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Foundation of Excellent Design

2012 July 20
by Tom Watson

Excellent design is valuable. People simply respond favorably to it. When companies and individuals excel in design quality their chances of success are significantly higher, and their level of success can reach extreme heights. At the most basic level, excellent design combines beauty with functionality. Anything that is created for more than being experienced as art must be functional in order to be truly excellent. Add to that solid build quality and you have what has for many years been widely considered the foundation of excellent design.

Some Examples of Excellent Design

Apple is of course one of the most widely recognized manufacturers of high quality products. They combine beauty and functionality in both hardware and software with a reliable, solid build quality that results in products which last a long time and which people can enjoy throughout the product’s useful life.

Experience Music Project, Seattle, WA

Experience Music Project, Seattle, WA

C-Suite Quarterly magazine, a locally-produced online and print publication is an excellent example of high quality design in a periodical. Pleasing to view, and very readable with excellent choice and use of fonts. This is a young publication but if their quality of design and content is any indication I expect this publication will be very successful.

I can’t make a statement about excellent design without mentioning Frank Gehry‘s controversial architecture. Created more like sculpture than architecture, his buildings are artwork in which you participate when you visit. Experience Music Project in Seattle is an excellent example of a high-function space in a sculptured architectural package. The Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park in Chicago merges this sculptural approach in a park setting with a remarkable continuity of visitor experience. You might debate about the functional aspect of many of Gehry’s designs, but my personal experience with the ones I have visited is a an enjoyable merger of extraordinary structure design that is highly approachable, personal, and functional.

More is Required for True Excellence


A model for Sustainable development

However, I believe the definition of design excellence must change. There is one aspect of design excellence has been missing but is beginning to emerge, and I believe we need to capture it as a foundational element of excellent design: Sustainability. As industrial designers, graphic designers, architects, engineers and others move toward embracing materials, techniques and processes that are more sustainable and reduce impact on the Earth, they are adding that vital fourth leg of the foundation of design excellence.

The best news is that this is already happening. A few examples of companies doing this now include:

Patagonia, a company that has successfully combined sustainability with functionality, beauty, and build quality of clothing and gear for outdoor recreation.Sustainability has been a foundational part of this company since their beginning, 40 years ago.

New Belgium Brewing, the makers of Fat Tire Ale, have had sustainability as a basic tenet of their company from the beginning and produce a product widely accepted as excellent. (Fat Tire Ale in a post about¬† design? Absolutely. I consider something created for taste no less “designed” than a tablet computer, vest, or periodical).

Apple is increasingly modifying its products and practices to improve sustainabilty and is striving to be very transparent about it.

Let’s join these and many other companies in expanding the foundation of excellent design to include sustainability.

* All trademarks remain property of their respective holders, and are used only to directly describe the companies or products.  Their use in no way indicates any relationship between Thomas Watson Consulting and the holders of said trademarks.

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