Whether you’re examining the world of fashion, home decor, architecture, or appliances, there is a distinction between “good” design and “bad” design.
Even if you may not particularly like the item in question, you can usually tell whether a sofa, coat, blender, or website is designed well. Companies strive for that perfect combination of function and fashion, but aesthetics are so subjective, aren’t they? How can you be sure that you have a “good design?”
The King of Design
In the 1970’s, a German designer named Dieter Rams was working at Braun as their Chief Design Officer. He noticed that so much of the man-made world around him was “ugly, inefficient, depressing chaos.” (Note that this was the 1970’s: the era of the avocado fridge.)
Rams wanted to unearth the secrets to “good” design, so he delved into the problem head-first. What resulted changed design forever. Rams had identified 10 factors, “10 Principles For Good Design,” that have been used by designers ever since.
Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design started at Braun, and helped develop some truly stunning Braun products, but they can be applied anywhere. Say, for instance, a website.
Good (Website) Design
While not a tangible product, websites can act as either a stand-in for your product (or service) or can even be the product itself (example: a monetized blog). Design can either attract or repel, so it’s important to keep the principles of design in mind when designing a website.
1. Is innovative
“The possibilities for progression are not, by any means, exhausted. Technological development is always offering new opportunities for original designs. But imaginative design always develops in tandem with improving technology, and can never be an end in itself.”
Websites live hand-in-hand with technology, and the best websites take advantage of innovative leaps in science to build a consumer base and deliver a better, more useful product.
When designing a website, you need to stay updated with the latest technological trends, such as social media integration or current SEO practices. Innovative websites solve a problem by offering something new: whether it’s a groundbreaking mobile app or an online quote form that no one else is doing. A website that offers the same things everyone else is offering, (or, worse yet, a site that looks like it was built 13 years ago), doesn’t make waves and doesn’t draw a crowd.
2. Makes a product useful
“A product is bought to be used. It has to satisfy not only functional, but also psychological and aesthetic criteria. Good design emphasizes the usefulness of a product whilst disregarding anything that could detract from it.”
A beautiful design can make all the difference in the world when it comes to the success of your product. But don’t let art get in the way of usability. An all-white living room might be gorgeous, but it isn’t practical if you have young kids who love red popsicles. Designing websites should be the same way.
Good websites solve problems: “I don’t know what time this restaurant opens”; “I need advice on how to change a tire”; “my son needs a robot costume for the school play.” Good design should help, rather than hinder, the problem-solving process.
3. Is aesthetic
“The aesthetic quality of a product is integral to its usefulness because products are used every day and have an effect on people and their well-being. Only well-executed objects can be beautiful.”
Usability needs to drive, but beauty should at least be holding the road map. The human eye is drawn towards the beautiful, the symmetrical, the decorative. A useful, but purely utilitarian website may be extremely helpful but if it isn’t beautiful, no one will care. A well-designed website includes some artistic slant.
4. Makes a product understandable
“It clarifies the product’s structure. Better still, it can make the product clearly express its function by making use of the user’s intuition. At best, it is self-explanatory.”
The purpose of a website is to provide information that (hopefully) leads someone to a certain action. But if your customers (or potential customers) can’t figure out how to find that information or perform that action, the website has failed its primary objective.
Good design for websites means well-organized information. Don’t make anyone guess where your menu bar is or how to find your blog. Better yet, include irresistible calls to action throughout so there are no guesses about what should happen next.
5. Is unobtrusive
“Products fulfilling a purpose are like tools. They are neither decorative objects nor works of art. Their design should therefore be both neutral and restrained, to leave room for the user’s self-expression.”
Some web designers can have a tendency to go overboard, filling a site with too many images, links, pop-ups, gifs, or other tools that they think (incorrectly) will impress the user. But too many extras have the opposite effect.
Good web design doesn’t bombard the user with unnecessary details, just what they think will be useful. In many ways, navigating a website is a lot like learning a new skill. If your teacher jumped straight to the back of your Spanish textbook in high school, you wouldn’t have learned a thing. Providing your visitor with only what they need at that time will not only be helpful, but more appreciated.
6. Is honest
“It does not make a product appear more innovative, powerful or valuable than it really is. It does not attempt to manipulate the consumer with promises that cannot be kept.”
When we went through our Web Design 101 series a few months ago, we were careful to discuss Content, because so much of what a website is has to do with what a website says. A website should be informative, but honest.
Resist the temptation to turn “infomercial” and promise that your product or service will change your customer’s lives (unless, of course, it truly will). Be honest about what you provide, but be proud of it.
7. Is long-lasting
“It avoids being fashionable and therefore never appears antiquated. Unlike fashionable design, it lasts many years – even in today’s throwaway society.”
It’s hard to know what fashions will last and which will be gone next year, but fortunately, websites can be updated with relative ease. When in doubt, stay away from the “trends of the moment” in favor of a more classic style, but know that if the tides change (and they will change) you’ll be well-prepared to update your site accordingly.
Websites are not a place where you can “set it and forget it.” You’ll need to perform constant routine maintenance as well as a few redesigns to keep your site attractive and functional.
8. Is thorough down to the last detail
“Nothing must be arbitrary or left to chance. Care and accuracy in the design process show respect towards the consumer.”
Whether you’re designing an alarm clock or a website, good design includes any detail that contributes to your user’s experience (within reason, of course).
Good web design focuses on the benefits the user wants and includes a solution for every problem. This means something different for every industry you may be working on. Think about the type of features, benefits, and experiences you would like to see as a customer when designing a website.
9. Is environmentally friendly
“Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. It conserves resources and minimizes physical and visual pollution throughout the lifecycle of the product.”
According to Rams’ definition, an “environmentally friendly” design means more than protecting the planet. By “conserving resources,” you make sure that the site’s visitors have everything they need right in front of them. Don’t make them waste energy looking for what they need. Make sure the menu bar is on every page, so they don’t have to click the back button a thousand times to navigate your site.
10. Is as little design as possible
“Less, but better – because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with non-essentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.”
As the saying goes, “less is more.”
While you want to make sure your design is “thorough down to the last detail,” you also want to see that it isn’t cluttered with “visual pollution.” Because a website has a digital presence, you can include a specific page for each individual subject you want to cover. A badly designed website includes all information on a single page, with no understandable organization. A “good” design breaks the information up into categories and includes only the essential information.
And be careful choosing what information you think is “essential.” To paraphrase the animated movie The Incredibles, if everything’s important, nothing is.
Using Dieter Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design for websites, you can be sure to have a site that attracts more customers and makes you look like a million bucks. You can do this yourself if you prefer, but it’s generally more effective to hire a professional web designer who has knowledge and experience in the web industry and is well-equipped to put these design principles to good use. Doesn’t your business deserve it?
What are your votes for best-designed website?
Clarity Creative Group is a web design & internet marketing company located in beautiful Orlando, Florida. We just updated our website to be mobile-friendly and are planning even more changes in the upcoming weeks.