What makes good design?

Christian Crumlish  

November 14, 2006

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On the IxDA list, LukeW asked which metrics or criteria can be used to judge “good” interaction design. Kim Goodwin wrote an excellent reply, saying “A few of us at Cooper were kicking this question around with Hugh Dubberly several years ago. We came up with 4 criteria we felt applied to all sorts of design, not just interaction.”

Here four criteria boil down to some excellent ideals to shoot for:

  • Ethical: Do no harm
  • Purposeful: Help users accomplish their goals
  • Pragmatic: Meet constraints and accomplish business goals
  • Elegant: A good design is the simplest complete solution

The first rang a bell with me. I’ve been telling clients for years that I like to follow a sort of Hippocratic oath with web strategy. First of all, do no harm. Do not take away features the customer likes because you have something “better” coming. To quote Dave Winer, “don’t break users.”

Kim Goodwin elaborates this way:

Ideally, a designer’s first rule is the same as a physician’s: do no harm. In the case of surgery tools, car dashboards, and airplane cockpits, this is obvious: don’t kill people. However, even business software can do harm by wasting a user’s time, leading to errors, contributing to repetitive stress injuries, or just making people feel dumb. Of course, there are likely a few situations where this principle is challenging, such as a missile guidance system – if you had to design something of that sort, the principle might have to be interpreted as “minimize harm by making darn sure you hit the intended target.”