A View from the Outside
I know little more than nothing about design. Instead, I am simply a person who wants their digital world to be easy and simple. Here's what I look for in a product:
- It should be self explanatory
- It should look nice
- It should work in an intuitive way
Most people dislike complicated stuff, especially when that stuff is unnecessarily complicated. I am one of those people. I try to use products in ways that make my life easier. From my point of view, a good design should not draw attention to itself; instead, it should draw the user's attention to the content.
A great example of this is Wikipedia. Other than the occasional fundraising banner at the top of the page, Wikipedia displays content front and center, leaving the user interface out of the way. This is not to say that Wikipedia's navigation UI is neglected; when needed, the search bar is easy to use and navigation links are perfectly accessible at the side of the page. Wikipedia's UI detracts from the content in no significant way, making it an excellent site for sharing knowledge.
Google also serves as an example of simple design done right. The search bar, being the gate to content, is one of the most prominent features of the otherwise bare home page. Start searching for something, however, and the information you seek quickly moves to the forefront, shunting the less useful search bar to the top of the page. This use of simple design is what makes Google the most popular search engine in the world. Whereas Yahoo's purpose is hard to understand (is it a search engine? a news site? a web portal?), Google is very obviously a search engine. This is, at least to me, the ultimate purpose of good design: to make the usage of the product obvious.
As a final note, I realize that my opinions are probably obvious to professionals and design enthusiasts. I am neither of those.