Defining design is a hugely complicated task. Today design covers everything from graphic design, industrial design, interaction design, user interface, experience design, and even high art. In theory, design is an approach or technique to solve problems, be they visual or physical, spanning these different disciplines.
Apple have shown that design in a business context is no longer a nice to have, but a competitive advantage. This has trickled down to a number of new startups that are disrupting existing categories and "eating the world" - organisations like Uber, Airbnb, Square, GitHub and Dropbox have made design a core of their business, which has led them to grow faster than their existing or emerging competition.
Defining "good design" then becomes hugely important, however this definition is also hard to break down as design always remains subjective.
In the 1970's, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned about the state of the world around him, an "impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises". As design cannot be measured in a finite way, he created ten principles for good design, often referred to in the design community as the 'ten commandments'.
These principles are even more valid today with the growing complexity around digital, and should be remembered when starting any project.
The Ten Principles of Good Design
1. Good Design is Innovative
"The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology, and can never be an end in itself."
2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful
"A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it."
3. Good Design is Aesthetic
"The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products we use every day affect our person and our well-being. But only well-executed objects can be beautiful."
4. Good Design Makes a Product Understandable
"It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product talk. At best, it is self-explanatory."
5. Good Design is Unobtrusive
"Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression."
6. Good Design is Honest
"It does not make a product more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept."
7. Good Design is Long-Lasting
"It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society."
8. Good Design is Thorough Down to the Last Detail
"Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the user."
9. Good Design is Environmentally Friendly
"Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimises physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product."
10. Good Design is as Little Design as Possible
"Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials.
Back to purity, back to simplicity."
A revised version of this article is available at Strategy Umwelt.