What is (good) design.

“It’s not just what it looks like and feels like.
Design is how it works.”

Yes, this is the famous quote from Steve Jobs, the mastermind behind Apple Inc. But let me ask you one simple question, Do you really know what the statement means?

When I was still a clueless 2nd year college student, we have this class called Design Concepts where design concepts were obviously being taught. One lesson I’ve learned from this class is the definition of Art and Design.

Art is basically an expression.

An artist doesn’t aim to change our lifes with his or her artwork, rather they usually focus on the expression of emotions or feelings with aesthetics in mind.

Design is different, its functional, and this is the reason why Steve Jobs will say that design is how it works.

Design is always based on a problem, I’d say design is actually the problem-solving solution. A good design help us in our daily living in many way, it can improve communication, it can even help us in a life and death situation.

Lets use signages as an example.

A signage is designed to deliver an information with an easy-to-understand drawing, it aims to tell you something and make you understand it either consciously or subconsciously.

Poor design of a signage can be problematic, there can be virtually all scales of problem. Just imagine if people can’t easily differentiate the no right turn sign from the no left turn sign because the sign is too small and essentially not readable, this can possibly cause a traffic accident that cost lives. To make this simple, if the target audience can’t understand the sign at their first glance, the sign should be considered a bad design, no matter how beautiful it is (aesthetically).

A good design of a signage must help the audience in understanding the situation and the environment effectively, and this is how design works. The signage solve the problem by helping us to understand, it improves the communication by eliminating misunderstanding between parties with it’s easy-to-understand nature.

Signage design is just a specialization in design, it’s like Ophthalmology is just a part of the whole medical field. While all medical doctors should know the basics of health and medicine no matter what their specialization is, designers are no different and need to understand the principles of design in order to create good designs.

  1. Design must be functional

    A good design is defined by how well it solves the problem. If you’re a visual identity designer who needs to create an iconic brand identity, make it sure that the identity is really iconic so that people can remember the brand. If you’re a web designer who needs to create a usable website, make it sure that the design is really usable and supported by research.

  2. Design is based on experience

    Designs are based on our experience, these can be good or bad experience that nurtures* a new problem that needs a better solution. These experience usually rise over time with technological advancement, just see the new wearables as examples.

    *I use the word nurture here because I don’t think a “bad” experience is really just that bad, it helps us in improving the standard in a way and how can it be bad?

  3. Design is fueled by curiosity

    Designer must be constantly curious to unearth a lot of unseen problems. Curiosity is the trait of good designers, its like a habit that keep designers on analysing and theorizing situations and problems over and over again, these researches and theories eventually became the basis of the development of good designs.

  4. Design is an ideology of problem solving

    Design can just be anything, it can be a poster that I’m looking at, a keyboard that I’m typing on, or even an experience that I’m currently experiencing with the software. The bottom line of a good design is, it must be able to solve our problems effectively in some way. The poster should be able to deliver the message clearly with good use of typography and color, the keyboard must feel sturdy with use of durable materials and easy to type on, the experience I’m experiencing with the software must help me by improving my efficiency.

    Design is a thinking, it’s an idea, and most importantly, it’s how it works.

  5. Don’t be obsessed with your design

    Never be obsessed with your design, design is always based on the experience of the user. If the users say yes, use the design, if they say no, no big deal, just improve them until it’s great.

    Remember you won’t be able to create the best until you’ve failed enough. Through the process of failing, you tend to rethink the problems and experience them over and over again. It should improve your analytical skills and help you to make better decisions. Moreover, you will discover a lot of tricks while you’re failing.

    Design is a never ending process, a good design today doesn’t mean it’s still good for tomorrow, so accept the fact the you’re going to work on some redesigns in the future. Just enjoy the process, make less complains, you’ll find yourself learning and improving in the middle of the work.

If you’re a student, I hope you’ve learned something from the clueless 2nd year college me. If you still can’t understand the things I’m writing about, no problem, maybe you’re still a bit too young for this. Just wait until your experience can give some sense to these.

If you’re just starting to do design professionally, please keep all these principles in mind and always apply them when you work. I always compare designers to doctors because I really think that the responsibility of a designer is just as heavy as a doctor’s (Usually not that vital though). Remember we are the one to design and improve others’ life, value your work and most importantly value yourself.

If you’ve been around for a long while already, I don’t think I’m in the position to teach you anything here. Just look at this article as a reminder or a refresher that gives meaning to your design career again.

And I would assume that you’ve all understand the meaning of Steve Jobs’ quote.