Product design basics

Basic design principles gathered from the experiences of a young architect, applied in designing your own device.

Step 1

How to draw a line

One of the most important things I have learned while studying architecture is: sketching is 90% of design process. Without sketching and ability to quickly transfer my ideas onto paper, to store them and somewhat preserve, all of the effort that goes into thinking about problem is quickly gone and lost. With the idea on paper, no matter how good or bad it is, you are able to withdraw it in some way when designing your next product. Cognitive thinking, reflecting on past experiences, is best shown in this process.

Drawing a line sounds simple enough. Drawing a line that has a statement, a line that is not wimpy needs some training.

First of all, use your arm, not your wrist. This way, your pen will stay steady and you will end up with a straight line.

Practice by drawing dots which you will then try to connect. Start with long lines, and with each one try to further the distance between the two dots. By mastering long lines, shorter lines will be a breeze.

Slightly overlap lines. This will make corners seem stronger and less rounded.

Do steady, controlled, fluid motions. Don't draw fuzzy, short segments.

Draw a light guide line with a pencil. Draw your final line over it using a pen. Try to resist the urge of deleting the guide line, since this will give your drawing character.

Step 2

Design starts with an idea

This is pretty straight-forward. Good design is not just there to look pretty. Good design is based on an underlying idea that is solving a specific problem.

Step 3

Genius loci

Genius loci, literally genius of place, is used to describe places that are deeply memorable because of their different qualities. It is a ‘ghost’ of past memories and emotions towards the place, something we are used to and not easily ready to forget. This term, widely used in architecture, can also be used in designing a product. For example, placing a charging port in a familiar place will almost always allow for easier discovering and understanding: “That is where I need to insert a charger!” Shut down button on a TV, laptop, keyboard works the same way. Putting it in some other place will cause a lot of confusion with the existing users.

Step 4

The more specific an idea the better

Being non-specific in an effort to appeal to everyone usually results in reaching no one. Designing upon specific observation, user problem, belief or statement in a creative way can help you create solutions others will identify with in their own way.

Step 5

Keep it simple

If you can’t explain your ideas to your grandmother in terms that she understands, you don’t know your subject well enough.

A lot of designers and architects use big, complex words (most of the time completely meaningless) to describe their ideas, hoping it would make the project and themselves seem more important. Keep in mind that you are not designing for yourself, but for the people.

Step 7

Engineers vs. designers

A designer knows something about everything. An engineer knows everything about one thing.

The designer is a generalist, not a specialist. His job is not just making things look good, but in a way blending various disciplines in a team. The interests of some team members will compete with the interests of others. Designer needs to know enough about each discipline in order to negotiate and unify competing demands, while honoring the needs of the users and integrity of the entire project.

Step 8

Be fast on your feet

As the design process advances, problems arise. Your concept, once so beautiful and perfect, is suddenly facing failure. Bad designer will either hold on to the first idea, not letting it go, patching it on the way, thus losing an integrity of the entire product, or will abandon the pursuit of an integrated whole.

Good designer understands that erosion of a good idea is a helpful indication of where a project needs to go next. When these complications ruin your scheme, change or if necessary abandon the idea, but don’t abandon having an idea and don’t defend the scheme or concept that no longer works. Create a new concept that incorporates everything.

A good designer is not afraid to throw away a good idea.

Step 9

Design with models

3D models, both material and electronic, can help you understand your design in a new way. You will notice something that you could not notice on a sketch or a basic drawing, and it is these little details that make the design.

Step 10

'Ten principles of good design' by Dieter Rams

Back in the early 1980s, Dieter Rams was becoming increasingly concerned by the state of the world around him – “an impenetrable confusion of forms, colours and noises.” Aware that he was a significant contributor to that world, he asked himself an important question: is my design good design? As good design cannot be measured in a finite way he set about expressing the ten most important principles for what he considered was good design. (Sometimes they are referred as the ‘Ten commandments’.)

Here they are.

Good design is innovative.

Good design makes a product useful.

Good design is aesthetic.

Good design makes a product understandable.

Good design is unobtrusive.

Good design is honest.

Good design is long-lasting.

Good design is thorough down to the last detail.

Good design is environmentally-friendly.

Good design is as little design as possible.

Step 11


101 Things I Learned in Architecture School by Matthew Frederick

Check out this amazing, simple book that pretty much sums up a lot of things that students in architecture schools are learning. Most of the illustrations in this tutorial are from the book.

The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman

The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda

Objectified a documentary on product design

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