We all know that design is important, but what are some of the characteristics that make a product design great? We’ve compiled an overview of eight key design elements to improve your designs. From color to photography, each element can be used in conjunction with others to create attractive products.
I have divided the design characteristics into eight major parts, and in this article, you will learn each of them in detail and their usage in designing your product. Let’s move on to the first one.
The first characteristic of design activity is the basis of designing.
Have you ever heard of the “Necessity is the mother of invention”? If yes, then do you believe in it as well?
Well, regardless of whether you believe in the quote or not, design researchers place a lot of belief in this particular quote and this statement. Yes, my friend, the first characteristic states that design activity is one to be undertaken intentionally. Brian Lawson, who wrote How Designer Think and the Das Gupta wrote the structure of design process in Advances in Computers, pointed out that the basis for the definition of the design project is the real or perceived need.
So what do they mean by it?
They have tried to say that our need is the motivational factor and the driver of the design process, and the factor behind starting any work in this line.
William has explicitly explained that the universal feature of any design process is nothing other than the intentional devising of a prototype or a plan or anything new. The need to make something new, something that solves the problems of our lives, or the intention to create something creative and out of the box forms the basis of the design activity.
Let’s take an example here. In the software design process, a developer has to gather all the requirements from the client. The need to solve a specific problem or the intention to achieve something valuable out of the developed application forms the basis of designing the application itself. Without that need, we will be missing. If the developer doesn’t know what problem is being solved by the application, the developers will not be driven toward design activities as they won’t know which direction to head.
So my developer friends tell me how you feel about this point in the process of designing. How did it help you in your journey? I’m eager to know the real-life application where you have used this process for a better outcome.
This takes us to the second characteristic of design activity, the second characteristic of design activity is the outcome and result of design.
I know it may not have made much sense. Let me explain it to you in a bit more detail. Design can be considered a simulation of what we will make or do much before doing something. The second characteristic tells us that we have to do this as many times as required to be fully satisfied that the result or I must see the product will be successful.
Dasgupta has expressed this characteristic by saying that design essentially forms a prescription or model for unfinished work in advance of its embodiment. This way, a design presentation helps visualize the final product and helps us conceptualize and compare various design decisions.
If this step is kept, the final product, which will not be of any work. For instance, suppose you have designed a chair.
Now you need to understand how the chair will look and what kind of purpose will change itself? Will it be an armchair, or will it be meant just for kids, or will it have four legs, or will it have wheels? Will it be used for interviews in office rooms, or will it be used for relaxation at a resort?
It would be best if you ascertained the purpose that the chair would serve. Each scenario will need a different set of requirements, and hence it will entail a totally different design. But friends, beware, the output of design is not just the plan or the symbolical presentation; it is much beyond that. You need to understand that the final output of the design activity also needs something called the design space.
Now, what is design space?
I know you may be getting a bit confused with all the terminologies and jargon, but trust me, the design space is not difficult to understand. Design space is a body of knowledge about the environment, the artifact, the intended use, and the decisions that have created the design.
Whenever you design something, you will generate a way in which your thought process will work and the direction in which all the ideas will flow. You need to consider the representation of this kind of better knowledge about how you arrive at a particular design.
Suppose you are designing a carpet. Once you begin to take off a carpet and start to visualize it, you will come across the memories of carpets you have seen since childhood. A lot of colors will splash in your mind, and many patterns will make way to you. You need to understand how each thought connects with the other thought. Once you can visualize how the final carpet will look, you are ready to start working on it. Please note no work to be started until you can clearly visualize the final product.
This brings us to the fourth characteristic of design activity. The characteristic is commonly known as the transformation of data. You will hardly find any researcher who denies that design is transformational in nature.
