Objectified is a documentary about design. It primarily covers industrial design, or the design of mass produced goods meant to be consumed by everyone, but it also discusses interaction design, or the design of how we interact with physical and digital objects and software.
Ironically, the documentary never explicitly defines design. Here’s what I gather it means: Design is about seeing a problem, or a need, and inventing a solution that fits that problem or need. It’s the process of creating a thing with a specific purpose in mind for that thing. We design physical things for physical problems, like chairs for sitting and knives for cutting, but we also design virtual things, like websites and interfaces for smartphone screens.
The key takeaway here is that all human-made objects in our world have a design story behind them. At some point, a designer made decisions about how that object would look, feel, and be used. To summarize Dieter Rams’s thoughts, design should be useful, understandable, aesthetic, sustainable, unobtrusive, and consistent. And perhaps most importantly, things should be designed as little as possible. Add nothing superfluous.
Something I’ve found myself thinking lately is the difference between design and pure engineering. As an iOS developer, I build apps, but I work from mockups that my designer partner, Tyler, created. It’s his job to be the visionary, and to craft an experience for our users, all in his head. It’s my job to materialize it. I put the gears into place, and make sure they move fast and don’t break easily.
Apps must both be usable and function well, and both roles, the designer and the engineer, are indispensable here. A few talented people, like Loren Brichter, are one-person design/engineering masters, capable of building beautiful and functional apps totally on their own. But if you take a random walk through any app store, I feel like the vast majority of apps are bad, because they’re built by one person who’s either good at design, or good at engineering, but not both. Engineers have the skill set that allows them to build apps easily, but not necessarily design them well.
I can level up as an engineer by building bigger apps and learning about good code design patterns and best practices, but I’ll level up as an app developer if I learn how to design better experiences and interfaces. The designer/artist/engineer is the triple threat of the production world. Let’s try to get better at all three.