Good Design/Bad Design

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Son Patrick pictured with the mustache mask.

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.)

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The water dribbles out of the spout so close to the edge of the bowl, that the only way to get one’s hands wet is to touch the bowl.

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:

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This design does not dribble like other dish soap bottles I have used.

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.)

Pepsi

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:

BoardGameGeek

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.

 

22 thoughts on “Good Design/Bad Design

  1. I’ve run into one of those poorly designed sinks before. Terrible, illogical. Our old coffee maker was poorly designed. You couldn’t clean the crevices, not even with an old toothbrush.

    I love finding good design, like a laundry soap bottle that takes the lid drips back into the bottle (no waste, no mess). And crash bars on exit doors in public places, whoever thought of that was brilliant.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi!

    Firstly, funny fact, when I went to the Pepsi link, it took me to (I guess) a totally different site to what you are referring to. Still Pepsi but a Facebook page with a film with no people neither stories, just aggressive music and flashing images moving fast and furiously. I guess this is the beauty of globalisation (ironic)

    Second, I totally understand your mother. I am very interested and naturally inclined towards wabi-sabi (do you know it?). I do believe it is not antithetical to minimalism, but some might disagree.

    Third, is your dishsoap cap not the usual one?

    Four, I have used a glas jar dipenser for dish soap lately to refill it directly at the shop (and spare one time use plastic packaging), so far hasn’t worked well, it always miss the spot and the soap is sprayed horizontally. I have also used marseille soap directly on the sponge. It did not go so badly but was slightly greasy. I will experiment with other kind/brands. My minimalist dream is a “school soap” dispenser (not sure if US school had the same), just a metallic stalk with a solid soap around it, hanging on the wall. I had it in my previous appartment as a hand soap, it was working like a dream, no drip, it is extremely durable, just buying about 2 solid soaps per year (for a family of 3) in a little thin paper packaging that could be recycled as a “drawer box”. A dream! If I find a good solid soap for the dishes I will mount that system on the wall.

    Well, I guess that was my 2 pennies for your entry 😉
    Be well and take care!

    Béatrice

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    1. I am a big fan of wabi sabi. I generally like things with a worn patina. As a minimalist, I do not keep things that are no longer functional. Wabi sabi might repair the broken vessel in a way that highlights the crack, right? The usual dish soap cap has a pull-up stem and dribbles quite a bit. I have never seen this “school soap” dispenser. I am intrigued!

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      1. Yes, you are right about Wabi Sabi. And I am far from a specialist of this “philosoophy?/art?”. I wonder if it goes as far as to find something broken beautiful, I do think so. The beautiful of the broken. I am not sure. I know that the stone path leading to my house is broken and I find it beautiful, sure, it would be more functional if repaired but probably quite ugly. On another level, I think we are all broken and beautiful and perfect as we are. Or rather, not at all perfect and that’s good. You probably know the famous saying from Leonard Coehn about the crack and the light 😉

        I put some links of the soap dispenser below just because you are intrigued! I am quite sure it existed all around the world in the first half of XXe century, but it is so increadibly cheap (because it dries instantenously) to use that it is not very profitable to sell. This is my guess on why it has almost disappeared! My total dream would be to find it with an Aleppo soap (which I find wonderful, even for hair). I would have one near the badroom sink and one accessible from the shower and one in the kitchen and that would be ALL! I would every year (on my bike 😉 buy my little of stock of 5 soaps in my little recyclable cardboard packaging and that would cover the needs of my family for an entire year! And the impact on the planet of my family being clean would be very low! (I am only half joking, it is good for me to have those dreams, I enjoy it very much)

        I put you the links, feel free to delete it, I am not promoting the brands in any way, I don’t even know if they are good!

        https://www.maison-du-savon-de-marseille.fr/savon-rotatif-ecolier/320-porte-savon-mural-acier-inoxydable-3700601500899.html
        https://www.maison-du-savon-de-marseille.fr/savon-rotatif-ecolier/321-porte-savon-mural-laiton-3700601500905.html
        https://www.moozelaboutique.com/acc-salle-de-bain/977-porte-savon-ecolier-provendi.html

        https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aleppo_soap

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      2. Interesting! I think bar soap in a family home setting is fine. But there is a fair amount of research that bar soaps harbor bacteria, so I think that in a public setting good design requires some kind of liquid soap. I appreciate having those kind of low impact dreams. I think someone will design a low impact soap that does not harbor bacteria, maybe in my lifetime!

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      3. I think they were considered unhygienic in a public/school place and I recently saw an American comment reminiscing along the lines of “eww”, but if you’re preferring bar soap anyway (as I also do!), then the soap on the bar thing would be very effective in the home, too!!
        (here it is described as “weird” and “French”?!! https://www.core77.com/posts/20667/weird-french-design-for-wall-mounted-bar-soap-is-actually-kind-of-awesome-20667)

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      4. Swissrose- I followed the link you posted to see what the bar wall soap looks like. Yes, from a hygiene point of view, that would harbor bacteria. I understand Beatrice’s point that minimizing packaging is important, but in this instance, I think wall bar soap is bad design: soap is supposed to aid in cleansing our hands, not expose us to other people’s bacteria.

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  3. I have quite a few delightful coffee mugs, bought mainly at yard sales. When they crack, I use them as pencil holders. I now have pencil holders all over the house, which is not very minimalist.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Back in the 90s, Elaine St. James was my simplicity “guru” – she introduced the concept of “one” to me, with the example of a nail file… since then, I only have one (glass) nailfile always in the same place in my handbag and never have to search!! Really, I should implement this with many other things (hello Francine Jay/Miss Minimalist!!) but my husband has just cleared his mom’s apartment and brought home SIX frying pans, when I’ve spent the last 30 yrs using just one. Sigh.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I, also, find that only one of an item is often enough. And I’m sure that six frying pans is too much! But those frying pans may be very difficult to get rid of as they belonged to his mother.

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  4. I encounter the same type of sink at my local grocery store and at one of the branches of my library. Just don’t understand how the designer couldn’t figure this out — didn’t he/she try it first?

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  5. A really interesting concept, I need to think about this – I know I’ve noticed good and bad design but nothing comes to mind spontaneously, drat!!

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    1. I have used those bottles from Target and they were very user friendly. I wonder what happened to the design when all the a Target pharmacies became CVS pharmacies.

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  6. Hi Fawn! I have been thinking about this a lot recently, b/c of quarantine and SIP. Partly b/c I’m more inclined towards pretty things, esthetically pleasing. I think in America, function is definitely prioritized over form. Exhibit: big box stores, and much of anything built after 1980. Even the modern home, and definitely McMansions, I would put in this category. I like to travel, and I think this is one of the main reasons I miss it during this time, b/c other cultures place such an emphasis on beauty and form. But in general, b/c most anyone’s funds are limited, then form does have to serve function, and you can see this in even for example the simplest Italian chapel, or a Vespa scooter.
    My observation is if only function is given importance, then form is completely neglected. When you combine a preeminence for form, with a tendency toward minimalism, but also a need for practicality, then you end up with something like Scandinavian design, where even the most mundane objects are lovely to behold, pleasant to hold, and a pleasure to use. ~ Priscilla (this comment from Priscilla came via e-mail because the WordPress site was doing something wonky with the comments)

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