Recently a director of mine popped into my office unexpectedly and asked “What do you consider to be great design.” I’m pretty sure he was expecting an immediate response, but honestly, I was caught a bit off guard. I was actually disappointed in myself that I just couldn’t rattle off a few killer examples that would prove my design prowess … but in reality, it made my head spin, there’s just so much out there.
Where do I start?
To me, design encompasses a very broad range of ever-evolving topics, so of course it’s going to be challenging to nail down “great design” to just one or two single examples. Design can be in the form of architecture, products, experiences, systems, services, branding, digital, print, etc. Great design can also be described in simple abstract concepts such as easy to use, engaging, usable, accessible, universal, relate-able. This list goes on. There’s an overwhelming amount of great stuff out there, it’s no wonder my head was swirling with design overload.
Steve Jobs explains design as the following:
“In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains of the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product or service.”
I tend to agree. To me, design is much more then just pretty objects, it’s about well-thought out ideas that are crafted into products and services that are useful, usable, and meaningful.
After taking some time to reflect upon the question, I took the opportunity to compile and share a few examples and design sources that come to mind from various categories the reflect my view of “great design.” Of course this will evolve over time, but I figure this can serve as a first installment in an ongoing series to have available in case I’m blindsided again in a dark row of cubicles by someone seeking examples of great design.
So, here we go…
Architecture encompasses so many elements of design. It takes creativity, planning, coordination, and careful consideration to the human aspect of the design. When done right, great architectural design creates something that is far more then the sum of it’s parts. It creates an experience. That experience can be engaging, uplifting, inspiring exciting and/or calming. To me, architecture stands out from the other design categories, for those reasons.
The Guggenheim Museum, New York City
The design and circular flow of the building makes for an incredible experience when viewing the exhibits. Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, the building is the perfect complement to the exhibits inside. There’s very few places where you can be immersed in so much art and design all in one place.
MOMA Museum of Modern Art
The MOMA is not as “flowing” as the Guggenheim, but the building has a great vibe that perfectly complements the works on display. The architectural design blends nicely behind exhibits without calling too much attention to itself. What’s cool about this place is it can be a great escape for you and your significant other, as well as a wonderful place to bring the kids.
The Church of St. Aloysius – Jackson, NJ:
On a more spiritual note, places of worship can often times be overlooked for their architectural value, yet there are so many amazing examples of magnificent contemporary designs that evoke an experience beyond your typical public spaces. Similar to museums, the designs of these spaces need to play second fiddle to their intended purpose. Whether to immerse oneself in a work of art or to immerse oneself in prayer, the building needs to provide a unique experience that will not overpower that intended purpose, but at the same time complement it.
Here I’m providing an example that’s local to me, St Aloysius Church in Jackson NJ. The building has garnered several awards for its unique, environmentally conscious design. It also has a very powerful, yet pleasing feel to the interior spaces. The best thing about it is my kids don’t usually go kicking and screaming when my wife and I tell them it’s time to go to church. I think they too are subconsciously intrigued by the architecture, and consider it a really cool place to go to….we’ll milk that for as long as we possibly can!
RESOURCE: Architectural Digest:
A great source of ideas and inspiration. Some designs presented are often times a bit over the top, but you’ll also find a great deal of practical architectural design concepts that can be easily applied to your home or office. It’s a great barometer for upcoming design trends.
PRODUCT / INDUSTRIAL DESIGN
When it comes to product design, I typically subscribe to a similar philosophy as Don Norman the author of “The Design of Everyday Things.” He states in his book, “products that are useful and appeal to both cognition and emotion…just work better” here’s a few products that I believe align to that school of thought….
Have you ever had to spend time with a loved one in a hospital setting? Do you feel yourself just as uncomfortable as the one you are there to comfort? I’m sure you being akward and uncomfortable doesn’t help with the healing process for the patient, yet there’s research to prove that the constant presence of caring visitors can greatly improve patient outcomes. A company called Wieland has created virtual family rooms for healthcare facilities (hospitals) These innovative modular furniture designs leveraged evidence based design to help provide a more comfortable hospital setting, vastly improving the overall family visit experience.
Ford Motor Company – Kinetic Design
On a whole, US auto makers have been consistently receiving a bad rap during the past few decades due to poor manufacturing performance, lack-luster sales, and boring designs. But Ford continues to plug along. When you take a closer look, they come out as the leader when it comes to innovation and design.
The problem is that when Ford creates an bold new design approach for their line of cars, they usually met with skepticism initially. But then due to high sales volume, they rapidly become “mainstream” which leads to other car manufacturers copying many elements of their designs.
