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Good Design is More Than What Meets the Eye

By Rajeshwari krishnamurthy posted 04-30-2021 10:02


PDMA Body of Knowledge: Product Innovation Process Insights #2
PDMA Body of Knowledge: Product Innovation Process Insights #3

Read time:
5 minutes

The kHUB Curator Team members have each been assigned a BoK section to own.  This includes seeking, editing and sharing content related to that section.  The curators are also sharing their perspective of various sub-sections of their chapter and contributing personal examples, experience, or related articles corresponding to the subject matter.


Is the product design effective?

The need for product design is usually driven by a problem that needs to be solved. It might be a website that needs to be easier to use, a product that needs to appeal to a certain audience or a new business that needs a logo. The problem can be literally anything. In order for your design to be effective it is crucial to understand and empathize with your client/user. Before you start designing, ask “Why?” until you really understand the true goal that your design needs to accomplish.

2. Does it reflect the right tone?

For you to be able to tell whether or not the tone is appropriate, first you'll need to figure out two things, the brand and the audience.

The brand

  • The term “brand” is usually associated with businesses, but it’s not limited to them. Many things can have a brand, even you. Your brand is the perception that people have of you. The same applies to companies and pretty much everything else.

The audience

  • A company usually has a target audience, and it might vary from something broad to a very small niche. If you know how the company wants to be perceived and who the design is for, the remaining question is, what is appropriate for them?
  • A good example to understand this is to compare McDonald’s with your local burger joint. They basically sell the same thing, but they communicate in very distinct ways.

3. Does it stand the test of time?

Good design is sensitive to time.

Ideally, you’d want a design that is timeless, however, that is not always necessary or even advised. It really depends on what the design is trying to accomplish and its life span.

If you’re designing a webpage for a product that will be replaced or updated in two years, for instance, it probably makes sense to take advantage of the trends of the year to get ahead. This will help your design seem contemporary, modern and relevant. However, you should try to stay ahead of the curve and see where the trends are going.

4. Is it frictionless?

Friction is whatever is in the way of the person reading/using something. The more friction you add, the harder it is for them to get what they want from your design. Basically, friction is generated by things like text that is hard to read or a website that is difficult to use.

This might seem like an obvious mistake, but you would be surprised how many times designers end up sacrificing readability and usability to make their design “look better”.

It’s important to measure the amount of information that you want to present very carefully. Avoid information overload that will only add friction to your design. For that, you really have to understand what your viewer/user needs. In a lot of cases, you even have to distill that information and make it digestible.

5. Is it visually appealing?

Back into subjectivity land. This is the part that most people like to focus on, and the part that generates more discussions and controversy. This happens because it can be subjective at times and it’s hard to agree on something when all we have are opinions.

However, there is a way to break away from this subjectivity. You just need to learn the principles that make design visually appealing. These are the elements that you’ll find consistently across examples of good design.

Besides learning the theory, you should also enrich your visual culture. You can do that simply by looking at design that is featured by the design community in websites and books. If you do that, you’ll start to see the patterns that keep reappearing in good design like well-balanced compositions, beautiful typography, precise alignments, delightful color combinations and many other things.

This should be enough to get you in a good path. Nonetheless, at the end of the day, this check point will always be a bit subjective to go through, but since this is just one out of six, it shouldn’t disable you from distinguishing good design from bad. As I said in the beginning, good design is not always beautiful to everyone.

The next check points is not only the check point but also the finishing line.

6. 1+1=3?

If the design passed the previous 5 check points, you have already a really good design in front of you. This check point is what takes it from good to extraordinary.

To reveal if a design has more than the sum of its parts you just need to look closely. Essentially this is when a design goes beyond a combination of good typography and colors.  It’s when there’s a brilliant idea that supports everything and takes it to a whole new level.

FedEx logo (1994)
FedEx logo (1994)

A simple yet perfect example of this is the FedEx logo. Just take a close look at it. Between the E and the X you’ll notice a small arrow cleverly hidden in the negative space. This arrow is meant to symbolize the company’s accuracy and speed.

This is what differentiates the ‘good from great’ designers. Good designers will rely on their technical skills and base their design on principles (a machine could learn that, by the way), but great designers bring more to the equation. I think that this is what creativity really is.

Final thoughts

In a nutshell, good design has more than what meets the eye. Design is not only about how it looks, but a combination of a series of thoughtful decisions that are made with the end user/viewer in mind.

About the Author

Rajeshwari Krishnamurthy

Dr. K Rajeshwari brings to the table a unique higher combination of academic excellence, a long experience with top corporates, teaching stints at various IIMs/XLRI in the country, conducting Management development programs for India’s leading organisations as well as a strong publication record.

She has a total of 26 years of experience, a significant part of it in New product development. She is a solo author of a B School reference text book titled ‘New Product development- a FMCG Perspective’- based on her PhD thesis. She is currently a faculty member at Great Lakes Institute of Management. Prior to this, she completed her Ph.D from IIT Madras and served as a faculty member at XLRI, Jamshedpur. She has completed her post graduation from IIM Ahmedabad in 1994 and is a visiting faculty at various IIMs in the country.

Rajeshwari has authored three books (two-solo) - the first one was titled ‘My Life My Choice’-published by Macmillan in 2011 and was about mid-life career choices. The second one was a reference text book for B Schools and was titled ‘New Product development-a FMCG Perspective’, released in 2017. The third one is a recently launched one titled ‘The New Plan A’- and focuses on the various mid-life career challenges faced by working women. She recently won the Best Paper Award at an International Research Conference in Boston in 2017. She is also the recipient of numerous other Awards- Women Achiever and Distinguished Management Awards.

Rajeshwari has been a part of several professional organisations such as CII Task force for entrepreneurship, American Marketing Association, Institute of Research Bureau, Product development Management Association, IIM Ahmedabad Executive Committee, Empowering Women in IT industry etc.

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