Why does design matter?

Music doesn’t get its elegance just from the tone of various sounds. The essence of music comes from the careful arrangement of notes into a harmonious system. It’s this structure that transforms individual components into a finished work.

“Design” is much like composing music. The process of design isn’t restricted to identifying beautiful parts. It involves ordering those parts with absolute efficiency.

“Good design” is an end negotiated to best reflect a set of predefined values. Like necessity is the mother of invention, constraint mothers design. Every restaurant operates with values like speed, affordability, quality, and hospitality. They set constraints for themselves and design a model to honor those values while minding constraint. Well designed restaurants champion several values at once, while poorly designed restaurants frequently toss out many values altogether in favor of just one or two.

What does it take for you to have a great day? Meaningful relationships? Nice weather? Interesting activities? Fulfilling work? Does just one of these values magically meet all your needs? A wonderful day is the result of several of these experiences converging.

When you dine out, visit a museum, or get your vehicle repaired many factors determine your satisfaction. Flavorful food can be eclipsed by a cold or noisy dining room. Impressive exhibits are less of a payoff when you have to work too hard or wait too long to see them. Good workmanship from a repair shop isn’t as obvious when the front desk experience is impersonal and confusing.

The fruit of design surrounds us everywhere we go. The Universe was designed by God and each innovation within it is an act that mirrors His original creation. Someone designed the chair you’re sitting in, the device you’re using, and so on... Your current experience is the result of those designers’ conscious decisions and unconscious mistakes. A good designer is hyperconscious.

Hyperconscious design starts with, “Why?” and doesn’t stop until there are no questions left to ask. Every single design decision represents careful consideration after relentless questioning.

Execution is as much a part of design as planning. And materials are just as important as execution. There are no inconsequential parts. Nature ensures every decision has consequence.

The serial practice of aesthetic misdirection

Have you ever ordered a product online because it looked great, but then been disappointed when it arrived because it felt cheap? That disgust in the pit of your stomach is the sad consequence of aesthetic misdirection. You may not know it when you see it, but you sure know it when you feel it.

“Aesthetic isn’t everything.” is an easy mantra to say, but a tough one to live. Keeping up appearances isn’t a modern concept. It’s a natural temptation. Man has been comparing himself to the Joneses since long before the advertising age. There is an ever-present battle happening around us between sustainability and conspicuous consumption.

The solution to unsustainable living doesn’t rest on the shoulders of individual products. That’s like expecting single cups of water to quench a raging structure fire. The flames of aesthetic misdirection are destructive and to extinguish them we need a firehose. That firehose is hyperconscious design.

We need to care more about sustainability on a societal level. But awareness isn’t powerful enough to defeat misdirection. The people need to be convinced! They need to taste, touch, see, experience. They need to feel blissful relief from 24/7-binge-consumerism, and all its nasty side-effects. Proof is the sworn enemy of misdirection.

Please join me in hyperconsciously designing that proof.

This is a “living essay” maintained by Mike Vance