Timeless design — 10 Principles of a good design

What is the main goal of any designer? Is he trying to invent something that will endure the test of time, something timeless, or does he want to follow the latest trend? Both of these approaches to design are difficult. The first one requires you to think beyond what is known and what exists right now, that’s what innovation and timelessness is about. The second, on the other hand, creates constraints defined by that specific trend you have to follow. Today, you will learn about ten principles of good design to make your design timeless.


The Origins of principles of good design

When someone tell me there is x number of principles to follow, I immediately ask two questions. First, why should I follow them? Second, why it’s this exact number, ten in our case? Questioning everything anyone tells you is crucial for understanding the subject. You need to know not just the subject itself, but also its origins. You need to know the what, where, when and why. The same approach or method applies to this post. So, what is the story behind those ten principles?

The ten principles of good design, or timeless I would say, were created by industrial designer Dieter Rams in the late 1970. Back then, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him, to cite him:“an impenetrable confusion of forms, colors and noises.” Fortunately, he was also aware that he was a significant contributor to that world and de facto helped create it through his work. So, he asked himself an important question we all should ask: is my design good design?

The problem with design is that good design cannot be measured in any, finite or infinite, way. The solution he came up with and expressed were the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. These principles are also called or referred as the ‘Ten commandments’. To give you the reason why you should at least consider these principles … Dieter Rams is most known for the work he done for Braun and is one of the most influential designers of the Functionalist school of industrial design.

Make your design timeless

After quick review of the history of these principles it’s time to switch to the present and have a look at these ten principles. Let’s talk about each of them and describe, what does the mean and how you can use them on your design. You don’t have to follow them, if you don’t want. They are meant to inspire you and bring different view on your work. I hope they will achieve this goal and help you create timeless designs.

Good design is innovative

One thing every designer should strive for is innovation. While is it good to copy and follow trends in learning phase, time will come when you have to take off the training wheels. In design as anything else, the possibilities for progression are not exhausted. There is always something that can be simpler and better. Especially at the time, when technology is offering us new opportunities for original designs on a daily basis. However, design should never take control over the function (technology) itself. In order to become timeless, they must work together in symbiosis.

Good design makes a product useful

When you design something, be it product or service, you should consider how it will be used. Every product and service worth buying has to serve some function. Otherwise, it is not timeless, but just a nice paperweight, and not only that. It also has to satisfy psychological and aesthetic criteria. Remember, good and timeless design emphasizes the usefulness of a product and service while keeping away any possible distractions and barriers users could have.

Good design is aesthetic

One reason why people want to use certain products and services is they like it, it is aesthetically pleasing. Timeless design include the aesthetic quality and high standard of a product and it is integral to its usefulness because these types of products are (or will be) used on a daily basis. They will also have a profound effect on people and their wellbeing, they can even change their habits and behavior. Remember, only well-executed design can be beautiful and truly timeless.

Good design Makes a product understandable

Most products have one thing in common, they come with manual. It is not a bad thing to include a manual for situation where the user will face some issues. However, it is bad when the manual is necessary to be able to use the product. Good and timeless design clarifies the product’s structure and functionality. Even better, it can make the product express its function using user’s intuition. Remember, design should be self-explanatory.

Good design is unobtrusive

When you buy something, you probably don’t want to stumble over it repeatedly. Think about design of your product or service like a tool fulfilling some purpose. It is not a decoration, i.e. paperweight, or a piece of art to hang on the wall or to be put on pedestal. The only option, then, is to make the design neutral and restrained at the same time. Remember, good and timeless design focus on user while “living” in the background and leaving space for user’s self-expression.

Good design is honest

We are surrounded with products promising us stars and the moon in incredible time. These objects are often made to appear more powerful, innovative and valuable than they really are. Their only function is to empty our pockets and wallets. The same applies to certain segment of advertisement. It uses exorbitant promises to manipulate the consumers. Problem arises when these promises are to be fulfilled. Avoid this at all costs. Remember, good and timeless design is honest and promise only what it can accomplish.

Good design is long-lasting

This one is more or less the definition of being timeless or its synonym. You know you can follow two ways (not just in design). First, being innovative and also risk being ridiculed and mocked. Second, being as everybody else and follow the trends, waves or the biggest crowd. Unfortunately, good and timeless design knows only the first one. The reason is simple. Since it is not fashionable or trend-follower, it will never be or appear as obsolete. Remember, good and timeless design is not trend follower, rather trendsetter.

Good design is thorough down to the last detail

Pursuit of perfection and excellence is common in design. However, they are two different words. The first one cannot be achieved while the later can. I know it firsthand, I’m perfectionist. What this means for you? Nothing, smaller or bigger, can be left without deeper consideration. The amount of care, effort and degree of your accuracy will show itself and users will acknowledge and appreciate it. Remember, good and timeless design strives for excellence in every detail.

Good design is environmentally friendly

Every design, be it physical or digital, affect in some degree the environment. It can be either directly or non-directly. This is something we often forget while creating new product or service. Like it or not, everything we do, small or big, have some impact and can also backfire in unpleasant way. Remember, good and timeless design is not only user-, but also environment-friendly.

Good design is as little design as possible

One thing great products often have in common is simplicity. Take Apple, for example. There are no unnecessary buttons or controls. The same thing about whitespace in layout. It all communicate the same message: “Less, but better.” This means keeping only the essential and throwing away the rest, the distraction. Remember, good and timeless design as about the focus on the core functionality and purpose and embracing simplicity.

Summary

Good and timeless design is what we should aim and strive for. There is no reason to follow the latest trends. It is much more fun and bigger challenge to set. As said, it is not necessary for you to follow the ten principles described above. Go and create your own. Still, it will bring you benefits to at least know them and understand them. You cannot break rules you don’t even know they exist.

What is your definition of good and timeless design?

If you like the post, please share and recommend it.

Originally posted on Alex Devero Blog.