Creating something new leads to the start of design activity in which the ideas transform from one stage to another. This transformation guides the design process from the ideation phase till the phase of implementation of artifacts, plans, and processes. Suppose you are still designing that carpet. The first stage will involve feeling the need to create the carpet, and at this point, you will have a problem statement at hand to work on. Later you will have to visualize the carpet, which is the result of all your efforts, and finally, you will start working on the plan that you have created, therefore creating the carpet in step by step manner. The preferred situation for you is the completion of the carpet. The transformational path, which is the feeling of need, takes through generations of ideas and conceptualization and finally culminating in creating the actual product.
This is what signifies the transformational nature of the design activity. You can think of this process as restructuring the current situation to achieve some preferred situation. Some designers take inspiration from William and call this process of transformation as development. Hence, the transformational characteristic is essentially the jump that you take from present fact to future possibilities.
The next and the fifth characteristic of design activity is the generation of new ideas. Design is a process that involves thinking something new, something out of the box. The influx of a lot of new path-breaking ideas is another characteristic of the design process. At this stage, let me pause for a while and ask you what the fourth step in the design process was. Take a moment and recall what you learned in the last characteristics of the design process.
Well, you should path your bag if you have got the answers right. If you have not, then you know where to go. This step involves coming up with as many ideas as possible, even if some of them are blue-sky ideas. This process brings in some suggestions that have never, ever existed before. To generate ideas, the most important thing is to tickle your creative bone. If you think you are not creative in nature, let me tell you, we all are born creative, but in the process of growing up, we lose the essence of creativity, and it gets locked up somewhere.
So now, let’s look into the two widely known styles of idea generation. The first is an abstraction. It is a process in which we make generalizations. However, the other style is elaboration, in which you focus greatly on the details and go into the nitty-gritty of the design.
The owner is on you, which style you want to go for, whether abstraction or collaboration.
Now, we come to the sixth characteristic of design activity, this characteristic deals with the idea of problem-solving and decision making. If you ever happen to meet a design methodologist, you would find that they define design as a kind of problem-solving or decision-making activity.
For instance, ASIMO has defined design as a decision-making activity in which there are high penalties for an error committed. It is natural to think of design as a decision-making process. Why?
Well, because design invariably involves the application of some sort of logic to solve a problem. The application of logic involves making decisions while making comparisons or while doing validations. Some designers also think of design as a setup in structured problems because of the difficulties and complexities of understanding the requirements and constraints. If free man inspires you by any chance, you will then consider design as a problem-solving activity. Freeman considers design as a series of decisions between various design alternatives. Each alternative is determined by its current abstractions, elaborations, operational statements, and many other variable factors. This is why design is popularly seen from a problem-solving approach to a decision-making approach.
Let’s look at the seventh characteristic of the design activities; the seventh characteristic is satisfying and discovering constraints. While designing, you may have many ideas and may also have the urge to create something new, but there will always be constraints that you have to look into.
Suppose you are about to start creating the carpet, but what if the design is quite dull compared to the color of the walls? What if the carpet is made of such a material that does not last long and the weather is used?
Hence the dimensions of the room, the climate, the frequency of cleaning the room, and the materials available can be a few constrained. Cultural sensitivity can also be a constraint because some designers or some colors may not be acceptable as pleasant for carpet in a few cultures. The functional and performance constraint of an artifact, limitations of the medium, and the design process constitute the major part of the design activity because the product, idea, and designers are all involved. The constraints apply both to the artifacts and the designers. I said designers because you also need to think of the capacities and skills of your fellow designers.
The last characteristic is the evolution and optimization in a solution space of diversity.
Hey, wait, don’t be bogged down by the words or what this characteristic essentially means is that the ideas generated and the prototypes that are created to out the design activity can be so huge in numbers at times that you may have to evaluate and test each one of them to find which solution optimizes the task to be done by the design.
Designers may need to create many prototypes and then test each one to figure out which one works best for them. For example, if we come up with many ideas for designing a carpet, we may have to create the designs on software and then print the design. We can then place the designs on the floor and see how well they fit in the interior decor of the walls and the flooring.