A technology blog for The Economist Group IT team

Thursday, March 23, 2006

What makes good design? 

You may have seen that the BBC's Culture Show ran a competition to find the public's favourite example of design in Britain since 1900. Concorde won with my choice of Verdana not making the top three.

Anyway, the Culture Show recently had a clip of one presenter's view of what consituted bad design and those of you who are based at Red Lion Square will be unsuprised that the revolving door featured. Why do revolving doors exist? You can't get more than one person at a time through them, if you're disabled or carrying bulky items they're unusable and they seem to be an excuse for people to indulge in a spot of "test your strength".

To my mind the acid test for design is to give people an option and see which one they choose. In the case of the revolving door, we had just such a choice at Red Lion Square until a couple of weeks a go and guess what? The revolving door, which is positioned as the main entrance went unused.

Unfortunately for reasons unknown, the preferred door is now out of action.

The same principle applies elsewhere, such as on the web. Google's search (remember when that was all they did?) was different because the interface was so simple and uncluttered. As additional products have been rolled out, the look and feel of those products has remained consistent, but you can see the conflicts that have arisen. In trying to use the same style for search, maps and calendaring, compromises have been made and the overall design ceases to be as effective.

There's an important message in this - if the objective of the service that you're offering remains clear and simple, the design can be uncompromising, but if the aims multiply, then good design becomes more difficult to achieve, but even more important.

The revolving door is with us because architects have persisted in believing that in a modern building the door has the function of keeping the elements out rather than that of simply letting people in and out.
Revolving doors became needed in buildings in the early stages of the twentieth century because lift shafts were creating air pressure in buildings. I don't understand how this works at all but they had a real problem building the empire state and rockafella and revolving doors fixed it. You get told this if you go to the top of the rock rooftop experience. I am really confused as to how they make it better.
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