The Importance of Context in Defining A Good Design

"...a design solution must be ethical, purposeful, pragmatic, and elegant." (Dubberly et al., 2009, p. 407)

This is the measurement of good design according to Hugh Dubberly, David Fore, and Kim Goodwin. I got to read this from Kim Goodwin's book : Designing for Digital Age: Creating Human-Centered Products and Services which is a very detailed and thorough book about product design and how COOPER agency's process is. The situation and everything said was tested and proven. Some things mentioned in this book have evolved by now but everything in this book is such a good foundation that I think every designer/product manager have to read.

Anyway, so that's about the book which I based my belief on.

I want to talk about the importance of context in defining a good design.

The reason why I wanted to talk about this is because few days ago someone pointed out to me his definition of a good design, which are :

1. Take the least amount of time for the user to accomplish their task

2. Easy to understand

Which I disagree with.

(Hey, dont say I'm salty ok hahaha I was just trying to serve you the other perspective of what he said and that there might be something else to consider upon.)

I think context is important in defining a good design

OK. Here's an example.

If you're like me and following some UX Designers on instagram or in a design group on facebook, you might have heard a lot of people giving some advices such as "always design for mobile first".

Now let's consider the context.

If you are designing some landing page for simple marketing purpose and your audience is mostly from mobile, this is a good advice to follow.

However, since the context is not being said here, it's a very broad kind of advice that might not apply to so many kinds of digital product design. There are actually some digital product design for website that it is a big mistake if you design for mobile first because NONE of their user use mobile and that designing for mobile would make a big mess. For example, let's say you are designing a web app for traffic timing management, 100% of the users are desktop based. And chances are, you do not want your user to access it from mobile as it is a pretty crucial and complex system that the user have to accomplish. Even the idea of making it mobile-optimised might require a big further research and a big justification on why it should be done.

So in this context, "always design for mobile first" is not a good advice.

This is what I mean when considering a context for any kinds of advice, belief, or an idea.

Now let's go back to a-man-that-I-know's advice.

When the first time I heard those advice from him, it is not entirely correct for some design.

Since he said design broadly, and he didn't say it's for a web app, mobile app, a game, POS, or anything like that. He meant design, in that broad term.

Therefore, when I consider that the context is design in general, I disagree.

If you relate his advice to game UX design, that is probably a bad advice/belief to follow. Imagine if all games are so easy to understand and make all user take the least amount of time to accomplish. There won't be eSports industry today.

That belief might be applicable to web app design that aims to simplify user's experience.

So some product does have different aim. Some is to make the user's task easier, some is to make their user have some fun, some is to make user feel like they achieve something and then feel good about themselves, some to create a much higher level of accuracy in completing a task, and so on. Therefore, requirement needed to be understood here.

However, I do agree with the first paragraph I wrote in this article :

"...a design solution must be ethical, purposeful, pragmatic, and elegant." (Dubberly et al., 2009, p. 407)

I read about the elaboration of this belief. Here's the summary for you :

  1. Ethical : a good design should do no harm as well as improve human condition in some way.. The harm in this context can be physical harm (cause injury, death), psychological harm (user feel frustrated, useless), social harm (embarrassment), economic harm (cost money to the company), environmental harm (toxic and nonbiodegradable landfill waste).

  2. Pragmatic : a good design should bring a good business justification. If your design is ethical and purposeful but is too expensive to produce and therefore makes the company cannot make good profit and therefore stop producing, then it is not a good design.

  3. Purposeful : it should be optimised to accomplish what product's user want to do in the most natural way. The key here is to know your persona/user and understand what is it that they really and fundamentally want. For example, an eCommerce site selling clothes for the mass public might differ from an eCommerce site selling clothes for distributor.

  4. Elegant : some of you might thinking elegant is luxurious, simple, minimalistic. But elegant here doesn't mean luxurious. In this context, elegant means it is visually good. Maybe the consistent element, the detail in small icons, the play of color that truly reflect the company's brand image. It's everything that makes a product seem right.

When I try to apply this to several different context, I agree with this.

This does not just apply to web app, POP, mobile app, game, physical design, but even a customer experience design (like on how to design a queue for a bank customer service office)

However, I don't promise that I will forever and always believe in these. What I am saying is that these 4 key factors of good design is good to follow up until now and fits almost every context possible. Who knows, maybe in the future, some of them are no longer applicable? Maybe I learned way more types of design, maybe I might add some more!

This is what's interesting about UX, is that our user, usually human, always evolving. Their mind changes rapidly, their behaviour changes as well, and they might influence one another. It's interesting and this is why I fell in love with UX.

Lastly, context is important in defining what is a good design and in almost everything else!

As a designer, you we should all keep context in mind.


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