Good Design: Characteristics and Material Choices

wooden table and chairs
e15 “Platz” by Jörg Schellmann, 2012.

“Design” is a weirdly balanced term that describes an undefined, borderless gray zone; for some, it’s as vague as the term “art,” but it’s becoming more relevant to more people every day. It has become fashionable to use it as an adjective, like saying that you acquired a “design chair” for your kid. In that context, design could mean a strongly colored curvy chair with just one leg. In others, a straight, bold, and uncomfortable sofa, or a television without a frame, or cutlery with screwdrivers as handles.

But design is more than that. Design is the way things look, feel, and work, and also how they are used. How they match someone’s personal identity and help them express it. How they make you feel better. How they make your life easier. Design becomes a lifestyle.

Design goes beyond a white sofa, it goes beyond a red chair, and, yes, beyond that loud and aggressive sports car in your neighbor’s garage. It is also the potato-peeler in your kitchen drawer, the glasses on your nose, the comfortable shoes you’re wearing, the intelligent way of lighting your office, the packaging of your morning cereal. I think you get it by now. My point is that, as we are surrounded by so much design, we stop identifying it as design. We lose track of it as it is a part of our daily life.

Design and user-friendliness

It might happen that you try to switch on the television, but the remote control has so many buttons and functions that you never use that it starts to feel complicated and confusing. This makes it an utter nightmare when you just feel like watching a movie on a Sunday evening. You might think it’s your fault and that you simply don’t understand it well enough. Well, it is not your fault. That remote is badly designed and you shouldn’t accept it. I’m sure you can think of many other examples just like this.

In this case, a well-designed remote would simplify things for you, and you wouldn’t need a book of instructions in order to use it. Ergonomics aren’t just about the way the remote would lay in your hand or the softness of the buttons. The solution would be that you would find what you’re looking for without demanding energy, as it is designed to be used intuitively. More and more smartphone companies, software programmers, and even car manufacturers are opting for the philosophy of placing necessary functions on the first level, showcasing the most important features. A clear, logical way of using layers in the menu makes it possible to understand the system within seconds. The interaction between man and machine becomes less scary, and more user-friendly. The machine has to adapt to the user, not the other way around.

car interior design

Citroën C4 Cactus Interior: Simplifying functions and improving the user experience.

Design and materials

Design is also about the intelligent use of materials, which is important in different ways. The first reason for using proper materials is the feeling those materials provide when you touch them. It’s not a mystery why more people choose a table in oak than one in metal. Oak has a natural, soft feel, and continues to be pleasant in cold or hot climes, whereas a metal table heats up under the rays of the sun and feels cold to the touch during the winter months. On the other hand, a metal table is lighter, making it easier to move around. Every material has it own application pros and cons, and every aspect has to be thought of in good design.

wooden table and chairs design

e15 “Platz” by Jörg Schellmann, 2012.

The second reason is durability. It is important to choose objects that withstand time, both in use and style. Timeless design is made to last, and it doesn’t need a lot of decoration. It just needs a story or a shape that never stops being interesting. Durable design gets a patina through time – like a leather briefcase that becomes more beautiful by using it, or that chair your grandfather used to sit in – and becomes more than just an object. It becomes a translation of your emotions and shows authentic personality. Pieces made from durable materials also often last long enough to be passed down through generations.

leather messenger bag design

Hard Graft – “2unfold laptop bag.” Handmade in Italy.

A third important reason for making the right choice of materials is the ecological impact. We have to face that we’re living in an environment that is changing in critical ways because of the impact of generations of people. Every material has its upsides and downsides, and every material has its breaking point. It is important to examine all of these factors, not just the price on the tag.

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By choosing objects that are made with passion, craftsmanship, and a wink to future generations, you can enjoy beautiful, functional design and positively alter the world at the same time.

Good Design: Characteristics and Material Choices was last modified: July 25th, 2017 by Frederik Delbart
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