Thursday, January 28, 2010

What is Good Design?

This subject has come up repeatedly over the past few months as I have been informally helping a friend navigate their way thought the complex and confusing morass of getting a website designed & made.

Having lived through (an ongoing process btw) a ton of trial and error scenarios, massive amounts of research and even taking a basic (pretty darn hardcore, to me!) html class, since my site first went up. A dear friend, asked me what to look for in a designer & what was important in a site, and what to look out for.

I hoped to help him avoid some of the pitfalls.

He went through the seeking a designer process - nightmarish in itself, especially when you are a creative person talking a different language to an often purely technical person who thinks they are a "designer". This was very difficult as my friend is a highly creative person, but seriously clueless when it comes to anything, and I mean anything technical. Basic explanation of SEO, html, code, analytics, etc - he sorta gets it but....

However, one thing that he got, and got immediately was the fact that the site had to be searchable and indexed on Google. It is his business after all.

He falls in love with an incredibly visual designers work. It's Flash of course, I tell him no flash, or only a little. The designer explains it's fairly a new "searchable" Flash. And sends along tons of documentation and very detailed explanations of how it works. I look into it, my friend looks into it and lo! sure enough it is a searchable form of flash. We check out other sites using this and they do come up in search. Tons of questions to designer (and more research on our end) mostly regarding HOW searchable. Repeatedly the answer is it's searchable AND deep linkable. WOW!

He goes with this designer, it's an information heavy site, He's writing his text with key words, search text etc, etc. Everytime he's on the phone with the designer search and accessibility comes up at least 3 times, every e-mail it's re-iterated. OVER AND OVER & OVER AGAIN.

After 3-4 months, of a ton of work on the "designers" end (obviously,the guy worked hard) for my friend (hair pulling and something akin giving birth), as well some loss of respect on my part, because I do not like repeating myself, ad nauseam, because of a serious intransigence on the part of my friend against organization, writing things down, looking them up or even making the effort to try and think out and extrapolate from what he has already learned. So I feel a bit abused for my efforts on this count, but it's over now. Thank God.

So anyhow, Site goes up, site is gorgeous. Two months later, 2 hits on actual site. Friend wants to punch a wall (In lieu of designer) and so do I. Site is DEAD IN WATER and UNSEARCHABLE. Other Gaia Framework sites we see on web are infinitesimally searchable and indexed on google, JUST EXACTLY AS DESIGNER INSISTED THIS ONE WOULD BE. WHERE IN ALL THIS DID DESIGNER NOT HEAR, READ AND UNDERSTAND THE CLIENTS UTMOST NEED?

THIS IS NOT GOOD DESIGN it is a ART PROJECT. The "designer", from a highly regarded IT school (specializing in web "design") was not was taught even the basic premise of GOOD DESIGN! Neither of us feel it was a scam, or intentional on the "so called" designer's part, but a complete F*%k up on "designer's" part. But now my friend has to wait several months for it to be corrected????

Design, must also function. It is not divorced from whatever practicalities and needs brought it into existence. Design is also commerce. A house no one can live in is not a house.

Years ago I knew another fashion "designer", who was asked by a store to design them some special mannequins for display. She was super creative and the perfect flighty airy "designer" type that people get so enthralled with at times. She kept her project under complete wraps, designed and had custom-made several 10' tall, to-scale, articulated mannequins. Surprise! She actually got them to the shop and set up in the window, before it dawned on her...

Design is different from Art. ART is approached consciously as such and is not beholden to function. ART usually becomes becomes commerce after the fact. Art needs no function beyond it's existence. DESIGN serves a FUNCTION and is usually created in Pursuit of that function, whatever it may be. Design embraces and makes use of technology and craftsmanship with an understanding of both aesthetics and use. Design makes the ordinary extraordinary, it can makes the mundane a joy. Design brings ART into the everyday world and is accessible to everyone.

DESIGN bears a burden. Whether that be to make someone look fabulous & feel great through fashion. Or to create a beautiful AND FUNCTIONAL web page, that people will SEE.



  1. Nice description/explanation, Carla...thanks! Have you seen any of the specials on PBS about design?

  2. Oh that is really a shame. I feel for your friend.


  3. It's rough, can't help anger/frustration. Thankfully "designer" is going back into try and build in all the stuff he left out (gratis of course) Since Gaia is supposed to allow a place for all the xhtml. We just cannot understand why search and google and indexing was stressed over and over again and assurances repeatedly received then steps not taken to either enable it or complete the back end or whatever it entails, if it cannot be fixed - starting from scratch - toss it all, including idiot savant "designer"

  4. hey Paul, Thanks, & I have not, but will look out for them.


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