Bryan Taylor

The Democracy of Design

Oh say, can you see? How much we should value good design?

As a democracy, we the people are ruled by the people, by the choices we make and the people we elect to make choices for us. So why have we elected to live with such poor design choices?

With the approach of another election season, I am reminded of the true value of good design. After all, it was not that long ago that bad design added weeks of debate and confusion to the 2000 Presidential election. But we can find bad design choices on smaller scales, too.

The city of Everett, Washington, is conducting a vote this week for a new city logo. Ballots close tomorrow, at which point the 849 logos that were submitted for consideration will be narrowed to 65 before a committee will choose a logo to lead the city into its future. For Everett, what might have looked good in theory rarely translates into good design that endures, is effective, and accurately communicates the city’s personality. It is a shortcut, a well-intentioned shortcut, but it communicates the wrong message about what the city truly values.

Everyday, we place our trust in well-designed experiences — we reach out to Google for information without a second thought, we wear clothes that fit our personalities, we work in spaces we have nested to make our own, and we gravitate toward places and experiences with which we resonate.  But we don’t always notice how much we value the details found within these intuitive experiences.


 

Well-designed experiences are often those that you don’t realize were the result of an extensive and thoughtful design process. We rarely notice we are using a TV remote until we can’t get it to work properly. Good design is so natural that it nearly disappears from view. All of the hours and hours of thought and intentionality that goes into creating an experience is often hard to recognize because it is so simple, so comfortable, so deeply connecting.

“It’s very hard to design something that you almost do not see because it just seems so obvious, natural, and inevitable.” — Jonathan Ive, Apple
A few recent discoveries encourage me. Just this month I discovered a documentary that Stanford’s d.school had launched, a 90-minute crash course in Design Thinking for those with no design background. I also found that Ideo has released a free kit for organizations and non-profits to start thinking about the impact of human-centered design. And even our city, Eugene, has just asked for help from designers to make pedestrian flow downtown more natural and inviting.

These are all signs that on some level, we the people are beginning to find that good design positively influences our lives. I hope that we as people, communities, and organizations will continue to value what good design has to offer. I hope the common spaces we share will be enriched with good design. And I hope we will all work to craft experiences that naturally and authentically resonate with us — so well, in fact, that we may not even notice them.