Drops from jugs and scorching mugs.
Carelessness is hazardous.
We have two milk jugs in our kitchen cabinet. The small white porcelain type that commonly accompanies a cup of tea or coffee. One of the jugs is from a prestige porcelain manufacturer from the late 1700s known for exceptional craftsmanship — they have tableware covered. The other jug is from a well-respected independent ceramicist. They share a passion for craftsmanship and both produce beautiful porcelain in their respective styles.
They unfortunately also share the inability to pour without spilling. Don’t get me wrong, getting the milk into a mug is not the problem. However, the moment after that does raise a quibble. Having poured the desired amount of milk into my coffee, I need to level out the jug. That requires the stream to be cut. In that transition, the best case scenario leaves a drop of milk crawling towards the table’s surface. It happens on every pour no matter angle, speed or how swift the return is.
In my mind, a jug has two essential functions. One is to contain a liquid. The other is being able to pour that liquid without spilling. And the two in my home seem to have shape, color, size and decoration prioritized before functionality.
Now, you may think my priorities in life aren’t in the correct order and a drop of milk isn’t the end of the world. And you would be right, it isn’t. More concerningly though, is what we find in the cabinet next to them. A set of handleless mugs. The kind you grasp with a firm grip on a cold evening typically accompanied by a blanket. And these particular mugs, and I quote directly from their website, claim their “bold, striped pattern makes it a colourful accent to any setting.” I’ll agree. They even won an iF Design Award back in 2002.
However, like all things in this world, they are flawed. Flawed to an extent that make them outright hazardous. You see, they lack the single most important feature a mug sans handle needs. Thermal insulation. Curiously, I poured some fresh coffee into the mug in question and measured the temperature exactly where my palm would rest. The maximum reading came out to 61.1ºC — which will give you a third-degree burn if you hold it for more than five seconds. After five minutes, the temperature was hovering just below sixty. Meaning anyone attempting to sip their hot drink would be faced with two options. Either scold your hand or hold the upper edge with your fingertips. No risk there, then. Seemingly, this design-award-winning company has created a mug, released it for sale, without ever pouring boiling water into it.
This mindset worries me quite a bit. It is a concern that extends far beyond my kitchen walls. I’m a digital designer by trade. And I work in a realm where this is a trending phenomenon. I don’t know if this is because the process of hiring a designer has become a superficial sphere, where people are more concerned about the color of a button, instead of the effect of its click. As if followers, likes and shares suddenly determine what good design is. In reality, most good design is really boring — unobtrusive, but effective at best.
Truth be told, I am writing this post because my profiles on design pages such as Dribbble and Behance say very little about me as designer. Or more importantly as a person. I won’t undermine the need to understand MS Paint isn’t my go-to tool, that the internet isn’t foreign territory and that I’m aware of typefaces beyond the preinstalled. But only judging from that is highly insufficient.
I feel we have drifted away from what makes design fundamentally good. Features can be alluring, but not at the cost of an otherwise wonderful design. Remember that we are designing for people. Not for likes. Not for views. Not for shares. Not for awards. So to all future clients, colleagues and fellow designers. My name is Morten and I’m here to be boring. But boring means having to burn my hand, so you never will.
I’m Morten Soby. A digital designer, as you might have guessed, based in Denmark. If you feel the urge to get in touch, find me on Twitter or write to: email@example.com — I’ll be glad to say hi.