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Soren Petersen

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What Is Good Design?

Posted: 07/27/11 09:24 PM ET

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Why must a car body have these curving lines? Such questions plagued me while I was busily transitioning from a Danish mechanical engineer to an American transportation designer. While this was not a particularly easy transition, it greatly expanded my outlook concerning design. I learned that sensual curves can be controlled to evoke emotions and meaning, fueling creativity and enriching life beyond mundane functionality.

Designers fabricate design philosophies that express beliefs and then visualize these beliefs into objects to which people can relate and experience. When enough people identify with and vote by means of purchasing power on a design philosophy, a design trend is created and a strong trend becomes the prevailing taste.

When asking designers to evaluate products that had either received design awards or failed to receive one, it was discovered that only half of their judgments agreed with the nomination. The designer's evaluation of a product's quality was shown to be quite random without an explicitly agreed upon criteria.

When the same study was carried out using specific criteria, the designers now agreed on design performance 95 percent of the time versus 50 percent of the time. The criteria used were the same used by the judges in the Industrial Design Excellence Award (IDEA), which is organized by the Industrial Design Society of America. This award is the most prestigious design award in the United States and represents the design profession's commonly agreed upon gold standard for "good design".

If designers can tell good design from bad design can the average consumer do so as well? The answer is yes! People vote with their money and studies show that they overwhelmingly give their hard earned cash to award winning products. Also, it is noteworthy that good design does not just create trends, the corporations whose products consistently win IDEA Awards reward their stockholders with 4 percent more return on their investment than the firms who ignore design in their products. In short, the business leaders and their shareholders who pay attention to the creative economy are handsomely rewarded.