10 principles of good design that would help guide designers down the right path. These were written in the 80s before the proliferation of the web, but it is interesting to see how well they do apply to not only industrial and print design, but to web design as well.
1. Good design is innovativeThis is probably something that the web could do a better job of, but unfortunately it is very limited to the tools at our exposure. By tools I don’t mean development tools, but the actual tools that we use to interact with the web. When you are so worried about making something work across a number of browsers it can be hard to push the boundaries of where you want to go.
Some argue that Flash is the perfect way to get exactly the same experience across a number of browsers, but Flash performance isn’t up to the level that many companies want their experiences to be.
2. Good design makes a product usefulColor. A very, very pretty design, but who actually found it useful? The design itself didn’t communicate the purpose of the application and therefore it failed.
The first versions of eBay, Yahoo, Geocities, etc. were hideous, but they did enough to make the product useful. This didn’t make them good designs, just effective designs. Color couldn’t get the effective (useful) part down.
3. Good design is aestheticFor some reason this still seems to be a point of contention in all industries. I often hear people say that “good design just works”, which I don’t believe in. If that was the case then we would never need to improve anything because the majority of items that we use work as their intended function.
Craigslist was never good design. It was just a design that was able to build a community that worked in spite of its design. When it comes to some websites, community will trump design, but if you can combine both then you have a winner.
4. Good design makes a product understandableI feel like I could reference Color all over again here, but instead I will do a bit of exploring. The very first Twitter homepage didn't do a very good job of showcasing the potential of Twitter or letting people know what it really was. Part of this was because the people behind Twitter didn't really know what they had.
Playing with an iPhone though the design helps to make a product understandable. Look at the simple lock screen. Have you noticed that there is a light that goes behind the words “slide to unlock” moving in the direction of where you should slide? It’s a very subtle design, but it subconsciously helps you to understand what you need to do.
5. Good design is unobtrusive
un·ob·tru·sive/nbtroosiv/This one I am kind of torn on because aesthetic design attracts attention. Any Apple product attracts attention, but I guess the aesthetic itself doesn't attract attention away from using the device. It aids it. Many beautiful websites though do a great job of attracting attention on the design without having any focus on what the site should be used for.
Adjective: Not conspicuous or attracting attention.
It is very hard to gather how a design will pan out from a small 400×300 image, but a lot of the designs seem to be done to attract attention more than aid the functionality of the design. Good design is invisible as some would say. Of course there is a very fine line between invisible, attractive, hideous and plain.
6. Good design is honestWhen I read this principle I think of Dark Patterns. Dark Patterns are intentional design methods used to confuse and guide user’s towards the desired goal of the company behind the design. They never have the user’s best intentions in mind.
There should also be honesty in the copy that you put in your design. Copy is just as much a part of the design as your icons and colors. Good copy is honest. It doesn't mean it is boring, but it doesn’t try to sell the user something that doesn't exist.
Good design doesn’t trick or deceive. Good design is what it appears to be. Nothing more, nothing less.
7. Good design is long-lastingThis one will be hard to fathom for web designers out there because rarely does a design last more than a couple of years on the web. Does that mean it was bad design? Not at all, but it might mean that the design was based on trends that have simply come and gone.
Long-lasting design comes more into play with regards to physical objects. I like to think that Apple and Honda create goods that are meant to be long-lasting. Companies don’t necessarily like long lasting though because it means you aren’t buying more of the same.
8. Good design is thorough, down to the last detailAnother principle in which 99% of the designers of the world will fail at. Some designers wish to see the forest before the trees and others want to see the trees before the forest. You have to be able to see the big and little picture at the same time when designing. It is a very tough skill to master.
How would you change your approach if every section of your site could be broken down? Imagine 20 different sections of your site separated into little boxes. Would each box be able to hold its own?
Careful though because there is a fine line between being a perfectionist designer that never ships and one that misses some of the little details because they are tired of looking at a design.
9. Good design is environmentally-friendlyAnother principle that applies well to industrial design, but not as much to web design. Instead of thinking about the environment as the world, why not think of it as the environment of the body? Does your design cause a user to waste thought cycles or motions trying to figure out how to work your design? Can they save more and yet still get the same amount out of your design if you made a couple of small changes?
In this case, a splash page that is nothing more than a “start” button is an environmental waste. A form that has fields that are really necessary for the user to continue the experience is a waste.
10. Good design is as little design as possibleAh, minimalism. As little design as possible. That is a powerful statement.
I’m just going to leave you with that.