Design is a beautiful compromise.

As Designers, we cannot simply create what we want. We must build a solution that considers the audience, the context, and the overall purpose.

“What we like or dislike, is not the same thing as good design or bad design”

I’ve included this phrase above on my website, because it describes, very simply, what Design means to me.

This phrase was something the Head of our Design department at College introduced to us. As first-year student's he knew our idea of Design was confused with the Art classes we had at school. He wanted us to begin to understand that design was not art, that all design lives within a business construct. Therefore making something beautiful, but ultimately unengaging doesn’t work. All design has a functional goal that it must satisfy. Regardless of how creative the concept is, a design that misses its functional target is useless.

In the movie Design Disruptors, John Maeda states, ‘art is about making questions, design is about making solutions’.  This is another great way to think of Design. Artists are free to do what they like and to ask questions of their audience. They can leave their work open to interpretation. As Designers, we cannot simply create what we want. We must build a solution that considers the audience, the context, and the overall purpose.

Designs may not be loved, and yet still work

The various definitions of the word ‘design’ talk about the processes, or planning, the outline etc. But the concept of design is about finding solutions. The look and feel may end up being diluted in order to include the many other considerations. For example, a leather finish might look amazing, but be uneconomical to produce in the market this product competes in.

Fashion versus Function

If we look at the high end of Couture Fashion. Many of these amazing garments from the runways of Paris or New York are never seen on the streets of those cities. These are often one-off items where the imagination of their creator is unconstrained, allowing fashions to change and evolve. However, when these concepts meet the marketplace they have to be adjusted to the realities of manufacturing, the financial means, and the tastes of the buying public.

Similarly a Formula 1 racing car is created for speed, so the design decisions are about saving weight and lowering drag. It has no roof, no lights, and only one seat. On the other hand, a Porsche 911 is also designed for speed. But this car has to be beautiful and follow Porsche design styling. It has to fit at least two people, and it has to be legal to drive on a public road. These are the compromises that car designers have to make.

For Designer's it is important that we understand what restraints are in play, and where each design will sit in the wider world. This allows us to maximise our creativity without compromising the product.

  • Photo: My 1968 VW Beetle parked next to its design offspring, a modern Porsche 911.


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