Design’s not dud yet

[Some of our designers and PMs started an email thread about Mills Baker’s Designer Duds: Losing Our Seat At The Table. Here was my contribution, lightly edited.]

I agree with the majority of the post. There’s some wonderfully glossy and rather pointless design out there at present. But I don’t quite agree with Baker’s claim that success is to be judged only through utility and adoption:

“A “great” design which produces bad outcomes—low engagement, little utility, few downloads, indifference on the part of the target market—should be regarded as a failure.”

Great design can be an act of shaping culture.

Anyone who’s read Don Norman will know that Juicy Salif is not a good product by these yardsticks. It does not squeeze lemons well. It’s outsold by countless more functional, cheaper versions.

But it’s an important product in that it demonstrates that everyday objects can be playful, beautiful, surprising. I don’t think it’s a stretch to draw a conceptual line between Juicy Salif and, say, the Dyson Airblade: both are novel products that makes you reconsider the genre. Only one is particularly commercially useful.

Sure, utility is still the key outcome of design, but let’s not ignore its broader potential. Design can have aesthetic and cultural impact too, even if that is only to inspire designers working on more essential products.