The imperative of design is to make people’s lives better. In order to do so, design has to solve problems that affect people and their environment. The better the solution, the more useful the design. If done right, good design feels like it has always been there.
- Design is the space between a human and an object. This space defines the way we understand the object, our relationship with it and the way we use it.
- Design is a constant process of innovation and problem solving to make things, services and systems better for people to use or inhabit.
The first definition states that a human made object - a designed object - can be perceived as such only in relation with human beings. They are made by us, for us and as such they clearly have to serve a purpose that is integral to their design. The foundation of how they should be designed is outlined in the Ten Principles of Good Design by Dieter Rams in which I dearly believe. According to Rams, good design is innovative, useful, aesthetic, understandable, unobtrusive, honest, long lasting, thorough down to the last detail, environmentally friendly and as little design as possible.
The second definition implies that design is also a process. It is the result obtained by following a certain method or plan. Integral to the process is the feedback loop, which allows the designer to better understand how a design performs in real life context and how it can be improved. This pushes design to be ever evolving and innovative. The predominant elements of the design process are: finding a problem, finding a solution, prototyping, production, delivery and the afterlife.
Starting with a problem
Design should make life better. In order to do this, a problem has to be solved with an appropriate design solution. I believe every design process should start with research that helps to identify this problem. The better the problem is understood and defined, the better the design solution can be created.
Finding the solution
This is the part where the right solution to the problem has to be found. Finding it makes a product useful. This takes place in two phases.
Ideation is the first phase, where a large volume of ideas must be generated without thinking of what is doable and what isn’t. This comes in the second phase, where every idea generated is scrutinized through the lens of feasibility and the capabilities of production until only one or two ideas are left.
Designing & Prototyping
Once the solution is found, sketches, drawings and prototypes can be made. This is done by keeping in mind that the design of the solution should be functional, useable, and reveal its purpose. It also has to be aesthetically appealing and be able to be part of the environment where it is intended to be used.
Drawings and prototyping help make it clear very quickly if it is possible or not to make the product. It helps to understand which production processes and technology will be needed, which material is best suited and how to improve the product. Prototyping also helps to test if the product actually solves the identified problem.
The result of designing and prototyping is the production ready prototype - it’s how the final product will look and perform: all the details are finalized, the production process is planned out and ready to go, the cost structure is clear, materials are finalized and sourced.
A very important element of designing a product is designing its production. This requires good knowledge of the production technologies and processes available. This is also the part where the most costly mistakes can be made. This is why constant communication and relationship building in necessary to run a smooth production process.
Designing production means designing scalability of the product while analyzing every detail of the product through the lense of feasibility, cost and capabilities. In the globalized market, shipping and packaging are becoming more present as elements of the design process. Products have to be designed to have a low carbon footprint when shipped and shipping costs have to be as low as possible.
Design Goes the Full Circle
Designing a product consists of more than just the object and its immediate post purchase usability and functionality. The designer or designing team have to look at the whole process - from production and shipping to actual use and the afterlife of a product - and think of the social and environmental impact it has. There is too much at stake today for anyone not to do so.