On Good and Bad Design

by Karthi

Everything is designed. Few things are designed well.
— Brian Reed

This blog post is about  few badly designed everyday objects and what it takes to makes a good design. If we look around, chances are high that we are surrounded by badly designed products that make our life miserable.  Below are few examples of such objects .

Example 1 : The USB mass storage dongle

This is the complimentary USB mass-storage dongle that I got recently. The design looks neat, it can be worn as a medal and made of  good quality rubber which will prevent some damage, but it is practically unusable for the following reasons.

  1. Takes too much space than what is needed.
  2. The thick rubber cover blocks other USB slots in the laptop.
  3. It can be used only if the USB slot is horizontal to the ground.
  4. It cannot be used if the USB slot is vertical to the ground.

Since everyone prefers functionality over aesthetics, we end up fixing the bad design like this.

Example 2 : The Power Supply

I happen to use many  power supplies at work, some are designed good and while others are not. The good ones are as shown in the green color, they do not block the other sockets, while the badly designed ones block the other sockets in the power stripe.  The real estate in the power stripe is premium, badly designed things eats away the precious resource.

  1. The badly designed power supply blocks the other sockets in the power stripe.

Example 3 : The Pictogram

This sign from the men’s room is taken from Twitter discussion that happened few days ago and resulted lot of speculation on what the symbol mean.

and my reply to that question

In the picture, there is no clear relation between the symbol and what it represents, this results in assumptions and confusions.  With just one sign (men) it is impossible to see what it represents and we need to take a look at the counterpart sign, then compare and arrive at what they actually mean. There is no need for these symbols to cryptic and puzzling.

One should not be spending time to understand the meaning of the pictograms, they have to be intuitive and communicate the relevant meaning.

A good sign do not take your time.

Finally let us look at what constitutes a  good design.  Good design happens when the perceived and actual properties of the objects match. In good designs we get to have the usability, aesthetics and practicality. Dieter Rams explains good design in the following ten principles.

Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design

  1. Good design in innovative
  2. Good design makes a product useful
  3. Good design is aesthetic
  4. Good design makes a product understandable
  5. Good design is unobtrusive
  6. Good design is honest
  7. Good design is long-lasting
  8. Good design is thorough, down to the last detail
  9. Good design is environmentally-friendly
  10. Good design is as little design as possible

Do share about the design of things which has frustrated you. 

In future blog posts we will explore how we can achieve good design that works.

* Illustrations are made with Paper for iPad.