies space or even if it just occupies a portion of your mind has a design.

Design is everywhere.

Rule 1: Good Design is Transparent.

Posted by on 05 Jan 2011 | Tagged as: Design, Rules

So here’s a shocker.  You shouldn’t notice good design.  Design is usually only apparent to us when it gets in the way or fails to accomplish a task we desire of it.  This happens all the time, from real life to virtual games.  Whether you’re cognizant of the design issue, or just annoyed by a particular issue, you’ve been affected by bad design.  Using a spatula and need to set it down and looking for a clean place?  That’s a design issue.  (Of course, that underscores a future design rule.)

There is a corollary to the first rule though.

Corollary: Good Design is Transparent, Unless it is INTENTIONALLY designed to get in the way.

Case in point:  In the bathroom stalls at some airports, the shelf for holding one’s bag is placed in such a way that it blocks the door when used.  It’s large, obtrusive, and just a pain in the ass.  And that’s the point.  It’s so in the way that there’s no way to forget about your bag after using the bathroom.  Seriously, it’s huge.  I’d post a picture of one, but Google Image Search has completely failed me.  I guess people take pictures of their toilets before they take pictures of their stall doors.