What is good design?

At Useful Things, we’re always impressed by products that manage to seamlessly blend aesthetics and usability. But, aside from subjective preferences about color and shape, what makes one product more well designed than another similar product? Here are our three basic criteria.

ICOON Traveller's Language KitIs it functional?
Regardless of an object’s beauty, if it doesn’t do something useful it isn’t designed well. Good design takes the user from point A to point B easily, and with ingenious simplicity.

For example… ICOON, the traveller’s language kit, is both functional and delightful to look at. Flip to any page of ICOON to see rows of important objects organized meticulously into 12 groups. Communication becomes as easy as flipping to the correct page and pointing at what you want.

Is it relevant?
This takes functionality a step further. If an object is functional, it performs a certain useful task. If it’s relevant, it performs a certain taskthat’s especially necessary or urgent in its temporal or cultural context.

Eco Coffee MugFor example… The “I’m Not a Paper Cup” Eco Coffee Mug is one of our best sellers. What sets this travel mug apart from other similar products is it’s iconic look. The designers left the hip, minimalist design of the paper coffee cup alone, and focused instead on the materials the cup is composed of. The finished product is a brilliant combination of environmental awareness, functionality and aesthetics – a washable travel mug with that culturally relevant paper cup look.

Does it look good?
Sun Jar solar lightWhat makes good design different than good engineering is beauty. Good design occurs when the function-focused mind of an inventor converges with the visually obsessed imagination of the artist.

For example… The Sun Jar is a solar powered LED light encapsulated in a frosted mason jar. Leave it outside for a few hours in direct sunlight, and at nightfall the light will automatically flicker on providing a soft light for up to five hours. It’s a sustainable alternative to capturing a jar full of fireflies.