What Great Design Feels Like

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November 2nd, 2009    

This past week I was lucky enough to spend several days at a five-star hotel in Aspen, Colorado courtesy of two new friends, Bruce and Lauri. The accommodations lacked nothing, from the jacuzzi tub to the viking appliances, the rain shower to the turn-down service with chocolates on your pillow each night, this hotel was one of the nicest I’ve stayed. Surrounded in these luxuries, I was able to experience great design in the everyday, from a smart refrigerator to quality shower faucets. This got me to thinking about what are some common themes of great design.

1. Great Design Feels Heavy

There is an aspect of quality associated with weight. The heavier an object feels, the more aesthetic perceived weight it obtains. The hotel’s sturdy coffee table, solid stainless steel shower knobs and the heavy frying pans all displayed this sense of worth just in the way each weighed.

2. Great Design Works the First Time

The normal shower typically has three knobs. One for hot, one for cold and one to turn the shower faucet on and off. However, at this hotel, there were only two. One to turn the shower on, the other to turn to set the temperature. This knob had small number markings to indicate how hot or cold the water would be, allowing a perfect temp shower every time. The beauty, you can’t make a mistake, the knobs work as the user would expect them to from the first time onward. No (naked) user error.

3. Great Design Works with Others

The Viking range that the h0tel room cooked up was an excellent example of designing of the users. While most ranges have knobs that indicate their level of heat from high to low with tick marks in between, this range’s selections matched with common recipe requirements like med-hi, medium, and simmer. Having the burning indicate exactly what the recipe requested made me a more confidant cook which translated into my appreciation for the range.

4. Great Design Pays Attention to the Common Tasks

I have always wondered why refrigerators had the freezer on top. Doesn’t the average user spend the majority of collective cooler time with the fridge portion, not the freezer? Insert your own picture of yourself bent over at the waist staring deep into the coffers of the bottom shelves in search of the pickle jar. A fridge with the freezer as a drawer on the bottom makes much more sense to 95% of the users. Heck, even my grandpa’s fridge, made back in the 60’s was designed this way. Why did we stray from the perfectly elegant solution? My only guess is some lobbying between the frozen foods companies.

The only thing better than a bottom-drawer freezer fridge, would be one that still offered an ice maker in the door.

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