One of my pandemic routines (can I say that?) is to go for a weekly walk in Forest Park with son Patrick, who lives in the same town where I live. We talk about what has happened in the past week and we admire the flora and fauna and architecture of the park and wax philosophical about whatever moves us. It involves many of my favorite activities: walking, observing beauty, discussing human nature, laughing (Patrick is one of the funniest people I know.)
This last week, we had several occasions to discuss good/bad design, starting with the mustache mask. I made this mask for Patrick as soon as the CDC recommended that everyone wear them while out in public. He requested the cheeky mustache and I was happy to comply. But when he wore the mask and spoke, it would drift down his face until his nose was exposed and he would have to yank it back up. So, while it was charming, it was NOT functional, and he didn’t wear it. Therefore no one got to see how charming it was. Fortunately, a small adjustment of reworking the 2 pleats into 3, was all it took to make the mask both cute and functional.
As we were strolling around the park this past week, we had occasion to use one of it’s many restrooms. And we encountered this sink (for some reason I feel obligated to assure readers that I photographed the sink in the women’s restroom, and had merely verbal confirmation from Patrick that his sink was equally egregious.)
Which led Patrick to say that this design is so bad, that it would be better to have no sink in the bathroom. That is, one would encounter fewer public germs by using the restroom and leaving without washing one’s hands then by touching the wet sink that has been touched by hundreds of other persons between sanitation during a pandemic.
I went to art school a life time ago (I was still a teenager) and while there, was introduced to the argument between form vs. function. And it has always seemed to me that there are so many ways to design a thing that one should start with “Does it work?” and then move into “Is it esthetically pleasing?” A purely functional tool can be beautiful (think of an antique hammer) but something that doesn’t work and is pretty will be tossed as soon as the fashion of that object has passed.
This got Patrick and I to talking about good and bad design we have encountered. A few that we discussed: my mom has a blown-glass water/juice pitcher that cracked the first time that she put water and ice in it. She still finds it beautiful, and has it on display in a prominent place in her dining area. More than once, helpful guests have tried to fill it with water for a meal and she has to let them know it is purely decorative now.
I like this design for my dish soap bottle:
Although, I note, that it took me awhile to notice that it didn’t dribble. And Patrick states that this is one of the battles that good design fights–when it functions well, without irritating the user, it goes unnoticed.
And that brought up one more area of good design/bad design: websites. Patrick has a degree in computer science and engineering. I asked for him to give me examples of good and bad website design. He gave me the addresses of two websites (both are for items that I have no interest in purchasing.)
This one was fun and I enjoyed watching the actors depict the stories (which had little to do with the product.) The video was engaging and enjoyable as its own art form, that is, if the video was being posted in a park or movie theatre without the Pepsi logo, it would be just (maybe more) enjoyable.
Son Patrick is also involved in the design and marketing of board games and he gave me this website, which is the premiere website for learning about all things board game. He also gave me the following reflection. People play board games because they are fun. But to learn more about the board games that they love to play, they have to negotiate this:
And I immediately understood what he was trying to tell me. Upon entering this website, I thought “Ick!” Too much work!” “I’m going to get a computer virus here!” I made myself click around to various parts of the site, to learn a bit about it and check how it functioned. And at a bare bones level it does function. (And my fellow minimalists will be excited to learn that I read on one of the forums of a person offering for free unwanted games and pieces that he had decided to declutter after dealing with the collections of his recently deceased mother.)
But I took home Patrick’s message: if you work in an entertainment industry, then all places where you engage with the public should also be entertaining.
My personal evaluation of good design starts with: Does it work/function? And then is it esthetically pleasing? There is no solid reason that design can not do both.
Think of the function of a chair. It is to support a human (or pet, or decorative object) off the floor in a way that respects human anatomy and gravity. And then think of all the variety of expressions of that function. From floor cushions to Ming dynasty chairs to cardboard chairs to Louis XVI chairs to Eames chairs to Target/IKEA chairs…..
But in my mind, the function always comes first.
Beloved readers-I would love to hear your encounters with good and bad design.