Design starts at the bottom of the ladder


The best design always starts with functionality. The foundation for all the brilliance to follow. Get this wrong, and you will not be designing the right thing right. The function is related to the features of the product or service. Find out what the consumer wants to accomplish, what they are willing to pay for, and how they intend to use it. Successful design always solves for function first. Many products fail because there are too many options that don’t add value. Websites often fail to be helpful because of scope creep.

The next level is reliability. This idea of taking something that is complex and simplifying it to remove either parts or process. Building something simple is hard, but the effort is worth it. Not convinced? Think of the time when you tried to fix a product and the spare part that was broken or worn out and could not be fixed. If you remove parts, ensure you maintain functionality of the system. In recent decades products are engineered to become obsolete such as mobile devices. Why can’t these devices be modular so we can extend the life cycle of the product, even when technology improves the function of the original.  Reliability is critical for equipment that is potentially dangerous to operate such as a bus or plane. Building in redundant safety systems is good design and might be even best practice in some products. Building something with the idea of maintaining it for the product’s lifecycle is smart. It’s also good for the environment, a safer product, and good for business.

Usability is all about the person using the product or service. How easy is it to use starts with figuring out how to accomplish the task in as few steps as possible. Every product functionality should be intuitive. There is nothing more frustrating than a perfectly good product that you can’t figure out. I remember my wife buying a GPS watch to track her runs. We had inadvertently lost the manual; there was no identifying model number when we went to Garmin’s website to download the manual. Turning the tracker on we think was at least was at least a two button process. We ended up buying an Apple 2 Watch. Usability is the key to engaging the consumer. My opinion is that all productions should never need a manual to use. Engineers and user experience designers need to collaborate and test prototypes to make products intuitive.

Proficiency is the trajectory of the learning curve. How fast can the user become an expert in the product they are using? Adobe does a good job with their Creative Suite design software where the differences between InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator are minimized by using the same menu system, common tools, and the same design language. Becoming proficient in illustrator makes learning InDesign easier because the transfer of learning can occur between software products.

Creativity is at the top of the ladder. It’s where design shines.  For the consumer functionality, reliability, and usability are table stakes. Customers are willing to pay for creative and product aesthetics. Many products are functional, but few reach the iconic status such as enjoyed by Apple, and Braun. Graphic designers are a dime a dozen, but the ones that are successful have mastered the functional aspects with ease and can move into smart, creative solutions that solve all the business and marketing challenges with grace.

There is no single path to being creative. Many of the most creative people I know work hard to remain at the top of their craft. Most designers have their logical flow where they start with something expected and branch off quickly to explore and experiment. Failure is part of the process, the seasoned designers I know are not bothered by this because a successful outcome is a vision from the start.


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