Principles of Good Design: Part 1

Eoghan Hickey

UX Designer

Part 1 of a two-part series

Ever heard of Dieter Rams? He’s an Industrial Designer whose ideas have rightly shaped the way we approach product design. Ever heard of the iPhone 6? Of course you have. Let’s have a look at Rams’ principles and see how it fares. You could draw the same conclusions about pretty much any smartphone manufacturer operating today (as an aside, how ugly is Touchwiz on the S6?). I picked Apple for the purpose of this article, as they sell premium products and are frequently lauded as proponents of good design. Any comments? Get stuck in and share your opinion below.

iPhone in different colours and fingerprint scanner

Dieter Rams’ Ten Principles of “Good Design”

1. Good Design Is Innovative

The possibilities for innovation are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for innovative design. But innovative design always develops in tandem with innovative technology and can never be an end in itself.

iPhones are being released at such a rate that it’s hard to remember the last time a release has been more than an increment on the previous version. Innovations such as 3D touch are kinda cool, but these feel like advanced features, which are likely to be undiscovered by a significant percentage of users.

That they list improvements to the camera as the second key innovation on their site isn’t necessarily indicative of a dearth of ideas (let’s face it, megapixels sell), but it doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.

2. Good Design Makes a Product Useful

A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy certain criteria, not only functional but also psychological and aesthetic. Good design emphasises the usefulness of a product while disregarding anything that could possibly detract from it.

The fingerprint scanner, or Touch ID as Apple calls it, is probably very useful. The trade off here seems to be security. Using a fingerprint to purchase items, or unlock your phone seems crazy to me. We leave our fingerprints on everything we touch. As stated by Senator Al Franken in a letter sent to Apple:

“Passwords are secret and dynamic; fingerprints are public and permanent…If you don’t tell anyone your password no one will know what it is. If someone hacks your password you can change it – as many times as you want. You can’t change your fingerprints. You have only ten of them. And you leave them on everything you touch; they are definitely not a secret. What’s more a password doesn’t uniquely identify its owner – a fingerprint does.”

3. Good Design Is Aesthetic

The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.

It’s hard to fault the aesthetics of Apple products. They have gotten a real grá for the aul gold recently, but hey. Lately it’s been argued and debated online that Apple actually put too much emphasis on aesthetics.

4. Good Design Makes A Product Understandable

It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory. This is less and less these days. There are a wealth of easter eggs included with iPhones. You could argue that these are advanced features that beginners don’t need, and in a way you would be right. You’d be hard pressed to call lots of these gestures intuitive, however.

5. Good Design Is Unobtrusive

Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.

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