Sunday, 12 September 2010

Day 255, on which John covers the ten principles of good design [12.9.10]

Dag to hundrede femoghalvtreds. Today has been busy, busy, busy. I managed to find time in the morning to map out the third JOHN Collection catalogue (so now I know exaclty which pieces I need to do, eg. two chairs and two tables for the living room). 18 pages in all, including the two covers and a 'welcome page' which is just to use up one page of space so everything is on the right spreads. That won't be on Flickr; you can find it on the Issuu preview when I get the PDF up at Christmas.

Design. Ah, how I love you so. And Jacobsen, too. A friend recently asked me who I'd invite to a dinner party if I could invite anyone. I said Jacobsen, then realised I'd end up chatting in Danish to his corpse and ignoring the other guests (Zooey Deschanel and my clone) all evening. Damn, why did he have to go die on me?

So anywho. I was reading an article in the Telegraph Magazine (yes I read the Telegraph yes I'm conservative get over it) and there was an article about the German industrial designer Dieter Rams. There they mentioned his ten principles of 'good design'. So I figured I'd take a look over them and add my comments. Because I know you all love my posts about design (/sarcasm).

1. Good design is innovative.

I'm not too bothered about this one. Sure, design must be innovative in its aesthetics, but it doesn't have to be a new idea. This is one of the main differences between 'design' and design. By 'design', I mean the sort of thing when they ask you to find a problem and solve it. This is totally agree. You don't have to find a new place for a product, like something which keeps slugs off your plants, or something to store Wii games effectively. That's just problem solving.

Design, ie. that which is not in quotes, is about creating something beautiful and effective (in my mind). Even if it's a dining chair, of which hundreds have been made before, it's still design. I take 'innovative design' to mean an innovative shape, or an innovative use of materials. Half the fun is taking a convential object (ie. chair, table) and seeing how unique you can make your version whilst preserving it as what it's meant to be.

Here, you can see Verner Panton's 'S-chair' is what I call innovative. Innovative material (at the time), innovative techniques for making it, innovative base, and yet it's still recognizable as a chair. This didn't need to be a totally new product, fitting a new problem. It's a chair, and it's b-e-a-utiful. I need to buy one.

2. Good design makes a product useful

Hmm. A product should be useful, by its very definition. If a design isn't useful, then it's not designed. Industrial design is what makes a product useful, but not efficient to use. However, all design must be useful or it will never be sold. Aesthetics can aid this, because - as I mentioned a few days a go - if a product looks nice it's easier to use. Dieter Rams was all about functionalism, so that's why this is on his list. For him, designing started with the use, then working out how to make the use as efficient as possible.

3. Good design is aesthetic

This is a bit odd, in terms of wording. I guess Rams means that the use and advantages to the design must be immediately obvious when you see the design. One of the main concepts of this is affordance. That means that the way a product is shaped and designed should automatically tell the user how the design works and what it's for.

Sadly for this explanation I have to use a British design. It's the Polyprop chair from British designer Robin Day. The chair has a large hole in the back of it, which is curved at the edges. The chair affords being held by the hole, like a handle. The same goes for walking sticks and knives that have handles which notches for each of your fingers. The shaping affords the product being held in a certain way. Affordance is a uniquely human concept, because it's all about inferring the use to the user without a massive arrow saying 'hold here'.

Affordance has more to do with industrial design (or 'design', bleaugh) that proper, Jacobsen-style design, because it's about a complicated function that needs to be explained to the user. Whereas, if you had a Jacobsen chair like the ant, it wouldn't need to afford being held in one place because it's not aimed for efficiency. You hold it where you like. It's good design like that. However, the Polyprop chair could hurt the ikkle wikkle hands of schoolkids so it affords being held in a place that is both safe (rounded edges) and makes the chair easier to hold (weight is balanced on either side, as opposed to holding it from the top of the backrest). That's why Dieter Rams says good design must be aesthetic; he's a product designer who designed lots of Braun's early super-functionalist radio designs. So basically, the user must know how to use the product. That comes before any sort of aesthetics.

I'll cover a couple more tomorrow. It's late, and I'd better be getting on to doing whatever else I do in the evening. Adios!


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