Good design? What makes a good product; a good house; good art? Mårten Claesson, Architect SIR

Good design? What makes a good product; a good house; good art? Many have tried to answer.
“That’s good! Cool! New colours, light blue and brown, wow!” Or: “This I like. Sort of cosy… Just like home!”
The question has kept me awake discussing for many long nights. As if man had no more important problems.

But everybody needs beauty in life. Even if beauty could be everything from a DeSoto Adventurer ’57 to a Chippendale to a Saturday night talkshow.
We don’t live from food alone. Or as H. C. Andersen better put it:
“All we need is sunshine, freedom and a little flower.”

Somebody (many) has said that “form follows function.” A functional form is automatically more beautiful. Maybe that’s so. But I doubt. Is a Volvo 240 more beautiful than a 60’s Volvo P 1800? More the contrary. Confusing. Or can it be that the sportscar better defines the function “car” – to transport somebody from point A to point B and then back to A again? Rather meaningless really, but very human. Even more confusing.

It seems clear that good design – as well as good architecture, poetry, art etcetera – needs something more. Only function and form (surface) lacks a dimension. Maybe that’s why the big furniture producer IKEA recently advertised the third dimension: “Democratic Design.” And their focus is the price.
Cheap is the same as democratic in IKEA-language. Wait a minute! Hold on a while! Firstly: Design is not democratic. A product is always conceived by one or a small group of people. Even at IKEA. Secondly: What makes the plastic chair …gla for SEK 339 a more democratic chair than the original Thonet No 18 (in wood) for SEK X? Or The Jacobsen “7” for SEK 1800? The “7” is by the way closing 10 million sold… No, cheap has definitely another meaning to me.
Instead of price we should discuss value. Value is so much more than just price. Like quality for example. Nobody is going to tell me that I get more than I pay for at IKEA. That wouldn’t make a sucessful company. Sure it’s cheap. But the quality you get is more the one of having “saved money.”
In an internal letter to their designers the company view on quality and democracy is clearer:
“Low prices! Don’t overestimate ’common people’s’ willingness to pay for ’invisible’ quality.”
A rather shallow view on the “common people’s” feeling for quality, isn’t it? More two- than threedimensional.
Value is the third dimension. Value is idea; is feeling; is love; is good design; is something valuable.

I think good design is like love. We know roughly what it is about. But it goes beyond exact definition. I really wonder if it isn’t really the same thing. Good design? You know it when you see it. As with love. I like the thought. It sounds good in a way. 
That must be it.

Mårten Claesson, Architect SIR
Home page: claesson-koivisto-rune