Main Characteristics Of Good Design: Target Audience And Implementation
“Is my design good design?”
Design is a very broad subject that embraces an extensive variety of different disciplines from product, graphic and interior design to industrial and architectural design. Any designer wants their design to be a success. They want it to be taken up and used extensively. They want what they create to be judged to be good.
I’ve met people who assume that a “good” design is something that transcends things like time, geography, culture and fashion. They seem to believe that a good design emerges of its own accord like an evolutionary survival of the fittest, and imposes itself on the environment around it.
While that may be true in nature, design is driven by people. People design a product and people then take it up and use it. Good design adapts to people, not the other way round.
In putting a personal design manifesto together, what I am actually doing, as a definition, is making a public declaration of my policy and aims. It is basically my road map for good design.
The aim is to embrace all aspects of design and translate fluently between them.
But to find the right answers it is important to first ask the right questions.
What is good design?
How is good design achieved?
What specific boxes does a designer need to tick for a product to be classed as “good”?
Why must a design be good?
Great designers have grappled with the same questions.
Back in the late 1970s Dieter Rams, the legendary German industrial designer, was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the designed world.
He thought the world was being engulfed in “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” (Rams, 2018)
Rams was also very aware of his own role as a designer in that world and asked himself an important question: is my design good design?
In answer he formulated his now legendary 10 principles for good design. *(See list below)
These principles are the inspiration underpinning my manifesto and I use them to form a loose template of 4 basic categories of my own that I think intertwine very closely.
- Designing with Purpose
- Target audience
- Time Frame
Designing with Purpose is what gives any design its meaning and its reason and justification for being. A design will always have purpose. If something were designed to have no purpose, ironically, that would be its purpose. If a design fully satisfies all the criteria for its specified purpose, then it is one step closer to being a good design.
Kim Soko Schaefer is a “purpose driven” small business consultant. She has spoken on the subject stating that great design is all about great purpose. She highlights how almost every aspect of, for example, a laptop, computer or smart phone, is designed with a purpose down to the smallest degree.
“It might be to attract or detract your eye, to help you click on something or ignore it. The more natural things appear, the easier they are to read. Readability, usability… is all a part of the purpose-built experience you’re enjoying right now.” (Soko Schaefer, 2018)
I believe that designing for purpose is a fundamental requirement in “producing a good” design. It is the one idea that translates across every discipline of design seamlessly and logically. Understanding a design’s purpose is what allows a person to correctly make necessary design changes to get the best possible design outcome. Schaefer rejects the idea that the purpose of design is to “make everything beautiful.” (Soko Schaefer, 2018)
She argues that design is the process of creating something which considers its purpose from everything to function and economics to sociocultural and aesthetic factors.
“Sometimes design is ugly (intentionally), and sometimes it’s beautiful, but when done well, it’s always on purpose.” (Soko Schaefer, 2018)
Boiled down to basics, she is talking about function over a form, knowingly or not.
To some degree, I agree when talking about design for purpose that function over form is important.
I believe that you first need to analyse the criteria of the design, assess whether you should design firstly for function and then focus the aesthetics around that. If the aesthetics are the focus of a design, then function should follow suit.
Catmedia is a graphic design consultancy based in Atlanta, USA. It is a small outfit which has a very well formulated audience lead design philosophy. Shelby Vecchio is a respected graphic artist and animator at the firm. Her background includes digital design, animation, and fine art. She is responsible for articulating the firm’s design approach and maintains that designing something without knowledge of the target audience is designing with little or no purpose. (Vecchio, 2018)
She is convinced of the vital need to understand a target audience in making a design good.
“Without a doubt, knowledge of the target audience helps the design process,” she says.
“Designing blindly means the designer proceeds to draft a design product with no target audience analysis, having only broad guidelines of the project.”
Her outlook chimes exactly with Catmedia’s commercial philosophy. The firm argues that without target audience analysis you the designer is effectively “designing blind.”
I think that seeking to understand an intended audience must be one key to good design.
From a customer’s point of view, it demonstrates that you “get” a brand’s basic message: it shows you understand a client’s vocabulary and speak its design language.
As a designer, you begin this process with the crucial, if obvious, first step of checking out the industry that a client operates in, whether it be home furnishings, technology or toys.
Attention then turns to the customers themselves, the target audience. You next scrutinise who they are in detail. You look at everything from what they do for a living and how much they earn to their educational background, their age profile, their gender and whether or not they have children.
Of course, this relates more closely to the retail/consumer landscape but holds true in principle when dealing with industry as well.
The need to profile and analyse your target audience is just as vital and just as relevant.
To plan a design, therefore, you look at the business in which your client operates then you turn your attention to their customers and begin by looking closely at the target audience.
You do this by posing a series of questions about the end user which narrows down and specifically defines the profile of the ultimate user.
This, in my opinion, will result in a more effective design which comes closer to being “good” than if it were drafted “blindly” with only a broad idea of what is needed, and no audience analysis.
Good design is fundamentally perceptual at its core and intimately linked to time frame. With few exceptions, the objects of the designed world are subject to the changing fads, fashions and demands of society’s evolving outlook and needs. Just like people. Time can turn what appears to be a great design into an object that everybody shuns.
