If it looks right

Posted on June 16, 2011

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Bad Design

There is a saying “If it looks right, it is right”.  I don’t know who that quote is attributed to but I have a vague recollection that it is has an aeronautical source.  Fortunately it matters not where the source of the statement resides, but more the meaning of it.

Keeping with the aeronautical theme (not sure what’s nautical about flying these days, but it is a nicer word than airplane), this phrase can be attributed to many a great product.  Concorde and Spitfire spring to mind, they just looked good and fortunately they both were good in their own ways.  So the question that is bugging me is this.  Why do 99.5% of all the products we encounter in life look, well, not good?

I don’t understand it.  Why bother making something that looks either sub-good or even bad?  You’d think that the rule would be that all manufactured products look good, after all they have been designed by someone. However, the truth of the matter is that in many an instance they look awful.   In my experience if something looks bad, it usually is bad. So why not avoid that first impression?

It’s not just products though, it’s everything.  In a past life (prior to children) I used to play golf.  The creation of a golf course is no small undertaking, so why do so many people set up a golf club in such a lackadaisical way?  If you’re going to make a golf course, why not make it a good one?  The amount of golf courses in the UK that amount to not much more than a few holes in a field are countless.  Now, I appreciate that cost comes into this, but even the cheapest golf course has got to cost a £fewmillion, so if you’re going to do it at all why not do it well?

Wine is another example.  Why cultivate vines and ferment their offspring’s’ juice and then turn the resulting liquid  into vinegar?  If you are going to the effort of making wine in the first place, then surely you care enough about the product to want it to be good?

Whenever I encounter a bad bit of design in a product I feel sad.  I feel sad for the designer and their dream for the product which was obliterated by the process of realising the dream and I feel sad for myself, “couldn’t I have bought a better product than this?”.  Whenever I see a nondescript grey concrete tower block I can’t help sighing and imagining some poor architect who studied hard to achieve his dream of becoming an architect, only to spend his career compromising his work and his dreams.

dreary

what society thinks this is good?

I probably sound like a terrible snob, but I can’t help it.  What makes this worse of course is that I have worked for many a company (mentioning no names) whose products didn’t always look right and didn’t always perform right. Worse still, I have halfheartedly promoted these products that I didn’t believe in and where’s the job satisfaction in that?

I appreciate that people don’t start out with the intention of designing products poorly and that they (badly designed products) are just the output of round after round of compromise and bean-counters.  Time and money are (in the majority of instances) the enemy of good design.  Some people suggest that a tight budget and timescale can in fact focus the mind and force the right decision to be made and I’m sure that’s true sometimes too.

Here’s a thought though.  What if we all had to do the best possible job every time, no compromise.  Forget deadlines and budgets.  What would happen?  Would anything get done?

The non-cynical moaner in me would like to think that the world could be a better place if we decided to stop churning out any old rubbish and focused ourselves on being great.  Of course it might mean that I never posted on this blog again… and there are some who might appreciate that too.

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