Nice icing!

Since winning our Good Design Award, I have been reflecting more and more on what makes a good design.

My Dad bought a book years ago on good design.  It can be something you think about a lot, as you experience products, services, and buildings in your daily life.

For example, you go into a lift, and you want to close or open the lift doors.  Where is the button?  Which way do the arrows go?  Which way do the doors go?


Does that mean the doors open or close?

What about this?

|><|  What does this mean?

Or this, perhaps.  <||>.

Maybe this?  >||<.

I bet if you did a survey, you’d get different answers to the ‘meanings’ of the lift buttons.  And this is an example of poor design. How many people are filled with anxiety as they stand there choosing which button to press?  How many people have missed the lifts because the person inside couldn’t quickly press the “open” button?

Good design should be easy to use.  Something that makes immediate sense.  Not something that creates problems.

This is the kind of stuff I think about all the time.  (Thanks Mum and Dad.)  Maybe now you, dear readers, will never look at lift buttons the same way again!

The thing is, when we experience poor design, we tend to blame ourselves, or just accept it as it is.  We don’t think that things could be better.

And when we are employing a designer, we don’t think to ask them for something better.  We just expect that they know what they are doing.

Fair enough, you might say we should expect our ‘designers’ to get it right.  But the lift button example shows that they don’t.  And poor design is repeated over and over and over again.  Because designers copy each other.  And we all accept it.

Not fair enough.

And when it comes to buildings, whose comfort levels affect us all, and whose energy use impacts on climate change, definitely not fair!

Designers need to lift their game.  They need to design better – and offer it to the consumer.  “Here is a comfortable building which uses little energy.”  Not, “here is a trendy looking building which will impress everybody who looks at it.  If you want double glazed windows they will cost more.”  And not, “if you add solar panels you can reduce your power bills (but the building itself is full of drafts and still needs alot of heating or cooling machinery to stay comfortable).”

That’s the icing approach to design.  That’s the approach that says, get a pretty looking cake, regardless of how it tastes, and mask the flavour with icing.

And consumers need to lift their game.  We need to ask for better designs.  “Can I please have a comfortable building that is healthy and doesn’t cost much to run?”  Not, “I like those granite benchtops, and can you make this building as big as possible?”

Granite benchtops are just icing.  They don’t make for a well designed building.

That’s why good design has to be about sustainability, usability, innovation, and (apparent) simplicity.  Good design might not be decorative.  But it should work.