Sometimes, however, a classic design emerges which has a timeless quality. The expensive retro-style Roberts Radio, leather and wood bound, is such an example. It has escaped obsolescence by subtly adapting its original design to accommodate new technology. It looks unchanged across 50 years but has been adapted for DAB, so can pick up digital broadcasts. The result is that it remains a sought after product while competitors have come and gone. With the exception of a few such isolated cases, however, what is considered a good design is always subject to change. A design that is considered good now will most likely be seen as bad in a few dozen years, or perhaps sooner.
The truth is, human needs are evolving quickly, and design is very often one step behind facing the challenge of catching up. We are currently in a worldwide crisis when it comes to plastics. The cheapness, ubiquity, malleability and permeance of the material, once all seen as virtues, have combined to make it a curse.
If you were to design something today with the intention of it being thrown away or discarded after use, it would indisputably be recognised across the globe as a bad design.
But why? And why do so many products like this still exist?
The principal reason is down to the fact that plastics remain cheap and easy to use. I think it is increasingly likely that the cost to the environment of a product will have to be full factored in, in future. A design which is cheap to produce, but eventually costs a fortune in clean up fees, is only cheap when looked at from a narrowly defined perspective. A design will have to be judged over the entire length of its planned usage in future. Coffee capsules are a great example of how this is still not happening. They are produced worldwide in their millions for a single use application, created to be thrown away immediately, with no plan to recycle or in any way reuse. Obviously, there are schemes that exist, and are constantly evolving to try to combat the plastics problem, recycling having a major role in resolving the challenge. However, the problem still poses a huge challenge and it would have been much better if the problem had been designed out at the beginning, that way it could have been avoided completely. Capsules costing more individually but made of biodegradable material could be a potential solution.
Jennifer Leonard a designer, researcher and writer who co-authored an award-winning book about the future of global design states “What will endure is what is uniquely human”. (Leonard, 2018)
She highlights how humans carelessly leave a trail of neglect and waste wherever they go. Even the moon has an estimated 181,000kg (on earth) of discarded waste. (Geggel, 2018)
When plastics were first being introduced, the mind-set of the designers of the time was very different. They had not then endured decades of plastic waste building up around the world, emerging into our oceans and blighting our wildlife. Design today has a certain morality factor underpinning its outlook. The environment and the potentially detrimental impact of a product is always a serious factor to keep in mind. This train of thought stems from the disaster of overusing and poorly designing products requiring plastics. No good designer these days creates something without ever considering the environmental impact the material of choice could have.
It is predicted that by 2050, if we do not radically overhaul the way we approach our use of plastic, there will be more plastic by weight in the oceans than there are fish. (MacArthur, 2018)
Predictions like this, and the world’s response to them, are what will dictate whether or not a design is seen as good or bad from the perspective of another era.
What was once considered a good design, a decade or more ago, creating blow moulded PET bottles and spindle spun polyethylene plastic bags, has grown today to become one of the greatest, if not the greatest, design challenges we have to overcome and solve. Designers potentially have the power to change the world for better or worse. Predicting how that future will appear, and the potential of a given design to be good or bad, is the challenge that today’s designers have to rise to.
It is this crucial factor that gives design such power. It can be a blessing or it can be a curse. What is seen as a blessing today may turn into a curse tomorrow. Ensuring today’s good design does not become tomorrow’s curse is the challenge facing all designers.
Before the final implementation of a product a designer should never assume it is good and perfectly optimised – without getting feedback from those for whom it was designed.
Feedback is a vital guide to the success of a product and how it will be regarded.
There is a need to design with a purpose for a specific target audience taking into account, through listening to feedback, the vital end audience perspective.
Rams had as his 1st principal for good design the injunction to be innovative.
But good design, in my opinion, can be seen very differently from a business perspective.
Its implementation is a complicated topic but also merits explanation due to its importance.
From a business viewpoint, constant innovation and pursuing far ranging design changes can act to prohibit the development of radical design when seen from a larger time-frame.
Apple Corp, for example, is an innovative company which is known for its creativity and cutting edge design, but it has taken an incremental approach to the design process as a way of embracing the radical. For illustration we can compare the original iPad from 2010 to the current 2018 version. While the overall design changes little from year to year we can see that the change over the period is radical. Over this eight-year time frame, incremental design change allowed for radical design innovation. The business perspective was not one of market-led innovation but to achieve radical change over time through gradual change.
Along the way customer feedback was important in crafting the design of the future device. Current users were surveyed via email and asked their opinion on its operation and look.
While the physical appearance of Apple products might not be radically different, as each device is quite similar, the functional comparison is indisputable. While the basic platform of the iPad remains recognisably the same, the difference in design when comparing the initial product and what has replaced it eight years later, can be judged as a radical change.
This was achieved because of an executive business decision not to release optimised models, carrying all the latest technological innovations. Realistically, the first iPad could have had a camera, been lighter, and had increased performance capabilities. All of these things were available and already being used in other similar products. (Apple Newsroom, 2010)
From a business standpoint the decision to hold back technology also allows the company to stoke demand by having something new to add to every new release. Each generation of iPad has enough of an incremental design change to justify the release of a newer updated model. This gives the consumer more of an incentive to purchase the newer model, subsequently increasing the amount of profit the company can make from sales, allowing for a larger budget to be used for the following design. Companies work in tandem, slowing the release of products with incremental design changes to gain more profit, allowing for optimised designs over larger time-frames, resulting in a radical design change to some degree depending on what time-frame you choose to subjectively view it from.