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Good Design, Pt. II

More miscellaneous thoughts spilling over from my previous post “Good Design”.

Contrary to a belief by some, a thing is not “designed” through the application of visual aesthetics (e.g. color, type, etc.), but rather by virtue of being assigned a functional role within an ordered system. Design is the act of giving names, assigning functions, dividing up roles, and refining aesthetics.

“Good” design is often defined in a sense subjective to taste, e.g. “I think this is a good design because I find it visually or experientially pleasing to my sensibilities.”

To contrast that notion, there’s the famous Steve Jobs quote about how design isn’t solely about how it looks but also how it works. In that sense, design is about purpose and intent: is the thing that was designed functioning as it was intended to, i.e. is it functioning properly?

Many might perceive something as visually atrocious, but if it is functioning as intended one might call it “good design” in the sense that it is fulfilling it’s purpose within an ordered system — even though it may not be considered “good visual design” or “good ethical design”.

In this sense, “good design” is defined (at least in part) by the idea of functional completeness, which lends itself to a system that is purposeful and intelligible.

Design is a process that establishes functions, roles, organization, and purpose amongst elements in relation to each other. It brings functionality to the non-functional, aesthetics being only one aspect of the functional.

A button is more than a colored rectangle on screen that is 135 pixels wide, 35 pixels high, and has 8px rounded borders. Design is the visual appearance of the button, but also what happens when the button is pressed — both to the button itself, but also to the elements in relation to that button in a system.

For example, in insurance, a well-designed button understands its purpose and accounts for its intent when pressed: it modifies data in a database which represents a contractual relationship between an organization and a human being, a promise of financial restitution under specified conditions.

Good design considers this entire arc of experience — and anyone building it is doing design.