Take the Ford Taurus in the 90′s. It’s design lacked any body lines. It basically looked like a pill. I recall friends calling it the Ford “Turd.” But to this day, that streamlined, curvaceous design concept still lives in many car manufacturers designs globally…albeit in much more evolved and exciting ways,
Fords current take on innovation is the “Kinetic” design approach. You can see it in the latest version of the line up domestically and abroad. The concept originated out of their European design team, under Martin Smith who explains Kinetic Design as the following
“The design language is communicated through bold, dynamic lines and full surfaces. When you look at Kinetic Design, you can see that it visualizes energy in motion.” It’s this ‘energy in motion’ that expresses the design language. That’s why with just a glimpse, the cars look like they’re moving even when they’re standing still.”
OXO Good Grips Kitchen Tools
A $1.99 vegetable peeler revolutionized the way products were designed for the kitchen and the home. OXO pioneered bringing user centered design of products to the mass market.
RESOURCE: I.D. – Fresh works from Leading Creative Professionals
There’s a continually updating gallery of great product concepts and designs here. I can look at this site all day.
Branding, when done right, can exude a more playful and expressive aspect of design. Branding is more then just marketing, it’s about communication, identification, and charactor. Branding helps differenciate products and services from their competitors. It’s a way to appeal to the emotional side of a target audience and allow them to attach unique personal values to objects. Volkswagen Fender Edition Beetle
These types of branding mash-ups are brilliant. VW created a Beetle “Fender” edition which blends two very iconic brands which are known for their timeless design. …and yes, you can actually plug a guitar into the car and use it as an amplifier! VW maintains a great brand experience throughout all their channels, online, offline, media, web and mobile.
Service Design is a exciting, emerging field. It is defined in the book titled “This is Service Design Thinking” by Marc Stickdorn and Jakob Schneider (2011), as “Being all about making the service you deliver useful usable, efficient, effective and desirable.”
Consciously designed services are very empathetic to their target audience’s needs and, when done well, results in much higher satisfaction (happy customers) and more successful business results (mo’ money). Here are some examples:
A very innovative approach to car rental that’s changing the paradigm for the entire industry. The heart of their service revolves around a mobile app that, based on your location and preferences, helps you pick the right car, guides the user through the reservation process, and even honks the car’s horn to help you locate it in the lot.
At the time of writing this blog post, AVIS announced it’s intentions to buy ZIP Car. We’ll see how that goes, but obviously they’re seeing the potential in Zip Car’s evolutionary service. Hopefully they won’t screw it up!
GE User Experience Center of Excellence (FROG DESIGN)
GE took a world-class enterprise approach to it’s UX service offering throughout their four main business areas. The award winning service was developed in partnership with Frog Design and was comprised of a broad range of tools (including the playbook in the photo above) and activities that engaged stakeholders throughout the organization. It helps them create superior software interfaces and (other) services that result in increased productivity, improved efficiency and increased employee satisfaction…wow, a service that helps design other services! That’s cool.
Sacred Care for St. Joseph Health (IDEO)
St. Joseph Health and IDEO identified a huge opportunity to improve the patient experience within their healthcare system. They coined their approach “Spotlighting” and it’s making a marked improvement on patient outcomes. They identified many patient interactions that health-care providers perform on routine basis throughout the system and provided a unique “patient centric” set of guidelines for how they should be conducted. They approach these interactions as “sacred encounters” and enable the health-care providers to follow through with innovative, compassionate acts of care.
A great suburban shopping experience from both an aesthetics and customer service perspective! Unlike your typical grocery shopping experience, Wegman stores have a warm, welcoming feel…if you get there when it’s not too overly crowded. There’s major consideration for the entire shopping experience. They have incorporated many innovative in-store conveniences such as a fantastic eat-in cafe overlooking the entire retail space, quaint coffee shop, and a nursery (as a parent, this is huge when it comes to the quality of your shopping experience!) to name a few. They also have the services you would expect such as a bakery, meats, pharmacy, gifts, florist, etc, but each area’s attention to the customer experience sets Wegman’s apart from the competition. As far as pricing goes, I have found them to be well within the range of comparable to your typical grocery store. Honestly, I don’t mind paying a few cents more for certain items if I know my experience is going to be enjoyable. You only have so many hours on the weekends, might as well make them enjoyable!
Corinne Chiogna headed Wegmans’ design team’s effort. In an article from MerchandisingMatters.com she explains “As you approach the store, there’s a rooster-themed weathervane atop a cupola in the center of a gabled roof. It’s a reminder of food’s roots in agriculture. The stonework on the face of the building, the diagonal bracing, and soft neutral colors with red accents on the roof make you think of a barn in the countryside. We chose traditional rather than trendy themes because we wanted everyone to feel comfortable in this space.”
