The best design supports whatever it is we are trying to do, creating seamless, annoyance-free experiences. Good design aids and enhances experiences, never detracts from them. Good design is about function in all of its forms.
Indeed, the most noticeable design is usually bad design — those all-too-common occurrences when you made a wrong turn because of bad signage, pinched your finger using a cumbersome tool, or searched in vain for something on a website when time was short. You certainly noticed the design then! And it sucked.
Here are twelve things good design does by staying out of the way.
1. Aids comprehension
Text in the right typeface and formatted the right way evokes just the right feeling while delivering the information you need — quickly and effectively. The same is true for how a communications piece is designed, how an exhibit is set up, or how the dashboard on your new car is organized. Good design makes things easily understandable.
2. Leads you on a journey
An effective design guides your eye around a page so you see things in the correct sequence, from most important to least important. Any good website, brochure, sales kit, or any other well-designed work creates a hierarchy of information and content that we absorb intuitively in the order it was intended.
Good design has a beginning, a middle and an end — first introducing you to an idea, then fleshing it out, and finally resolving itself at the end. Websites tell a story, brochures tell a story, and even a logo tells a story: first capturing your attention, then identifying what it is and leaving you with an indelible, lasting impression.
4. Directs an action
Oftentimes, design is meant to influence you to do something — fill out a form, click a button, buy something… you get the idea. Done well, this process is natural and seamless.
5. Elicits an emotion
A design in the magazine with the photograph or illustration that strikes just the right chord steers your mind and sets you up emotionally for the rest of the messages on the page. The same is true for a company’s brand identity — the feeling we have for Disney is much different than what we may have for a company such as GE, for example. Good design makes us feel what we are intended to feel.
6. Points the way forward
Design leads you to things — signs tell us where to go, symbols point out the nearest restroom, and all kinds of graphic devices are used to highlight what cannot be missed.
7. Makes an immediate impression
Good design exudes a feeling of quality and professionalism. The materials used are just as important — they are tactile and an influential part of any design — use the wrong ones and your credibility is shot at the very first interaction. Handing out a flimsy business card printed on thin paper stock is no different than a limp handshake. Keep that in mind at your next business event.
8. Frames the really good stuff
White space puts your focus where it’s supposed to be, guiding the eye along the way. It’s not often that so little can do so much. Likewise, the empty negative space within a logo is just as important as the solid elements around it. In good design, nothing really is something.
9. Casual perfection
The seductive nature of a loose, informal design or illustration style can lull you into thinking it was done easily or haphazardly. It wasn’t. But carefree design is extremely inviting and makes us more receptive to the messages it contains.
A beautifully elegant product design is seamless — it makes you not even notice it’s there, yet you know life would be more difficult without it. When’s the last time you thought about a paper clip? That humble design has certainly stood the test of time.
11. Leaves things alone
The beautifully designed coffee table book with luscious aerial photographs of Europe draw you in — because the design got out of the way. Too much design would have been a distraction.
12. Seduces you
You know that retail showroom with beautiful lighting and soft music that showcases the product, elevating it to hero status? Unbeknownst to you, you are being romanced — perhaps even aggressively seduced.
So the next time things are humming along, you may not even be aware that design is there. Good design gets out of the way — even as it provides the key ingredient that makes whatever you’re doing seem so right. Indeed, that is the very reason you missed it in the first place.
Are there any other things you can think of as evidence of good design? Any bad examples that drive you absolutely crazy? Let me know in the comments.
Photo illustration work: Paul Biedermann, re:DESIGN