The Good Thing About Bad Taste

Our world is drowning in bad design.

Have you ever been forced to sit through a PowerPoint presentation that looked so bad it made you want to dig your eyes out with a plastic spork? Have you driven through the urban sprawl of America's aging cities and wondered where all this ridiculously bad signage comes from? From unreadable websites to unappetizing menus, bad design is completely ubiquitous in today's world.

If you are like us, you have to wonder – how did it get like this?

Part of the answer can be found by comparing design services to another service that many people would see as totally unrelated: automotive repair. This might seem like a strange metaphor, but bear with us and not only will you learn why there is so much bad design – you'll learn how your organization can avoid contributing to this mess.

Very few people know how to fix their own car, so when their vehicle needs work they take it to an expert. We all seem to understand that trying to do a mechanic's job without any training can be dangerous: if you try to fix the problem on your own, how can you be sure the wheels aren't going to fall off a few miles down the road?

If people treated their design the way they treated their vehicle, we would all be living in a much prettier world. But people treat design differently. Many people who would never dream of changing the oil in their car for some reason believe they can create quality design work, even though they have as much experience with design as they do auto repair.

Let's take a look at why so many people think they can do the job of a designer on their own:

1) Great design looks easy. While a car engine appears complicated, great design looks effortless. This leads people to conclude that fixing an engine is probably complicated while creating a great design must be easy. Although this is the opposite of the truth, it is the logic many organizations use to justify hiring amateurs or attempting to design something on their own.

If we are to stem the tide of bad design, organizations need to realize that good design is hard work, good design takes time, and good design is far more complicated than what meets the eye.

2) Bad design doesn't seem dangerous. People turn to professional mechanics not just because it's difficult to fix a car, but also because making the wrong choice could cause a horrible wreck. Leaving out one crucial element can destroy a vehicle, so people pay good money to ensure nothing gets overlooked.

This rationale applies perfectly to design, but few people see it this way because they don't see the very real danger bad design poses to an organization. Design is a zero-sum game: while good design can cause an immediate positive impact, bad design produces a negative reaction just as quickly.

A poorly fixed car clangs and bangs and belches smoke, but a bad design can be as quiet as a good one. If your organization's design work is out there causing a negative reaction, would you even know it?

There are problems a skilled designer can spot that the untrained eye simply cannot be aware of. Just because you don't see a problem with the design does not mean there are any problems with it. Those problems can easily set your organization on a crash course without you or anyone else realizing it until it's far too late.

3) Style has to be learned. "Know what you don't know." This is easy advice to follow when it comes to fixing a car, but not when it comes to design. Few people can admit they have bad taste. Not because they are arrogant, but because of the very nature of bad taste. As Sam Becker put it, "The good thing about bad taste is that you don't know you have it."

With a car, the success of the mechanic is easy to determine – either it works or it doesn't. But after hiring an amateur designer (or trying to create a design on their own), people have no way of judging the success or failure of the design because they lack the experience and education required to properly evaluate the design.

People mistakenly think a design is measured by how much they "like" it. If your brakes stop working in rush hour traffic, does it really matter if you "like" the way the mechanic installed them? Good design is about far more than liking the way something looks. Good design is meant to serve a purpose. If it does not function properly, it does not matter how good it 'looks' – it is a failed design.

The point is that if you want good design for your organization, you have to go out and find someone who knows it. Not someone who is 'artsy' or 'has an eye for that kind of thing' – find someone who has been trained in the language of design and speaks it fluently.

At Doc4, we take good design seriously. And we think you should too. We are trained in design. We are experienced in design. Design is all that we do. The next time your organization needs to change the design 'oil', don't get your hands dirty – give the experts a call instead.

Michael White

Michael White

Business Specialist at Doc4 Design