5 Anti-Principles of Good Design

Simplicity, originality, utility, systematization and continuous evolution are the typical tenets of good design. I propose the opposite. Here are my anti-principles of good design:

  1. Rich, not ascetic. When the obsession with simplification is pursued unconstrained it ends up stripping away not just the excesses but the very life from the work, the result of which is not a work that is simple, but a work that is plain.

  2. Zeitgeist, not originality. Originality for its own sake leads to the destruction of common cultural styles, that is, what we used to call schools of art. Building on top of an existing style ties your work to a common thread, uniting it with a greater movement.

  3. Beautiful, not utilitarian. Pure utility reduces the design of a work, even the design of a tool, to an implement of necessity. A superficial element—i.e. aesthetic expression—elevates the work beyond base necessity, and with that, elevates the condition of those who use it above life’s perpetual metabolism with nature.

  4. Human, not rational. Designers create systems to structure and control the direction and implementation of their work, but often end up conflating the elegance of the framework with the quality of the result. Human eyes see things differently depending on the context in which they are presented—colors, lengths and shapes all appear different depending on the elements that surround them. Trust the eye as well as the brain.

  5. Product, not process. Consumer society reduces the role of the designer from that of a craftsman to that of a laborer by turning the creation of individual works into the task of maintaining a never-ending process. Old hardware gets replaced with ever newer models, software is “never finished”, constantly evolving. The problem is that the output of design labor gets consumed through obsolescence—everything you produce perishes as part of the process. Make things last by disconnecting from the perpetual cycle of the consumer market.

Further Reading

Proust wrote that the true voyage of discovery is not to visit strange lands, but to possess other eyes, to behold a hundred universes that each of them beholds. Thus, in the words of Ruskin, what good books give us is not mere knowledge, but sight.

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