10 Principles of Timeless Design

Good Design is by Mukesh Gupta

I was reading about design and what design looks and feels like when I stumbled onto the 10 commandments of timeless designs that the legendary designer Dieter Rams had created to critically look at his own designs, early in his career.

When I look at these commandments, I would call them principles of design, I felt that just like the designs that these commandments help become timeless, these commandments themselves are timeless.

So, I wanted to not just share a link to an article or a poster, but actually list down these commandments on my blog so that I can refer back to them on my blog whenever I need them. Also, I have realised that capturing this in the form of a blog allows a much wider set of audience to see and learn from them rather than a FaceBook post or a tweet or a pinterest share.

So, here are the 10 commandments that Dieter had laid down, not necessarily in the same order (words under <paranthesis> are my own additions) and I have tried to couple them in the form/function/meaning frames to make it easy to remember.

Form:

Good design is aesthetic.

The aesthetic quality of a product adds to the usefulness of the product as the products that we use every day affect our person and our well-being. So, as with every other thing in life, we all want products and objects that are aesthetically pleasing.

If we are given a product that had all the other aspects of good design but lacked aesthetics, and another with the same set of features but is aesthetically pleasing, most of us will always pick the one that is aesthetically pleasing over the other.

There is something inherently human making us gravitate towards things that are beautiful.

Good design is unobtrusive.

Good design is when the design doesn’t get in the way of what the product is meant to be used for. Good design is when the user of the product doesn’t even recognise the design elements being presented to him as part of the product.

Good design is environmentally friendly.

Design makes an important contribution to the preservation of the environment. As designers, it is important that we understand that every single element of design that we include in a given product that the product could have done without, we are increasing the usage of our resources. It also helps the products from visual pollution and make the design stand out.

As a matter of fact, design could potentially be the single most important function that can have immense impact on the future state of usage of natural resources. We as designers, need to understand this responsibility and act (design) responsibly.

Good design is as little design as possible.

This follows the “Less is More” maxim that a lot of artists and designers have used for generations now. The very simplicity of the iPod or the iPhone (with just one button on the phone) is what makes them so innovative and easy to use.

The more choices that the users of the product need to make, the more are the chances that they will make a mistake at one of these choices. So, limiting the number of interactions that a user can have with the product at any given stage is probably the best way to minimise confusion and mistakes by the user.

Function:

Good design makes a product understandable.

Design when used well can play the part of the user manual. When I bring home a washing machine which has 20 programs and can be customised in myriad of ways, I need someone to come home, install the machine and explain to me all the features.

In reality, the engineer comes home, installs the machine, explains the most frequently used features and runs away as he is measured on how many installations he does on a given day. This means that I would hardly use any other feature apart from the most commonly used features, which defeats the entire purpose of putting those features in the product in the first place.

Imagine if the washing machine came with just 5 keys. Each clearly indicating what it did (not as a function of the product, but for me as the user) – for cotton clothes, for woollens, for really dirty clothes, for baby clothes and rinse only. These are just some examples, could be different based on the actual needs of the users. I then don’t need anyone to come home to explain to me what the product does and how to use it.

So, if  someone has to explain how to use a product, then it’s design isn’t a timeless design.

Good design is long-lasting.

Design that doesn’t follow fads and fashions, sticks to the basics and is as minimal as possible, is timeless as it is as pleasing and useful today as it will be a few years from now. This is also the reason why black and white shirts never go out of fashion and are fail proof when it comes to fashion. So, it is with products. Products that use what is in fashion, can appeal in the near short-term but in the long-term, it looks and feels weird and out-of-place, once the fashion changes.

There is another layer of meaning here. There has been a tendency of product designers to build in product obsolescence within the product itself, so that the user is forced to buy again. However, this is in direct contradiction of the environment friendly maxim laid out earlier. In fact, Dieter Rams, has openly come out and has asked designers to stop doing that.

Good design is innovative.

Any design that leverages the new developments and breaks the barrier in terms of what is possible, while at the same time follows all the other commandments is a good design. Innovative design, when used by and for itself, is not good design.

Meaning:

Good design is honest.

Good design doesn’t promise the user what the product doesn’t do. It stays true to the function of the product and just that, making it simple, minimalistic and timeless.

Good design is thorough down to the last detail.

No part of the design is left to chance or appears by default. The more care taken to ensure that every single element in the design is there by design and intention and serves a purpose for the product or the user of the product. This shows respect towards the user and their time and attention, two of their most important commodities, that once spent, can never be recovered again.

Good Design Makes a Product <More> Useful. 

Any design that doesn’t make the product being designed more useful, only comes in the way of the product itself. So, it’s better to only include elements that add to the usefulness of the product and leave everything else out.

These principles are as timeless as the products that are built keeping them in mind.

Conclusion:

In conclusion, I would like to also bring to the attention of the readers, that there are enough studies that have found that creativity flourishes when operated under a set of constraints.

These commandments or principles function as the set of constraints and allow us to tap our most creative self to come up with a design that is timeless and helps the users & creators of the product equally.

