Friday, December 14, 2018

"It depends"

When I teach design theory or interaction design I often get questions about what is "good" or "better" when it comes to design. After a while, my students realize that the answer they get from me is never anything else than "it depends".

There are no universally "good" or "bad" qualities when it comes to any designed product or system. The only way to evaluate quality is in relation to purpose. And the purpose is dependent on the particular situation, time, stakeholders, users, decisionmakers, technology, resources, etc. A specific quality that may be seen as crucially good in one situation, may in another situation be an obvious bad quality. So, good design is only relevant in relation to purpose. It depends...

However, we can of course as designers and critics discuss what in general may be good qualities. This means that we are leaving the domain of design and moving into the domain of some sort of science where we try to establish universal qualities and their universal relevance. We will look for qualities that go across the particulars and move into the universals.

To determine what is good quality in a particular case and what can, in some sense, be understood as universally good are two completely separate and distinct activities. The students' question about what is "better" is often a consequence of them mixing these activities up. They are hoping to find answers about the particular based on what is universally true. Such hope is easy to understand since it would, if it was possible, release them from their own responsibility of making real design judgments. But it is a futile hope...

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