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Are Designers The Enemy Of Good Design?

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March 09, 2007

Are Designers The Enemy Of Good Design?

Bruce Nussbaum

I'm giving a speech next week at Parsons next week in New York and I'm starting it by saying that designers are the enemy of good design. You designers/innovators know exactly what I mean. There's a backlash out there.

So what should I say? How should I say it? And what should be done about it?

09:57 PM


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Sure, designers are often the last ones invited to the "cool party" but let's not forget about the lazy designer's ally in the north...the MBAs. We get so frustrated trying to work with companies like Disney, Mattel, etc. who's history of good design during the golden era inspired us to get into the business, but once you sit across a big table with suits (who's taste is in their mouths) you realize that no matter how talented the designer, you need the folks who sign the checks to have faith.

Imagine if Ford actually put Marc Newson's 021C Concept Car from 1999 into production instead of the "Focus"?!?

Andy Cruz

Posted by: Andy Cruz at March 10, 2007 04:34 PM

I think the design culture is having a difficult time changing to meet the needs placed upon by the upheaval all around it.

Take for example the lagacy of a designer star system which is laughably antiquated and extremely counter-productive in the current era of open source everything. The "star" inventor of Linux (the technology powering Google, Amazon, and eBay) is a generous, unasuming Norweigen who is perfectly happy out of the limelight. The generous, smart, community surrounding truly powerful and productive technologies including Ruby On Rails, Ruby, PHP, Python, and other wonderful technologies too numerous to count is a thing of beauty.

This stands in stark contrast to the ego-centric, petty, bitchy world of design that seems to operate in an increasingly detached world completely ignorant of the fundamental re-thinking going on all around it.


Posted by: Douglass Turner at March 10, 2007 06:36 PM

Hey Bruce, (Long time reader, first time poster!)

I responded on my blog as there is a text limit on the comments.

To dilute it down, I think you should talk about.

> Out dated design teaching. (My university doesn’t even have an updated website, let alone a video, blog, shared source of data, everything that would help distribute information in my university)

> Designs being flippant when looking at Design Portfolios, Designers just love Design porn, they want amazing visualization skills and don’t care about students being creative within manufacture, Human interaction, niche products or a greater knowledge of selling experience and service over products.

> Designers are up there own a*se, we all copy each other and get now where, Student designers don’t read, and don’t understand business and greater design methodology’s.

I go into more detail on my blog, but as Bruce Sterling said recently, La Cobuiser designed a chair for socail change, yet its still only availbe for $500 in Design(not)withinReach.

Posted by: Ben Arent at March 11, 2007 08:02 PM

I think 'enemy' is going too far, but there's certainly lost opportunities, as I wrote about here:

Posted by: Victor Lombardi at March 11, 2007 10:10 PM

This backlash phenomenon is fascinating!

One week innovation is the solution to all known problems and the next week is yesterday’s news. Well, at the risk of disappointing everyone who thought that by simply using a certain buzzword enough times they could actually create change, the truth is design goes deeper than words.

Stop looking for someone to blame and pointing fingers. The only “enemy of good design” is NO design.

So what do you tell the next generation of designers?

Keep trying to solve the more difficult problems by putting people, profit and planet on the same priority. And never, ever, believe anyone who says you’re the enemy.

Posted by: Michael Melnick at March 12, 2007 03:13 PM

Agree with you Mr. Nussbaum:

--Can anyone tell the difference between a Toyota Avalon and a Nissan Sentra?

--Google drives web design now because of SEO.

--The most important designer of our generation, Jonathan Ive, has remarkably low media profile. He should be held up as a beacon for kids.

I get a lot of resumes. Can anyone sketch any more? Think like a businessperson? Can an MBA reconsider their perception that Ivy-covered walls has endowed them with design skills?


Todd Rhoda

Posted by: Todd Rhoda at March 13, 2007 07:11 PM

Relating to my friend Michael Melnick's comment that "the enemy of good design is no design," I would say that there is no such thing as the absence of design. Design decision are made in any production process. The mortal enemy of GOOD design, is not so much BAD design, but the more prevalent and damaging unconscious design - design decisions being made unprofessionally, without consideration of the consequences and beyond the context of the enduser and the environment.

Posted by: david grossman at March 15, 2007 07:36 AM

We put together a charter for our designers that require the development of high demand products that are simple to use and appealing to the mass. The products must also include intangible benefits such as global warming reversing capabilities, elimination of fossil fuel usage and just for good measure perpetual motion.

The designers run off with the directive and come back with the magic recipe just so we consumers can turn our heads. We won’t buy the green car because the horsepower isn’t there or the gas savings payback is too long. We don’t buy into solar power because it looks ugly strapped to our houses. And why should the consumer buy into such innovation? Our fat cat politicians are driving giant SUVs and living in 10,000 sq ft mansions between private jet runs to global warming events.

Bottom line: If the demand is there and the dollars follow, the design and innovation will take off.

Posted by: Rich at March 15, 2007 05:52 PM

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