Where do the best designs come from? Are they completely unique, conjured up from the depths of imagination? We might want to believe that, but the truth is that no matter how original we’re trying to be our past experiences are influencing our thoughts. Designs don’t come from nowhere – we’re consciously or subconsciously taking inspiration from everything around us – from nature, from existing products and from our own life experiences. In turn, we hope that our designs will influence the designs of the future.

Two people, given the same problem, will not come up with the same solution. The same applies even if 1,000 people are working to the same brief. There will be similarities, and how many similarities there are will be directly influenced by how detailed the brief is, but there will still be differences. A brief that is too limiting will encourage people to come up with very similar solutions to others that are working on the same project, whilst a slightly less detailed brief allows a designer to let their imagination take control.

As a designer you’ll know that designs aren’t created in seconds. They’re not instant, and they’re not just frozen in one moment. Every design has a history going back to the moment the designer was born. It’s influenced by every second of that designer’s life, and it has a personality.

Case Study: The Yahoo! Logo

This year, Yahoo! unveiled their new company logo. The old logo looked like this:

Best product design of 2013

The new logo looks like this:

Best product design of 2013

Meanwhile, Yahoo! intern Max Ma, who had been credited for playing a part in the design of the new logo, was actually found to have produced a very different alternative:

Best product design of 2013

Over on DesignCrowd, this triggered a community of designers to come up with their own interpretations of what the Yahoo! logo should look like:

Best product design of 2013

Best product design of 2013

Best product design of 2013

Best product design of 2013

Best product design of 2013

Here, the brief was very clear. The existing Yahoo! logo needed to be upgraded, and every single designer could see what they were supposed to be working with. They all knew the brand and what it represented, and still every design was different.

You’re already aware that design is subjective, and that the designs produced by you will not be the same as the designs produced by anyone around you, but as a designer it’s also always worth remembering that every reader, viewer or user takes something different from a design, as well.

Each designer is influenced by their experiences, and each person seeing that design is influenced by theirs. You’ll have seen this in action if you’ve designed for clients. Whilst you think you’ve come up with the perfect design, they might think that your submission is absolutely terrible. You might label them an amateur and have scientific facts that prove that they’re wrong, but ultimately you must accept that they’re the viewer and that their opinion is valid.

So, what makes a good design?

A good design should be:

  • Functional

  • Useful

  • Innovative

  • Aesthetically Pleasing

  • Intuitive

  • Thorough

The designer should have created the product, but it should also have been rigorously tested and analysed. The ultimate goal is to produce something that works for the end-user and has the desired effect, whether the end product is a website that accurately portrays a brand and encourages conversions or a new chair design that fulfils a need that hasn’t been met by any others.

In addition, it’s worth noting that ‘innovative’ doesn’t necessarily mean that designers need to make big changes. Humans are inherently drawn towards the familiar, and they shun the unknown. Drastically changing an existing design or creating something too far out of the box is a risk, and it doesn’t always pay off.

Yet, on occasion, a big change can be positive. If a design is good, and if it’s intuitive, then people will adapt. If a design is too close to what someone knows, then they might find it harder to adapt to the slight differences. This applies whether you’re designing a product or a website.

In 2004, the BBC website looked like this:

Best product design of 2013

It continued that way until 2008, when a relatively dramatic website redesign took it to this:

Best product design of 2013

 

It now looks like this:

Best product design of 2013

The BBC website, since 2004, has had three redesigns. All three have included some big changes, but the websites have remained intuitive.

In comparison, Facebook looked like this in 2004:

Best product design of 2013

It now looks like this:

Best product design of 2013

Overall, Facebook’s current website is about as far from the 2004 design as the current BBC website is from how it looked in 2004. However, the Facebook website has constantly been adapted through small redesigns that have left site users confused – a slight change to a navigation bar, a new menu option, a small feature that wasn’t there before. The complaints of Facebook users quite clearly demonstrate that, whilst users don’t like dramatic changes that are hard to adapt to, they also don’t want minor changes that add very little to a design but require them to learn something new. The key to a good design is somewhere in the middle – a worthwhile change, but one that users can easily get to grips with.

What is the best product design of 2013?

The truth is that we’ll all have a different opinion about which product design is 2013’s best. A majority of us might favour one design over another, but it’s unlikely to ever be the case that we all like exactly the same design.

In addition, our personal interests play a big part in what we consider to be the best product design. Whilst many of us would agree that the 15” MacBook  Pro with Retina Display should be considered for a Red Dot Award, it’s likely that far fewer will be as interested in the Nanovib Vibration-Damping Hammer. Yet, someone that spends all of their time doing DIY or working in construction might consider the hammer to be a far superior product design.

By far the best way to select the best product design of 2013 is to be as objective as possible, which isn’t always easy. We need to select a design that brings something new to the table, and that people can adapt to with ease. Ultimately, the best designs are the one that changes lives which is why, rather than selecting a high-tech gadget or state-of-the-art computer toy, a majority of us would probably agree that the Child ViSion adjustable glasses are by far the best design.

The Child ViSion self-adjustable glasses are innovative, they’re intuitive enough for children to use, they’re functional and, for a child interested in brightly-coloured plastics, they could even be labelled ‘aesthetically pleasing’, but most of all they’re useful. These glasses allow children to see clearly when they otherwise wouldn’t be able to, and will be the key to a good education for many kids in the developing world.

Child ViSion glasses might not be exciting to the majority of us, but all designers can appreciate that they fulfil the requirements of a ‘good design’ and can be viewed objectively more easily than most other 2013 designs.

Do you disagree? Have you found a product design that’s even better? Comment and put your suggestion forward.