What makes Design? The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

2 Minutes Read

People often say, "This is a good/bad design", but they rarely elaborate when you ask a follow-up question like, "Why?"
So what makes a good and bad design? I found myself trying, if not struggling, to answer this question as objectively as possible.

First, there was a definition challenge with the term "design".
I won't debate such a complex thing in this article as I'm preparing my thesis on this topic, so here is my (spoiler) definition:

"Design is about defining, from something meaningful, something purposeful, for someone."


Based on my definition of "design, " I tried to find a way to assess the performance of any design pieces or their effectiveness. Why effectiveness? Because it answers the following question: “How well is the problem resolved and with which side-effects, if any, within the given context?”

From a conceptual point of view, that would give the following formula:

Effectiveness = Efficiency × Context = (Resolution ÷ Side-effect) × Context

I didn't initially intend to measure this metric precisely (yet). It’s more like an experiment. But in the short term, ranking design pieces on a simple good/bad axis did the trick:


Further Exploration

But something was definitely missing.

Ultimately, assessing is meant to be a constructive approach towards improvement, right? 
I looked into why a designer couldn't, willingly or not, contextually improve a design piece. This led me to consider a "blur" area on this axis that I called "The Ugly".


The question “Why is it ugly?” remained so I started to look into one of my favourite tools: matrixes.

I often use matrixes to help define scenarios resulting from one or multiple identified variables (conditions).
Here are a couple of examples:


For this concept, I've isolated four main ugly scenarios from the following matrix:


I was now able to tell how good/bad a design piece was and, more importantly, how it should be approached if it would fall into one of the above scenarios.


I only had a few opportunities to use this concept now, but it helped bring some objectivity to the conversation. This concept could be used as a benchmark tool, helping designers cherry-pick existing design pieces with a better understanding of their nature and limitations. Therefore enabling them to improve whatever can be improved.

Highlighting the level of resolution of a problem and the potential aftermath is within everyone's reach. There is a strong case for discussing design options with stakeholders, as this concept relies on something other than training/experience insights.


This concept was born as an experiment, but it positively impacted me whenever I introduced it to someone around me. I believe that if perfected, it has the potential to help some of us. And, of course, sharing is the best way to improve! 

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