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1.3 What is good design and good designing?

I stated in Section 1.2 that we are all capable of undertaking design activity. I am now refining this to the activity of designing. Some people have developed their skills and abilities to a high level and they take part in professional designing. The word 'professional' doesn't imply that such people have necessarily elevated themselves to some higher plane, just that they undertake design as their profession. It was also pointed out that the results of design activity continually surround us in the products which we wear, use, ride in, read and perhaps even eat. Judgements about design quality – whether they concern the products or the processes – depend very much on the context. Self-evident truths in one context may be irrelevant or false in another. However, in trying to define quality in design it becomes clear that there are common features and recurring themes that are found in many different contexts.

How can you characterise good design? A good design is one that appropriately answers a requirement, or meets a stated need. Good design also concerns the anticipation of what people may want. Of course, values come into play here and wants may range from the apparently trivial to fundamental needs. Good design might also concern the skilful use of technology, such as materials or manufacturing techniques. It might also imply the exploitation of knowledge, for example information on human size or human perception so as to make a product easier to use.

To be involved in designing, then, means to be involved with using skills (e.g. researching, making, testing), using knowledge (e.g. about things, people, principles), using abilities (e.g. time planning, management), and using sensitivities (e.g. to values, context, markets). It is notoriously difficult to take this further and attempt to define a formula for a process which will lead to successful design. Having said this, in Section 3 I shall present some models of the design process as others have seen it. I hope that you will view these critically and be able to see the strengths and weaknesses of each.