The Best Good Design

by Kristine Lassam

Brilliant! We love it, but here’s some feedback that you should incorporate.

Make this one final change (after 26 iterations).

Can you make it pop a bit?

“Make it bigger!”

“I want something totally unique but also exactly like [competitor’s name withheld] did.”

“I don’t know but it’s just not there yet, y’know?”

“Can you just take the logo from our website?”

“Just design and we’ll give you the content later, okay?”

“It’s urgent. Can you do it real quick, I really need it tomorrow?”

Believe you us, we’ve heard it all. We have heard it all. Some of the stuff we’ve heard makes us burst into hysterical laughter, others make us want to drink to oblivion at noon (or 10 a.m.) There are days when the grind does not take us very far, or rob us of our souls (we are artists, not graphic finalizers)—times like these, it’s hard to remember or honor why we are here. But then we look at each other, we look at the respect we have for each other and we recall the joy and the body slams and high-fives in the office when we produce beautiful creative. And then we pause, crack our fists, move our neck from side to side and then get on back to work, to the grind that in all the real, authentic sense, do take us very far.

When it all gets tricky

Clients and agencies can often lock horns where design work is concerned. Their definitions of what design is – let alone Good Design – and what works are sometimes very, very different; so far removed from ours, from what we learned toiling in design school, looking at the world’s finest and even very, very ancient work. It isn’t that we tout what we have learned as infallible, we come also from a place of research, ongoing discovery and experience. We have taken to the multiple brainstorm sessions—questioned each other, challenged each other. Walked out in frustration from each other—because we’re your design team, your design champions. But you’re the client—and sometimes you pull the client card more often than not, and you don’t understand how much that breaks us.

We’ve asked ourselves many, many times—what does a good balance mean? Is balance based on compromise? Your way or the high way? It begs us to question.   Can you really compromise design? What are the long-standing pillars, design ethos we can (as artists) pull out “as an untenable design ethos card” to trump your countless client cards so we can, TOGETHER, deliver good design?

It’s quite a slippery slope. There are so many we can refer or revere—but let’s not go very far, or very ancient. We’d like to invoke Dieter Ram’s 10 Principles of Good Design here, and reel things in, but before that discourse…

You remember your grandfather’s Braun transistor radio?

Although he was an industrial designer for Braun, Rams’ philosophies have had a profound impact on modern day design. And we absolutely love him. His functionalist design movement is truly inspiring. He advocates that the focus of the design is functionality and not just the aesthetics. Good design lives.

He preaches the concept of minimalism, keeping things simple. But he is also a staunch believer of proper planning—of the discipline of architecture. In an interview with Gary Hustwit of, he was unequivocal when he said:

But it {architecture} also influenced me in other ways, like the procedural methods. The principal architects of Apel and the Skidmore people, they studied every detail. It was all clarified in advance. That influenced me a lot when I got into the industrial design sector. In industrial design, everything for the production has to be clarified in advance with models and prototypes, all the details, for multiple parts. Otherwise you don’t proceed to the production stage. You have to think carefully in advance about what you’re making and how you will make it, because for both architecture and industrial design, the cost of changing things afterward is much higher than the cost of better preparation. So I learned a lot from architecture.”

Those 10 principles

Rams’ 10 Principles of Good Design explain his reasoning brilliantly. Verbatim, they read:

Good design is innovative. Good design must be useful. Good design is aesthetic design. Good design makes a product understandable. Good design is honest. Good design is unobtrusive. Good design is long-lasting. Good design is consistent in every detail. Good design is environmentally friendly. And last but not least, good design is as little design as possible.[1]

With technology constantly evolving, there’s always something new and better to build out there. To ensure Good Design, we need to combine form, function, innovation, and aesthetics in the simplest way possible – and not just do what the client or designer has in mind or thinks is best. Especially nothing that distracts from the core purpose. Every dot, line and pixel has to be functional to the extent that the use of the product becomes intuitive—and lives. Good Design, we reiterate here like it has its own soul, lives.

And the secret to that is in the details. Dieter himself says:

Nothing works without details. They are everything, the baseline of quality…Anyone can sketch an idea, but the approximation to perfection, the genius of inspiration and execution comes from the hard slog involved in making all the tiny curves and interfaces, angles, materials and technology work together in harmony. Details enable communication, aiding transparancy and closing the gap between object and subject, user and product. Truly functional design only comes from the most careful and intense attention to detail.[2]

Ah! We couldn’t have said it better. It’s all in the details and the precision of execution. Yet, we must also remember that he also advocates minimalism. In other words, Good Design is one that is approached on the philosophy of “less, but better” and doesn’t compromise on the quality.

“We have too many unnecessary things everywhere. I would describe this as inhumane.”

So, in the design world, Rams and his 10 commandments have become our holy grail, the level we strive to achieve in all our work.

However, with our years of experience in today’s digital landscape, we feel we should add an eleventh principle. Namely:

Good design is worth fighting for.

No dropped balls and no shortcuts; no matter how difficult the task, or how challenging. What needs to be done must be – and will be – done. The user, the person who will be using the product at the end of the day, takes preference over every other factor.

As an agency, we know that constraints are never-ending. We’ll always be short on time and resources. Deadlines have to be met. Campaigns have to be launched. Issues have to be resolved. Clients need to be happy. And we have to make sure we don’t go insane. 

Self-preservation is also key in making sure Good Designers and Good Design live.

In all of this, we will fight to deliver the best Good Design – one that serves not our egos or our personal artistic abilities, but a product that is magically helpful, beautifully intuitive and consistently detailed. Because for us, it’s all about the end result, and whether they live on for others to greatly experience. Quality is not a trade-off that we’re willing to make, no thanks please. We are having none of that.

“Innovation has to come from the inside and then influence the outside. That’s what I understand as innovation.”

There’s something to be learned about the Bauhaus Project and democracy

At the same time, feedback is a good thing. Suggestions are always welcome and communication between designer/agency and client should be open. It is the intersection, that beautiful intersection where ambition becomes real—and that projects are successfully executed. Our advice: be wary of anyone of who does not want to push the boundaries every time they create something new; or someone who values their own likeability over that of their work.

It is worth sharing that Dieter in the same interview with Hustwit, spoke of the Bauhaus project (or The Ulm School as its known today):


“That is something I learned very early on, by the way. The Ulm School—founded as a successor to the Bauhaus, with American help, with the Marshall Plan in the ’50s—was founded with the intent that people interact more democratically with each other with the help of design. And I still find that idea very, very interesting and important, and it needs to be rediscovered today.

Democracy. And a lot of times, respect with a good dose of kindness. All we want is for the client to remember: there is a reason you hired us—we are in it with you, and that we’re in Good Design together. Let it live, and live on.