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What is good design?

12 February 2019
Future classics

It i said: “design is about good looks but it also has to function”.

This comment often made prompted me to write a little twiddle about the topic of design. I was brought up with the pragmatic idea that good function goes before all design and design must always support the intent of the item and its function. What makes good design?

Here a quote by Anders Toxboe, head of Danish Broadcasting Corporation.

“Good design is innovative. Innovative design can be both a break-through product or service, or a re-design of an existing product or service. A break-through product adds a not previously seen value to the user and market, while a re-design improves/updates an existing product possibly because technology and material options have improved. Innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, bringing the value of a break-through and improves the existing product , with new development in technology to add meaning to the reinvention.”

A good example of successful redesign is the simple cooking pot series, designed by typographer Björn Dahlström for Iittala (previous Hackman). ‘Iittala Tools’ a marvellous stylish concept of table top ware and kitchen tools launched  in 1998, setting new standards for table aesthetics for the international market. The company cracked the code of reinvention which no one has achieved ever after, catapulting IIttala to the forefront of modern design just like Apple did with the I-phone. .

Amongst other there was this non-design, slick simplicity and top notch manufacturing quality. Innovative?

I say, absolutely! The shape and handle of the cooking pot is in absolute perfect balance, including the thickness of the steel which additionally had imbedded aluminium, supporting fast, easy cooking performance. The soft aluminium embedded in the hard steel, a new combination previously technically not mastered, making it an innovation. The result was completely un-flirtatious, super simple with perfect proportions, the epitome of good design ready to last for centuries to come. Unsurprisingly the deigner is a trained typographer, hence the purity of shape, just like a child would draw a cooking pot, nothing fancy, yet super stylish, what a triumph!

And it was this very pot that gave us the idea to start our Skandium, more about this another time. I highlight this product as it illustrates form and function performing in perfect synergy.

IIttala Tools BD

The Björn Dahlström pot also named ‘chef of all tools’…..

Of course good design is functional as it optimises its usability and often solves everyday problems in how to master the everyday of life a bit easier. At the same time it makes a product useful so it is purposeful. Good design does not incorporate visual distraction, hence it will be relevant forever..

good design

Master Björn Dahlström, typographer by origin, found his way naturally into product design. Typography’s prime intent is to communicate, creating clarity, clarity through the form of the typeface where its function is to underline the intent of the message to be communicated. It simply needs to function for the message at hand, what is the purpose, what does it want to express? Having been trained in this rigorous school of function and aesthetics, no wonder his product design is so strictly graphic, simple and never boring. It gives it allure, adding depth and a certain poetry, even in the simplest pieces such as with this little red fellow below, shaped like a comma, the BD1 lounge chair (now included in V&A furniture collection). Even the simple is made exciting, if the proportions are just perfect, like magic.

good design

Good design is of course very much about great aesthetics, grabbing attention through its beauty in simplicity, catching the imagination of the user, wanting to engage with it. It appeals to all senses and has an effect on our state of well-being. We want to feel supported and emotionally uplifted, all adding to the value of our life, making the every day moment a bit special, just the way it should be.

good design

Good design is intuitive. Why, because we humans have an innate feel for what is supportive and what not and design has to have supportive value. Intuitive design makes the use of a manual unnecessary as it makes the usability obvious, it clearly expresses its function by appealing to the users intuition.

good everyday

Listen to Dieter Rams: “Only well-executed objects can be beautiful. The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products used every day have an effect on people and their well-being.” Yeahhhhh!

good design

Good design is good business, people feel attracted to it, want to engage with it, it stands out in a competitive market as it has integrity, it communicates clearly and therefore we like to interact with it.

good design

Good design is honest, does not have flaws or tries to distract, it clearly communicates its function and values, never manipulating the user with promises it can’t keep.

good design

Good design becomes timeless, long lasting, independent of fashion and trends. Good design sets aesthetic standards in what is visually pleasing and is always sustainable as good design holds the innate idea of the pursuit of quality. The producer values the idea and finds it meaningful to invest in high end production. Often, after many years of research and investment it makes sense to produce to high standards. Waste and over consumption are never part of good design as the item has to last through time, be cherished and well lived with.

good design

Good design is always reduction of material to its simplest workable solution. It is based on the idea to be functional first and foremost, offering to improve the task at hand. This adds value to the user and it’s simple form leaves room for he users self-expression. Such products are neither decorative nor works of art. Good design leaves nothing to chance as accuracy of production and care for the user shows respect towards the customer.

Dieter Rams, the great industrial designer, makes a distinction between the common saying ”less is more”, instead advises my preferred saying “less but better” as this focuses on purity of form offering maximum performance.

good design

Dieter Rams “Honest design communicates solely the functions and values it offers. It does not attempt to manipulate buyers and users with promises it cannot keep”. The modernist manifesto extracted into one sentence.

Here, all items featured are by Björn Dahlström, Sweden, as his designs so often remind me of Dieter Rams.