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What is successful Design? We ask this because…actually we can’t remember why.

So here we are, Twitterati and reasonably active members of the Design Blogoshpere, Concretedetail, Paul_Anater, Dogwalkblog and I, and we may have, not for the first time and assuredly not for the last, possibly tweeted each other into a corner. The question “What is successful Design?” and the subsequent challenge to simultaneously blog on the topic arose from a cute little “oh-my-gosh-who-would-have-ever-designed-such-ghastly-crap” blog that I had just published. When the post was criticized by one of my fellow bloggers on account of there being real problems like the  oil-in-the-gulf fiasco and people who designed garbage like that only did it to get attention and I should not stoop to give them credence by writing about them.

woman legs chair bad design

I beg to differ on that POV. By writing in a way that people may find appealing, humorous, informative or even provocative, I create an audience. Now in order to keep an audience I have to keep things fresh and interesting even at the risk of having to employ the devious art of showcasing half-naked-sumo-wrestler-side-tables but in doing that, I now also have an audience which may occasionally listen to serious topics on design, products, business or even the oil spill.

But all this was just an aside and feeble attempt to remember how we got to asking the question in the first place.

But here it is: When do we call design successful? Is it when people ooh and aah? Is it when it ends up in Architectural Digest? Is it when a homeowner call his designer and tells him that for the first time his “house is now a home”? Or is it even successful when something is so much of a train wreck – I do have to ask..the chair(?)above, who the $&*# designed that? – that people talk about it and spread it from blog to blog? They’re all design and in their way successful but wherein do we gauge their success?

Notice how I didn’t even dare bring up the idea of a design being more profitable than others, ha, what nonsense. Is it not often the design we pour ourselves into, and oeuvre d’Art that is all consuming and by “all” I mean one’s time, one’s energy, one’s ability to focus on any other project and one’s profit ? So no, money can’t be the big indicator here.

My answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind. To me there is no right or wrong in design, other than the chair above and possibly the disaster below. The definition of the word ranges from “to conceive and plan out in the mind” to “to execute”, in other words you have an idea, you plan how to realize the idea and you actually turn around and build it. Voila. By definition the design is successful if you’ve taken it from concept to completion. If someone doesn’t like it, too bad, they can come up with their own.

What I would really like to hear or see are your ideas of successful designs and with that hopefully inspire a pretty blog, full of beautiful designs and creative solutions, to where I no longer feel forced to pull all the stops just to get a little attention around here.

bad design

  • http://www.kitchenandresidentialdesign.com Paul Anater

    I agree with you here. I think the answer to the question of “What is successful design” hinges on the definition of successful and not on a definition of design.

  • http://www.kgstyleblogs.com Keska George

    I agree! Anything that is successful is just something that has been planned correctly and executed properly..and ultimately done!

    I worked on one design where I created a livable space for a child underneath and an adult on top who were sharing a room! At first, I got a lot of criticism but then people understood the concept. I regarded it as successful even though not many people understood or liked it.

    I planned it, executed it and finished the project! It was my success!

  • admin

    I think we both have realised that the answer to the question is a host of more questions. Design plays into aesthetics, function and on a more global level, planning. So maybe that is where the answer lies. You cannot judge aesthetics, you can’t argue function (too much) but planning is either done well or it isn’t.

  • http://blog.buildingmoxie.com jb

    my friend recently told me (speaking of his experience in the theater) that we as the creators (bloggers, designers, concrete artisans) of the world need not concern ourselves with what others think — It is our job only to put it out. I am not sure if that is right or wrong and/or in any way a one size fits all. I do say — Leave the critique for the critics (by nature the anti-creator) — and now . . . I just need to convince myself into believing it all.

    Great post. V. continued success. jb @BMoxieBMore

  • admin

    Thank you for that and I think I may want to nudge you away from that POV. I think we do have an impact on people’s opinions. Are not bloggers more like columnists than “objective reporters”? That tight there being an oxymoron of course. We put it out and comment and, more importantly, invite others to add more comments. It’s about engaging the community, not preaching to it and surely more than just displaying it. How boring would that be?

  • http://www.loveaffairwithcolor.com Marilyn G Russell

    Such a subjective and thought provoking post. Geez, successful as you state can (will) generate a whole host of responses as you can see from above.

    My two cents: Aside from a space being aesthetically pleasing and the end-user being completely satisfied with the end result, a successful design to me is a cohesive plan where the execution has created a safe interior environment. Anyone can make a space pretty, according to the end-user’s taste or preference. But if there are unseen flaws then the design is also flawed and not successful.

