Is “Good Design” In The Eye Of The Beholder?
I’ve seen quite a few articles and blog posts recently discussing “good design” and “bad design”. It got me thinking about the concept, along with the various categorizations and judgments we who operate under the title “designer” place so easily on the work of others as well as our own. Is not the determination of whether or not an object of design is deserving of the rating “good” a subjective one, formed by preferences and/or opinions? Or is there, in fact, a set of standards or guidelines written in stone somewhere that all design can and should adhere to?
Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
This familiar quote dates back to the 3rd century BC in Greek. Yes, it’s ancient. Does that make it true? Not necessarily, but I believe it is. It has been paraphrased throughout the centuries by numerous wise souls and it stands the test of time enough to still be recognizable today. Benjamin Franklin said it this way:
Beauty, like supreme dominion
Is but supported by opinion
And David Hume’s Essays, Moral and Political, include:
Beauty in things exists merely in the mind which contemplates them.
Pointing out the subjectivity of defining beauty does not necessarily make my point. After all, is good design considered beautiful? Possibly.
Wikipedia states that “Design is often viewed as a more rigorous form of art, or art with a clearly defined purpose.” Following this path a little further brings up the debate about whether or not design is art. As a graphic artist and musical artist turned graphic and web designer, I would stand firmly with those that believe good design is, in fact, art.
What, then, is art?
Art is the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way that appeals to the senses or emotions. (Wikipedia again)
Obviously, what appeals to one person’s senses or emotions may not have the same effect on another’s. In fact, it is highly unlikely that any two people will respond to the same piece of art in the exact same way. The uniqueness of each member of the human race is a marvel and a beauty within itself – at least to me. Maybe not to you.
So, let’s recap. If design is to be considered a form of art, and art is only qualified as such dependent upon the emotional or sensual makeup of the person who is taking it in, then does it not stand to reason that no single person or group or committee or conference could possibly come up with the standard of “good design” that we all must live by?
But here’s another thought.
Design implies a conscious effort to create something that is both functional and aesthetically pleasing. *
So although it may look good – subjective as that may be – it would still not be considered “good design” if it was dysfunctional, correct?
For example, a beautiful-looking website that has confusing navigation would never be considered “good design”. And a well-organized, user-friendly website that is painful to look at would not make the grade either. Art on its own does not require functionality, but good design does.
So does this mean that design, unlike art, can be confined to a set of standards due to the necessity of functionality?
Unfortunately, I would submit that even funcionality can be subjective. One person may immediately identify with the usability built into one website, while another may have considerable trouble. Again, individuality comes into play.
So maybe “good design” is that which is aesthetically pleasing and functional to the majority. In this case, it seems standards would tend to be based on the most feasible common denominator, which once again I would argue does not always breed the best results. Exhibit A: pop music.
So where does this leave us? How does one create “good design”?
I choose to design that which I believe is aesthetically pleasing, functional, and a creative expression of my soul. If I succeed in accomplishing this, I define it as “good design”. So far, my clients and people whose opinion I respect define it as such also. In the end, I guess that’s all that really matters to me.
But that’s just my opinion.