Business Report

The 10 Essential Elements of Design

What this month’s package on design teaches us about how better things are created.

No simple checklist could ever fully define what we mean by good design, but when we look at examples of it, we see that some essential elements tend to show up consistently.

As we described in the introduction to this month’s package on design, by exploring these elements individually—and by thinking about design as not just a noun (the design) but also a verb (to design)—we can approach the abstract question of “What is design?” in a productive way. Drawing on what design is actually like in the real world helps us talk about what it could, and should, become.

Here are 10 essential elements or aspects of good design that transcend context, industry, and geography.

Tools

Technologies, from the humble pencil to the most advanced software, amplify human imagination and intelligence, allowing us to imagine and create things.

Experience

Design is not just about the object created, but also about the way that creation makes us feel, think, or learn. It’s about the human response to the things we make for the world.

Systems

New systems and approaches to design—such as sustainable design, design computation, integrative design, biomimicry, and crowdsourcing—are being developed to help us address complex global challenges.

Emotional Appeal

Today we are increasingly designing for the right brain by focusing on the emotional aspects of design and by asking “How will it make people feel?” in addition to “How will it look?” and “How will it work?”

Sustainability

“It’s not good design if it’s bad for the planet” is the mantra of the sustainable-design movement, which encourages designers to consider the impact their creations will have on the environment and people.

Growth

Great design (along with its close cousin, real innovation) has turned into a powerful competitive advantage for companies that have learned how to do it consistently.

Function

Design is sometimes thought to be about form, style, and how things look, but it’s also very much about function, or what something does. With new technologies making it possible to develop new functions, this is now more true than ever.

Aesthetics

The power of beauty is vividly illustrated by the success of companies like Apple. Competing on price and product features is no longer enough.

Spark

How do great designers generate all those great ideas? By asking “What if?” By making unexpected connections. By applying new technologies. By turning to nature. And also from each other, through crowdsourcing and open innovation.

Process

The design process—the way things actually get done—is being transformed by new technologies and new approaches that can radically alter traditional design phases, workflows, time frames, roles, and outcomes.

Tom Wujec is a fellow at Autodesk, a maker of software used by architects, artists, and designers in manufacturing, engineering, and the entertainment industry. Bill O’Connor is in Autodesk’s corporate strategy and engagement group.

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