What Makes a Great Design?

The inherent creativity of the human beings is one of the key reasons that we are the dominant species on planet earth and only a modicum of investigation is needed to witness how it simply bursts out of every society with inspiring results, regardless of creed, colour or inherent wealth. Human ingenuity and inventiveness has existed since time immemorial and spearheaded the relatively rapid progress of our species in many diverse and compelling ways.

Our appreciation for creativity is also inherent and no formal training or education is needed to become moved by a certain painting, sculpture or piece of music. These traditionally appreciated forms of creativity are easy to hold aloft as examples of the intellectual heights that we can reach as a species. However, it is important that we offer the same reverence to our engineering achievements and the sensational scientific innovations that have helped shape our evolution with such dramatic effects. The way in which our species has sometimes used these innovations for the exploitation of the masses rather than for making the world a better place for current and future generations is clearly a subject worthy of its own article and will not be expanded upon here.

The seemingly self-perpetuating human creativity continues at a pace in this modern world and our collective ingenuity fuels technological and artistic advances at an astonishing rate. Concepts that would have been considered the stuff of science fiction only a few years ago are now common place and this is indeed an exciting time to be alive.

For the purposes of this article we are going to use the term ‘design’ to define these instances of human creativity. While I acknowledge that asking 1000 people to define what ‘design’ means to them is likely to result in 1000 different answers, I personally like to consider design as the physical manifestation of a piece of human creativity. This means that creativity ranging from art to engineering and possibly even into the field of science can be included and prevents the suffocating effects of self-imposed boundaries that we encounter all too often in the modern design world. I don’t recall Leonardo Da Vinci limiting his field of vision to just painting, or Enzo Ferrari appreciating the Jaguar E Type purely for its mechanical capabilities and in my opinion, neither should we.

Being a designer is at its best a vocation and every designer with this mind-set will set out with the desire to create a truly great design. The result at the end of the day however, can be compromised due to anything from financial constraints, to insufficient research, or even to a lack of vision and very few designs achieve such a lofty position.

So what ingredients are needed to create a great design?

Firstly, the most important ingredient for any great design is innovation and the generation of a solution to a problem or desire that is unique and offers clear advantages over what has gone before. Where would our modern world be for example without Orville and Wilbur Wright, the American inventors and aviation pioneers who developed their flying machine into the world’s first practical fixed-wing aircraft? Isambard Kingdom Brunel is another design hero who demonstrated his belief that propeller-driven ships were the way of the future back in the 19th century by initiating a tug of war between two equally matched ships, one paddle driven and the other propeller. As the propeller driven ship pulled the paddle driven vessel along without mercy, it was clear that Brunel was indeed correct and the propeller era had begun in earnest.