Good Design and Frames of Reference

In his article From Design Philosophy (Part 1: What is “Good Design”?), the author defines “Good Design” as follows:

Good design is when the thing in question accomplishes what is desired in an efficient, reliable, intuitive, thorough, positive, and inspiring way without contradicting its own goals, being dishonest or misleading, or being unnecessarily obtrusive or overwrought.

Personally, I think that definition might be over-designed. I would simplify it by ending it early. Here’s my take:

Good design is when the thing in question accomplishes what is desired.

Yes. That may be extremely reductive. But I think it has to be, because what is “good” design is clearly all reliant on the frame of reference. Take the airport example in the follow up article.  It is described as “intentionally designed badly.” From the user perspective, that may be true. But as he goes on and lists the reasons why it was intentional, it is clear that many of those practices meet the goals of the designer to some degree.

Every subsequent feature and clause in the definition are additional value judgements that could vary by the parties that need to use, operate, or otherwise interact with the design in question. There are designs that may be intentionally inefficient, unreliable, unintuitive, shallow, negative, uninspiring, dishonest, or misleading, and the level of necessity of how obtrusive or overwrought something is varies from frame of reference as well.

One may argue that a thing that accomplishes the goals of the designer but alienates or frustrates the user to the point of losing sales, clients, etc., is bad design. That is true, and it would be, from the perspective of those who have a stake in the use numbers, bad design due to unintended consequences. The designer, in that case has to incorporate the constraints into the stated goals. “Make this hard to use because X, but not so hard that people rage quit.”

Long story short –

Too late.
Too late.

Good design is subjective, and that subjectivity leaves a design open to multiple valid interpretations.

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