If you are a designer, I would recommend that you take a print of the commandments and hang it someplace that you can see all the time, while working on your next product design. That will help you remember the constraints and enable you to come up with a product with timeless design.

A small request:

If you liked what you read/heard, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the blog/podcast. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the blog/show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough to get a cup of coffee for the expert that is in your home. 

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for.

I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well or even set-up your own Patreon Page here.

Leadership Lessons from The Recent Political Crisis in Tamil Nadu

Leadership Lessons from Recent Political Crisis in Tamil Nadu by Mukesh Gupta

Looks like the final curtain on the political crisis in Tamil Nadu finally came down, with Palanisamy being sworn-in as the chief minister.

There are two leadership lessons that we can all learn from the way this entire episode unfolded.

Importance of Succession Planning:

This entire incidence only goes to show that there was no clear succession plan in place, if something were to happen to the erstwhile chief minister Jayalalitha. Even if she had someone in mind, she did not make it clear to the candidate or her party cadre, either explicitly or post facto, in her will.

This is one of the most common mistakes that leaders commit. The reasons why they fail to invest enough time and effort in identifying and grooming a successor are:

  1. They assume that they have a lot of time to do this and that there are other priorities that are more urgent than this.
  2. They believe that no one in their current team is capable of being nominated as their successor.

In my opinion, this is probably the most important task that a leader is expected to do – develop more leaders.

What they fail to understand is that, it is in these moments of transition that organisations or teams go through a lot of chaos, uncertainty and ambiguity. These moments always bring to the front a power struggle, which always has a winner and a loser. This power struggle also means most people will end up taking sides and whichever side wins the struggle the team loses as it is extremely difficult to bridge any gaps that this power struggle creates. These scars heal slow. Also, the team that wins the power struggle may or may not be the best to take on the leadership.

This is also the time when the team is at its most vulnerable self. This is the time when competitors can disrupt the team and inflict maximum damage, if they are aware and agile enough to seize the opportunity.

Some ways that leaders can ensure this does not happen are as below:

  1. Develop successors rather than plan successors: Language matters a lot. When you define that the leader needs to develop his potential successor, they can then identify someone with potential. They can identify the gaps and give them projects and tasks that provide the opportunity to learn and grow their skills. This also gives leaders the opportunity to also find out if someone is able to scale up their skill-sets and mindsets to be able to grow into the role. All leaders need to understand that people grow in their roles and are hardly ever ready for a role.
  2. Developing successors as an Imperative: All leaders need to be measured on how many leaders they have developed in their teams who take on more senior positions. Once this is measured and has an impact on their growth and potentially their remuneration, this is taken seriously and progress made.
  3. Keep Things Simple: Anything that gets complex and involves too many people or too many steps starts getting procrastinated. So, instead of going through a complex analysis of all the potential candidates, it is easier to go with the judgement of the leader and identify two to three candidates who need to be tested and groomed for growing within the organisation.

As Stephen Covey stated, this is a Q2 activity, important but not urgent, until it becomes urgent. But by then, it is too late.

If done well, this process can yield not only stability to the team in times of transition but also create an opportunity to continue to produce a cohort of potential leaders.

Challenges with Larger than Life Leaders:

One of the characteristics of the erstwhile Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, Jayalalitha, was that she was larger than life leader. In most situations, she was above everything else, above her party, above her cause and above everything else.

We also have leaders in businesses who become larger than life. They take on a larger than life persona of themselves. While this serves the business for sometime, these leaders then quickly start believing that they are above the businesses that they are serving and so do their teams.

The moment this sets in, the decline of the business is imminent. This is exactly what happened with Jayalalitha. She became this larger than life leader and now it is increasing more difficult for her successor to step into her shoes. The more difficult it is for him, the more he will strive to achieve that. This is an ever worsening feedback loop which results in the organisation becoming weaker and weaker.

The only way that leaders can avoid this trap is by staying grounded. Some ways to stay grounded for leaders could be:

  1. Meet with their front-line employees on a daily basis. This keeps them closer to the business and at the same time continue to learn.
  2. Identify someone who is their alter-ego. He is tasked with alerting the leader every time he/she starts to think of himself/herself as bigger than the business.
  3. No Extreme perks. The feeling of being larger than life starts to take root when the leader starts getting and even demanding extremely special treatment everywhere they go. If leaders make it clear that they will not tolerate overtly special treatment from their employees, they tend to remain more grounded than otherwise.

Conclusion: 

The question now is how stable will the new cabinet under the leadership of Palanisamy be? My experience says that the power struggle is not over yet and will continue for some more time, leading to much more uncertainty within the government. The losers are the people whom the government is supposed to serve.

Similarly, if leaders don’t develop their successors and stay grounded, the team suffers and eventually the organisation and the customers that it serves suffer. This is never a good thing.

A small request:

If you liked what you read/heard, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the blog/podcast. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the blog/show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough to get a cup of coffee for the expert that is in your home. 

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for.

