Gentle Design

There are so many definitions good design! Perhaps the most referenced is Dieter Rams. I personally like The Principles in Design by W H Mayall, 1979, Design Council.
For sheer badness I love the simple truth in Raymond Loewy’s “Good Design Sells”.
For good design method “A short course in Industrial Design” by Erksild Tjalve, 1979 celebrates drawing as a problem solving tool. It is a brilliant thinking book. Probably everyone has a favorite.

But, I am not so sure anymore that the pursuit of good design or attempts to define it helps – anyone. The idea of good design gives rise to the idea of a good designer and that tends to put the whole proposition on the wrong footing.
Those who think they are good designers issue edicts and drawings from white design offices.
Resentment builds in the Engineering Department about the “arty-farty” ones who don’t know how to make anything. Resentment builds in the marketing department who long for a winning product not a shrine to design goodness.
There is arrogance to good design and good designers.

Instead of good design a concept of gentle design seeks excellence in process rather than excellence in outcome. The outcome is not the point. Given time, just like in the design of a traditional boat, an outcome will evolve and fit in with all the people in the whole loop; the shareholders, designers, users, engineers, programmers, environmentalists and the refuse collector. Gentle design is slow. There is time to understand, listen, weigh, balance, compromise, test, evolve and observe. There is no big new idea here, gentleness, slowness, steadiness, call what you will, has been around forever. Nonetheless, to some, especially those in a rush to deliver a new winning product this sounds like letting go of control and ambition, almost giving up. In a highly competitive, technical world the temptation to be good, quick is almost overwhelming. So what goes wrong in the headlong rush for design excellence in design outcomes? What gives? Observation, listening, testing, balance, harmony, beauty. Experience is forgotten. Craft is overlooked. People get trampled over. And then everyone wonders why the brilliant design fails.