Does a well designed toaster make toast as well as a discount special?
- Do you own a toaster?
- How about a coffee maker?
- Or do you own a vacuum cleaner?
What do they look like? How do they function? Are they easy to use? Is everything working the way you expected it to? How’s the quality?
It’s just a damn appliance, man.
And that’s where the trouble starts with our understanding of the value of design.
I am poking around this issue and asking these questions because on Saturday evening this past week I was in a pub with 3 other interior designers discussing the merits of design and its importance to our world. The discussion went in a few directions but we settled on a comparative of European culture versus North American culture.
Most people are fully aware of the fundamental differences between both cultures but the thing that may not be obvious is the difference between how each continent’s culture values design. In Europe, simple products such as toasters, coffee makers and vacuum cleaners are less likely to be disregarded when it comes to quality and the reputation of the company to bring good design aesthetic to their product.
Take a look that these examples:
On the surface what seems abundantly clear is the importance design plays in the development of the products. It doesn’t appear as an afterthought but more like a key part of the development process, culture and values of the company.
Great design is not defined by its resultant aesthetic. Clean, simple functionality devoid of excess are key principles in creating good design and are where the resulting aesthetic is derived. Great design takes time and time seems to be the key driver to market for many North American consumer products.
Time drives iteration and iteration drives quality.
Quality drive cost.
Cost is a considerable factor in product development and certainly drives every buying decision a consumer makes but if cost is considered in context of the lifespan of a well designed product versus the replacement value in the short term it starts to becomes negligible. Cost is a key differentiator between how North American consumers are enticed to makes purchases versus their European counterparts. While we North Americans are primarily enticed by the sale (discount, deals, incentives) the basic drivers in European culture seem very different. Sure, passing up a great deal seems ridiculous but design, quality and workmanship take more of a leading role in driving the decision of the average European consumer to make a purchase.
Where did we go wrong in North America?
It seems that the general public in North America does not readily accept the value that well designed product brings to their lives and that design does not need to be exclusive to the “well to do.” The general vernacular is that if it looks great it must be really expensive and if so not necessary as a purchase. Why should you purchase that well designed and aesthetically pleasing toaster when you can pay a third of the cost for the Wal-Mart version?
Toast isn’t just toast.
This issue is bread into us at a very early age and is not exclusive to consumer goods. The consulting industry runs rampant with this attitude; faster and cheaper than the next guy. We learn that very early in life. We hurry from one job to the next, one project to the next and one idea to the next each of us looking for ways to cut costs and save time. Very rarely does time allow us to focus on design aesthetic, design sensibility and design thinking to drive the output of a product be it a toaster, a chair or a building. We are constantly pushing ourselves to get it done quicker and cheaper.
Time is money.
Quality, the last bastion of hope for good design, is suffering in a corner by itself wondering where all its friends have gone.
While travelling in Europe recently we sensed that feeling for the love of design in almost everything people do. It simply seems that European culture values the time it takes to produce something of value and that quality is critical to living life. It seems ingrained in their culture.
The simplicity of action, the time taken to study shape, functionality and the attitude that the design of a product, system or space requires iteration and attention to detail which is often lost in North American society’s rush to beat the market.
As designers this attitude goes against our core principles yet we consistently find ourselves caught in its web. Designers become designers because at some point in their young lives they fell in love with the ideals that great design brings to the world.
What can we do to maintain that perspective?
Please watch this trailer.
It’s for a documentary film called Objectified.
Now you may argue the term objectified holds a derogatory connotation in the sense of seeing something for its surface beauty (aesthetic) and not the beauty from within (value) but this is simply not the case. The film demonstrates the value of the design process and how good design can affect the world in a positive manner. It allows you to discover the passion that design can demonstrate in a product and hopefully translates that passion back to you to use in your world.
It did that for me.
So, as a fellow consumer, have I even come close to convincing you to at least examine the possibilities that good design brings to our everyday world?
What would it take for you to see the value in the iterative process that drives the value of a well designed product?
What’s in it for me?
Nothing more than showing you the power design holds and how it can change your view on how you live in the world around you.