Take a look around: at the tumbler keeping your coffee warm, the chair you’re sitting on, the room you’re in, the screen of this strange device you’ve been staring at the past few seconds. Someone, somewhere out there has either made your life ten times easier or noticeably less enjoyable (to my desk and chair at home, my stiff neck sends its regards), all thanks to design.
The most obvious examples are those we barely give a second glance. Take the humble paper clip, a common detail in everyday life that usually never merits a second glance. But the reason people are still using it today since its birth sometime in the 19th century is it does what it’s supposed to do in the easiest, most straightforward way possible.
Another example is door knobs. Imagine carrying a heavy stack of boxes and trying to open a door with a round, twist-style door knob. It isn’t exactly a monumental effort, but to people with physical ailments or disabilities, alternatives like lever-style door knobs and push-pull doors make getting around on a daily basis much, much easier.
Design is everywhere. It’s entwined into our daily routines, constantly pointing us in the right direction and improving the quality of our lives behind the scenes. It exists without us really noticing it’s there, and that’s the beauty of it.
Take a look at smartphones. Notice how some of them use an envelope symbol to tell you that this is where you send your messages, or an address book for your contacts. Kids these days probably haven’t even seen a real-life address book, yet the meanings of these symbols have become so universal and familiar to us, and designers know this.
When presented with something new, people need to be able to quickly learn how it works and how to use it. People know what to do when they see a handle on a door or a switch on the wall, but for more complex devices like smartphones whose functions aren’t inherent in their physical design, this isn’t so obvious. How much people end up liking and wanting to use something will heavily depend on how easy it is to use. No matter how beautiful or cool the latest smartphone looks, if it’s a pain in the butt, people will find something else. That’s why designers need to place accessibility and ease of use above all else.
But design truly stands out when form seamlessly meets function, when something does what it does well and looks good doing it. Apple designs its products for their customers. They guide you every step of the way and make sure you understand how their products work without much effort, even if you’ve never held an Apple device in your life. They cater to your experience of the product. That, plus gorgeous aesthetics, is why so many people choose Apple.
The same principles apply to interior design. Most people think that an interior designer is there just to make our rooms look pretty. In truth, they design for people, just as much as any other designer does. They’re tailoring a room for a specific person with individual tastes and needs. If they’re designing a room for someone who loves order, that room should strive for a symmetrical visual balance that evokes order and familiarity.
Likewise, a bedroom that’s practically in-your-face with garish colors and visually un-relaxing elements isn’t a room you’d like to come home to after a long day’s work. No matter how beautiful and perfect a room you’ve just put together, if it doesn’t fulfill the needs that room was meant to fulfill, then it isn’t a good room.
Design matters and helps us in meaningful ways, whether overt or unnoticed. It has the subtle power to influence our behavior and how we interact with the world. So to all the people we’ve never met who’ve made all our lives so much easier with all the cool stuff around us, we thank you for it.