The Humility of Good Design

I take most things in life for granted. Turn the key, the car starts. Hit the "popcorn" button… done. Want a song? Download it. Need any – any – information? Fingertips. Things have gotten "easy," in a sense, because of how they are designed.

We only notice the things that are broken.

There are a million things that go into good design that no one will ever see.

If something is designed well:

  • it cannot advertise all the problems it solved.
  • it cannot advertise the process needed to get to where it is.
  • it cannot advertise all the design of other things needed to create the design of this thing.
  • it cannot advertise waste, failure, and experimentation.

Good design can only be itself, a reflection of its creator, and a service to its user. Good design cannot say how good it is (this would kill its intended purpose). It must remain content at simply being good.

Good design fundamentally requires humility.

This is a pill many people are still not willing to swallow. Look at the billboards around you. Look at some popular websites. Look at the cable box remote. These are often not humble designs. Therefore, their effectiveness wanes. The business goal is missed. And there's more clutter and less beauty in the world.

"Good design is as little design as possible," says German designer Dieter Rams. Good design gets out of the way and just feels inevitable and leaves us wondering, "How can this be anything other than how it is?"


P.S. The ideas in this post are inspired by the documentary Objectified, "a feature-length documentary about our complex relationship with manufactured objects and, by extension, the people who design them" (IMDB). Below is a clip of Apple's Senior Vice President, Jonny Ive. It is formative and normative for the work we aspire to do at Blue Ocean Ideas. Check it out!

posted by:
Brody Bond

10 Responses to The Humility of Good Design

  1. Jay Lampart

    Loved Objectified! Your posts are brilliant! Thanks for everything you do.

    • brody

      Jay - you're too kind. Thanks. What does the phrase "love objectified" mean exactly?

  2. Kyle Vitasek

    Great word, Brody! Great design honors what it means to be human. That is why Apple is winning. Their design "fits" life. Anything that distracts from that "fit" is clutter. The goal of great design is always to simplify.

    • brody

      Kyle- Those are GREAT observations and good reminders. The idea that there are things that do "fit" what a human experience is is challenging to think about. Requires a ton of work to get there.

  3. Mike Poff

    Hey Brody - you hit the nail on the head with this. I remember during my engineering days thinking that the only time folks noticed us was if something went wrong. I had to work through the fact that I was not doing this for the accolades, but for the opportunity to serve people in an effective way, i.e. humility.

    • brody

      Mike- Exactly. One of the hardest things for me to deal with is the invisible parts of my job. I think part of maturity is growing in that area. Good training for me in this regard was in high school when I worked as a member of the Work Crew at a Young Life summer camp. Everything we did was invisible to the campers. Yet the result was always "excellence." It's good to note that these habits are just that: habits, and they have to be practiced.

      • Mike Poff

        It is interesting all of the things that you note flow out of taking a stance of humility here. It simply affirms the way God has designed things - for humility opens the door to his grace, teachability, patience, teamwork - which all lead to greater churches, greater families, and greater organizations.

  4. Mark Stephenson

    I wonder how this applies to the church? I wonder what it looks like for a church to "get out of the way and just feel inevitable?"

    • brody

      Bingo. And not just the church... any organization that strives to assist and seek the flourishing of those around it.

      • Giggles

        Haha. I woke up down today. You've chereed me up!


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