I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well or even set-up your own Patreon Page here

PBTO50: Understanding Why We do, What We do with Dilip Soman

Who is on the show:

In this episode we host, Dr. Dilip Soman. He is a behaviour scientist and the author of the book  The Last Mile, and is a Professor of Marketing and holds the Corus Chair in Communications Strategy. His researches behavioural economics and its applications to consumer wellbeing, marketing and policy.

He is also the director of the India Innovation Institute at the University of Toronto. He works with ideas42 and serves as advisor to a number of welfare organizations.

Why is she on the show:

In his book The Last Mile, he tackles a very important topic. He takes the concepts of behavioural economics that were introduced by Dr. Richard Thaler and shows how they can be implemented in a personal, organisational and national policy making to improve our chances of making good decision.

What are we talking about:

In this free-wheeling conversation, we talk about:

  • What is Choice architecture & nudge and what it means for us
  • Why as humans we tend towards making poor decisions when presented with complex choices?
  • What are Mindful and mindless nudges and where can we use them?
  • Why is it a big surprise that businesses assume that people make rational choices
  • Some practical examples of products built using the insights from behavioural psychology:
    • Sticking to a plan… stickk.com
    • Cookie jar with a timer
  • The emerging Market for self control based products
  • What is Implementation intention and why is it important
  • How can we use insights from behavioural psychology to Create the kind of organisational culture we want?
  • When is nudging the right approach, and when it is not
  • Important insight: Potential loss VS Potential Gain – fear of loss > pleasure from gain
  • How Amazon has leveraged insights from Machine learning, coupled with the insights from choice architecture to become the behemoth that it has become.
  • Nudging in public policy and some examples of the same
  • Theory of decision points
Humans struggle to make good decisions when presented with complex choices. Click To Tweet

How can you reach him:

You can reach him on twitter at @dilipsoman or through LinkedIn.

Patreon:

If you like what you hear, I would request you to head over to my patreon page and become a patron for the show. You could do so by contributing anywhere from a single dollar to about 1000 USD depending upon how much you like the show.

Think of it like the following – I will bring thought leaders to your door step and in return all I am asking is for you to spend just enough get us a cup of coffee.

I would like to keep this podcast ad-free and need your support regarding the same. You can also find some very interesting artists whom you can also contribute for. I myself support James Victore as a patron. If you are an artist yourself, consider becoming a patron for James as well.

Practice and Patience

a warm note to say

This post is dedicated to every single artist that exists in the world today. To every creative person, every entrepreneur, everyone who creates something out of nothing and needs an audience.

I came across a video essay created by Adam Westbrook on the creative process. I think that this is a brilliant essay that tackles two very important things:

The Importance of  Practice & Patience:

The era that we live in and the technology that surrounds us has created this impression that success is there for the taking, anyone who can create something interesting, can get rich and famous really quickly. This has led to many people creating stuff and expecting it go become viral and hence making them rich and famous.

Not many people have the patience and are willing to grind it out, even when there is no audience, specially, when there is no audience.

This is my 402nd blog post on this blog. I know that when I started this blog, there were days when the blog did not even clock a single view in a week. I could have stopped then.

Even after 401 blog post, this blog does not boast of a big audience, certainly not as many as some of the internet celebrities boast of.

Now, is my content equally good, may be, may be not.

Am I proud of what I have created? Definitely.

Have I delivered value to the small group of people who visit this page and read what I have written? I definitely think so.

Will I ever get the kind of following or readership that some of these celebrities get? Maybe, one day, I just might. Maybe, one day, I might surpass them all. Maybe.

But, that day will never come if I just dream about it. So, in order to make that happen, I need to practice. So, I write post after post and hone my skill.

Has my writing skills improved? Definitely.

Has the quality of my content improved? Definitely.

My friends, colleagues and well wishers continue to ask my what do I get out of spending so much time, effort and money on this blog. My answer to them all is that I love writing on this blog – not because this will make me famous or rich, but because I love sharing my experience and in doing so, am able to internalise my learnings and improve my ability to articulate things.

As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about in his seminal book – Flow , maybe I have an Autotelic personality.

I love writing on this blog for the love of writing and the joy and skill it gives me.

Over the past 4 years, ,my audience has grown steadily. From no page views in a week, we now get 50-70 views a day. Even now, somedays, we dont get more than 20 views.

I think that is still fine with me.

I am willing to be patient as I am loving the work that i am putting in.

I have had people write to me that they liked and learnt from my blogs. That is good enough for me to continue to write here.

I will continue to practice and stay patient.

What about you? Have you given up your pursuit just because you didn’t have an audience for your first work of genius?

If you are a creative artist and want to make great art, this post is dedicated to you.

Watch the following video essay and remember the virtue of practice and patience.

Our time will come, when we are ready for it. Till then, practice your art and the art of being patient.

Enjoy the videos:

The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was once a loser from Delve on Vimeo.

The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter from Delve on Vimeo.

The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

Hope you liked the series.

A special thanks to Adam Westbrook and his supporters on Patreon for making this amazing piece of art.