Rural landscapes are echoed indoors, too, but with light, fun touches. As one enters the store, a hand-painted mural over the Coffee Bar is a rendering of Wegmans’ Organic Farm located on the edge of Canandaigua Lake, in the heart of New York’s Finger Lakes region.
It’s the experience that makes the difference at Wegmans.
The digital world has finally starting to capitalize on the value of great user-centered design. Still, there are very few organizations that are doing it right. Apple is usually who comes to mind when thinking of great design within the digital realm, but one of their biggest competitors is coming very close to beating them at their own game.
Google get’s a lot of things right when blending technology with the user experience. As a huge Apple fan, I can’t help but be cognizant of the spirited rivalry between Apple and Google. I do have to admit though, Google has been stepping up their game and helping to raise the bar for both organizations. For most folks, Google is all about Search, but behind the scenes, they’ve been churning out an entire ecosystem of products.
Here are a few examples of why Google is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to great design.
The Google Design Philosophy
Focus on the user and all else will follow…Google’s design philosophy is what enables great innovative digital products to be created. It’s worth a read. It’s a refreshing approach to typical corporate mantras.
The Google Mobile Playbook
When you have a great idea you want to share it. The more Google shares the more it benefits everyone, including them. Google took the time to detail out guidelines in the form of a playbook that provide insights on the importance of creating a great mobile experience. The guidelines provide practical tips to consider in your mobile design and show clear case studies illustrating the benefits to users and the resulting business benefits too. For designers, developer and users this is a win-win for everyone.
(Link works best in Google Chrome)
The Google Video Creators Playbook
Video is an area of great interest to me. And yes, design is of paramount importance here too. A great video experience is about having a story and being able to present (design) it in a compelling and engaging way. Google knows this. So they created a Video Creators Playbook for YouTube (a Google Product) They know that by sharing the secrets to creating a great video will benefit not only the directors and viewers, it totally makes great business sense. Making the on-line video medium more useful and meaningful, has benefits all around. Google’s monitization model encourages directors and videographers to create great content, which generates revenue for the video creators, as well as adds tremendous value to Google/YouTube Search results.
I believe that Google Plus has tons of potential. It’s a revolutionary concept to what is generally consider to be “social media.” Often times compared to Facebook, Google+ is a much different animal. Internationally recognized Social Media thought leader and speaker David Armano states, Google Plus Isn’t A Social Network, It’s A Social Layer. It’s not meant to be a Facebook killer, but a way for in a promising social experience which lets users broadcast more broadly in public or share and connect selectively, but taking the
best (familiar) parts of Facebook, Twitter, RSS, Tumblr (to name a few) and creating an experience that effectively ties together search and social.
I think they have the best example of search I’ve ever experienced. Aside from the typical categories you would expect to find on a video content site (newest releases, most viewed, technology, science, global issues, etc.) They have a section titled “Not sure what to watch?” that allows you to find videos based on how much time you have to watch as well as by qualities such as jaw-dropping, persuasive, courageous, ingenious, fascinating, inspiring, beautiful, funny, informative. Simple, but totally effective/useful.
No one compares to what Tufte has brought to the table in regards to data visualization. His books Envisioning Information, Visual Explanations and the Visual Display of Quantitative Information opened many minds to the power of good data visualization (as well as the danger of BAD data visualization)
New York Times – Five Thirty Eight
I don’t always dig what they are saying, but in this section of the NY Times site, the information was presented well, it was accurate and it was visually appealing. A ton of rich content, very interactive, and all easy to read and comprehend.
For those of you who are movie buffs, here is a trilogy of great design related documentries by director Gary Hustwit. These documentaries are totally worth checking out. They provide a great way to gain a deeper appreciation for design in several different applications (graphic design, product design, urban planning.)
This is way more than a story about the font, it’s about the importance of visual design, and why we need clean, clear and easily accessible design for public spaces for survival within our modern “global visual culture.
Insightful look into the design process behind some the most influential products. Jonathon Ives from Apple and other folks who “take design seriously” go into detail about the creative process and the user attitudes/behaviors that must be considered when designing modern products.
Urbanized focuses on the design of cities, and features some of the world’s foremost architects, planners, policymakers, and thinkers, including extraordinary citizens who have changed their cities. Who is allowed to shape our cities, and how do they do it? And how does the design of our cities affect our lives? Urbanized frames a global discussion on the future of cities.
What’s your take?
I know I’m barely scratching the surface here. Do you agree/disagree with the examples provided here? What would you add to this list? What would you remove?