red bullet all things design

11 November 2009

Form and Function in Design

It is much easier to understand good design when you come across a bad design.

To see something as well designed can be a very subjective thing.  Some will love it and some will hate it and some will just not care.  A well designed product, be it a skyscraper standing tall with perfect angles glinting in the sun or a brochure that draws you into its kaleidoscope of colored brilliance, speaks to most of us in the language of the aesthetic.
But if that skyscraper or brochure does not do the intended job,
then all the perfect angles and brilliant color are lost.  The skyscraper has to function as a productive building, easy to navigate, well ventilated, and as a pleasingly proportioned, protective cocoon for human life.  The brochure has to deliver its message in an understandable, enjoyable way that calls one to positive action.  If they don’t deliver on the external promise, then no matter how good they look, they are a bad design.

Sometimes it is easier to experience bad design than it is to see it.  My wife kept after me to replace our old, comfortable tea kettle as brown residue had built up inside on the bottom.  I was convinced that it just added to the flavor, but, on one of our trips to Costco, we noticed a rather nice looking kettle at a reasonable price.  It was important to us that it had a well designed look since it would spend its life out in open on our kitchen stove.  We rescued it from the Costco shelf and brought it home.

Then next morning, after filling it with water and heating it up to the boiling point, I realized that our good looking little teapot was not well designed.  The body of the pot was a handsome brushed aluminum finish and with a similar metal handle attached nicely to the body.  There were two plastic inserts at the arch of the handle on the top and bottom that were meant to shield the hand from the heat of the metal.  The inserts were separated by the metal handle with the metal sticking out on either side giving it a dark layer, brushed aluminum look.  Unfortunately, with the metal sticking out on either side of the inserts, you couldn’t grab the handle comfortably to pour the water when hot.  In fact, I burned the heck out of myself the first time I grabbed the handle to pour.  Needless to say, the nice looking, but, badly designed tea kettle went back to Costco the next day.

This experience of bad design definitely helped me understand that good design is more than skin deep.  It needs to be the perfect marriage of form and function. If you are interested in becoming more aware of bad design to help you understand good design, check out, a compilation site of bad product design.

‘til next time, take care.


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red bulletall things design - 27 October 2009


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