The emperor has designer clothes

Design accolades for One Laptop per Child ~ IHT, May 16th 2008

What is the purpose of good design if there is no one who can use it? Like the mythical tree that falls in a forest if no one heard it crash, is a product’s design any good if it remains on a museum’s pedestal?

Industrial design differentiates itself from art or sculpture by one simple fact, that its creative form is given for mass production. Good design espouses the value that everyday products become easier and simpler to use for millions of people and their aesthetic value adds beauty to the smallest corners of our home.

When a product is lauded by the industry and the critics as an example of good design but struggles to reach the hands of the people it is meant for, is that an example of art or sculpture, a creative expression of the artist’s personal vision manifested tangibly rather than any validation of what is good in design?

Steve Jobs too is a driven visionary whose manifestation of his aesthetic sense has not only delivered us products that have garnered as many if not more design accolades but also products to have and to hold, to experience and interact with, permitting us to agree with the critics and peers who deem the iPhone or iPod exemplars of good design.

It begs the question, what does good design mean in the context of products that are meant to be used? Does it stop at the physical artifact itself or does it encompass the entire value chain from concept through creation to delivery and use?

John Heskett once said that the critical difference between invention and innovation was its mass adoption by users.

Take the segway for example. No one denies that it is an invention but has it really changed the way we transport ourselves? In a shorter time span has not the iPhone changed the way Americans view and use the mobile phone?

What then is the purpose of a design award for a product that failed to meet its own creative brief?


The road to hell is paved with good intentions is an ancient proverb. Altruism and charity do more good it seems for the givers than the receivers. This seems to becoming a truism every day when it comes to the field of design.

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