    Have a fantastic day V!!!!

    ps. Great post!

  • http://www.lancotf.com Amy Good

    Great post! To me, successful design has been reached when the home is functional, meets the clients expectations and most importantly is within their budget. If you or I, or any of us for that matter, design something that the client loves but cannot afford, we have done a serious disservice to them and to the building industry as a whole. Trust me, it happens.

  • http://www.lifeofanarchitect.com Bob Borson

    Your question is one of those Icarus questions because there is no right answer. I don’t think it successful design hinges no either the word ‘design’ or ‘successful’ although I think that is a clever distinction. I think that in order to provide an answer you have to define it or give it meaning so that it can be judge one way or another. For me, my definition is in order to have a successful design, it has to have meaning and relevancy. That’s it. Is that less than 140 characters? That way, good or bad, it’s contributing and making an impact (which btw is my definition of design).

  • admin

    Couldn’t agree with you more and yes, it happens. It is so easy to make the client fall in love with a design and everyone get’s caught up in the other’s excitement until…..the morning after. When it comes down to brass tax. By the way I think it happens both ways, designers can’t over dream and have to also keep the client from getting carried away. Doing this is in a responsible way, still keeping the excitement for the project going and creating an aesthetically pleasing and functional solution is what makes a designer and it’s what makes a designer worthy of his or her fees.

  • http://www.concretedetail.com Rich Holschuh

    I work from scratch. I start from the ground up. I meet with my clients, I visit the site. We talk, we get a feel for each other and for the intended application. This is important – we are creating a new substantive existence, a realization of many factors cast into a cohesive whole. It results in a manifestation of functional art, which I think is another way to say “successful design”. It’s that intersection Paul refers to… I am so passionate about my craft because it is never a dull moment – every new situation demands its own appropriate response; it is a welcome and rewarding challenge. And I am always appropriate… well, most of the time …

  • http://www.modernsauce.blogspot.com/ ModernSauce

    I would say ‘success’ is as arbitrary as ‘taste’ except when looking at the atrocities above. A chair that appears virtually unusuable to actually sit on is unsuccessful design. Perhpas it IS a successful art installation. But in contrast to that if I made a wooden box that you could sit on that would be a much more successfully designed chair! My final answer? I have no idea!

    Thanks for the blog-off question!

  • Craig VanDevere

    For me the design is successful, when all the dust settles, the client/user is in their facility, space or home and they express in various ways how the built environment has met and/or exceeded their expectations at all levels (funtionality, visual appearance, cost, etc.).

    I assume that would hold true for most designed elements whether a building or a bookcase. Otherwise IMO things may start to get rather subjective unless there are some very clear reasons as to how one came to those conclusions/decisions.

  • http://www.AventeTile.com Bill Buyok

    Successful design is when my need or goal is met or my problem solved. “Need” and “problem” imply both form and function. Otherwise, we’d all use stainless steel sanitary ware on a concrete floor for our bathroom and call it done.

    There is no single “correct answer” for successful design, since we all have different needs. My aesthetic and needs may be very different than yours and require a different approach. Very little importance should be placed on what “we” in the sidelines have to say, it has to do with the need that I define and the style I desire.

    Certain designs will have universal appeal or be timely. However, some designs are destined only or ephemeral success like that train-wreck of a chair.

  • http://www.cft411.com Joseph

    Interestingly enough, the chair does seem to perform part of its function in that it is laid out correctly. For a chair to be comfortable, the back should be tilted back at eleven degrees, and the seat should come up at five degrees. You can get by without tilting the seat up, but if you don’t tilt the back, it is very hard to sit in them for an extended period of time. Frank Lloyd Wright knew that about the chairs he designed for his homes, of course, and said he couldn’t sit in his own designs for any length of time. But he was so enamored of those backs coming up at a straight ninety degrees from the seat that he let the function of the chair go down the tubes.

    Beyond function, there is also the aesthetics of the chair. One of the chair makers I found myself liking quite a bit was an unassuming man who felt that a chair or any other item of furniture he made should just quietly do its job. On that scale, every one of the chairs you used as a hideous example is well-described.

  • http://hornbeckdesignpartners.com Nancy Manning

    Since we do work for others and need to meet their living requirements, I consider it successful when they are happy with the result.

  • http://www.trendoffice.blogspot.com trendoffice

    The chair above is definitely not a successful design:)

  • Jasveen Sahota

    Is successful design the same as good design? Can a bad design sometimes prove to be a successful design? No and yes if you are talking in terms of how many people adopt the product. To me good design and successful design are two different things.     


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