Good design. Define.

What constitutes good design? Can it be defined? Is it about aesthetics, art, daring to shock, ‘cool sh*t’ or a more utilitarian view of usability and the customer experience? In a commercial context, is good design simply about meeting the brief?

These (and other) ideas were hotly debated during last month’s Design Manchester 2015 festival, which took place in the context of a world where all creative industries are being disrupted by technology. One common theme to emerge, therefore, was the need to redefine the way we think about design. Here we sum up why:

1. Good design = usability

The case for this was made by the man behind the multi-award winning website, Ben Terrett, who argued that, in the age of the Internet, usability is king and delivery earns trust. The triumph of the relaunched government website was its simplicity and reliability; its creation was guided by a commitment to ‘fixing the basics’ and a mantra of ‘no new ideas ‘til everything works’.

2. Every good design agency needs an ethnographer

Understanding people and behaviour is fundamental to designing products, spaces or interfaces that work for them. This is the ethos of design and innovating consulting firm IDE, whose director Steve O’Connor argued that increasingly, designing experiences is at the heart of business.

3. What delights the customer one day may be old hat the next

Think Nokia, Blockbusters, HMV. New designs and technologies go hand in hand and are disrupting industries the world over. In this context, staying in tune with what ‘delights’ millennial consumers is key to survival.

4. Politics matters

All too often, designers do not have the influence to control 90% of the factors that affect them. Design politics matters because designers need the freedom to design and to operate at a strategic level in organisations.

5. Good design demands craft and detail

Design can dream up new worlds and transform existing ones. In the words of Lee Fasciani of Territory Studio (the agency behind The Martian’s motion graphics): “we’ve literally redesigned NASA”.

6. The ‘Big Idea’ is dead

Design in the 21st century is an iterative, collaborative, democratic process. (See points 7 and 8 below.) It’s in the nuance and the detail that real transformation happens. Increasingly, design is about creating experiences rather than campaigns and today’s entrepreneurial business models rely on ‘tweaking’ or reinventing existing models (think Uber or AirBnB).

7. The Internet has changed everything

Everyone can have their say, instantly and publicy, making the world a much more democratic place. The people decide what goes viral and what doesn’t. The popularity of content and engagement with it is more transparent than ever before.

8. Technology democratises design

The tools to design are readily available, as well as the tools for sharing content. While mastery, creativity and craftsmanship are still the ultimate factors in design, people can participate, create and share content in a way that is unprecedented.

9. The designer as problem solver

In this brave new world, the role of design has changed. Rather than being a promotional or illustrative tool, it is required to make things better or easier … whether to communicate, shop, listen to music, watch films, travel, bank etc.

10. Design is now more about product design than promotional design

Design is now firmly embedded in the user experience. The upshot is that, more than ever before, design is fundamental to the nature of products and sits at the heart of business, determining success or otherwise.

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