Higher design aspirations

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 2, 2012, 8:33 PM | comments: 0

I was reading an article from October (I'm a little behind in my dead tree consumption) in Fast Company about design, and how the United States has kind of sucked at it in many ways for a long time. The article points out a lot of winners here that are getting it right, including the usual suspects like Apple, Nike, Herman Miller, Viking and such. What really stuck with me, though, was the opening statement about America, home to strip malls and McMansions, and furniture showrooms with a "dispiriting array of bloated pleather sofas." Having recently purchased a lot of furniture, I can identify with that.

My first real furniture, the leather set of stuff that Stephanie and I bought circa 1999, was awesome. It had well defined lines, yet it had that lost-in-a-pillow-like comfort that reminded you that you were sitting on great furniture. It was also the only set in the store at the time that didn't look like a big blob of cow flesh stuffed with squishy stuff. I always think back to that shopping trip, about why so much of what you buy looks so uninspired.

Design isn't just about looking good. It also means something functions well. Back in the days of perpetual computer upgrades, where you would open up the case and swap out parts on a regular basis, it was important that the innards of the machine were well designed. You wanted thumb screws and cables that were the right length. The parts that you normally would never see has to be functional even in those rare times that you had tough them. The case has to be designed right.

As you can imagine, being a software developer, design is super important to me. Most people think about the user interface, but that's only a fraction of the design. The code has to be loosely coupled, maintainable, testable and easy to read. In today's world, it will also interact with other stuff on wires, so the architecture has to be solid in design as well.

Even processes have to be designed. If they're inefficient or things get in the way of the results they were intended to produce, they need to be redesigned. You've encountered all kinds of poorly designed processes, frequently in government or big, stupid companies.

That's why design, in the broad sense of the word, excites me. It matters. It fits in the same category as things like craftsmanship and pride in your work. It matters, because the end result of what you do is better. It's what makes you stand out.


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