Alice Rawsthorn, International Herald Tribune design critic and former director of the Design Museum, gives her 5 point criteria for assessing design, from 'What it does' right through to 'guilt' - as she points out, the latter is a peculiarly contemporary consideration! It s a good wee read, a neat summing up that designers would do well to take heed of.
Particularly interesting are her thoughts on beauty and design:
Few things enrage design purists more than suggesting that good design is all about looks. It isn't. ... We've also grown suspicious of beauty in an era when we know that so many "beautiful" images are literally optical illusions, the result of digital retouching.
I am probably one of those design purists, as are many designers of a hacker/maker bent - much more concerned with the process and the outcome being primarily a result of functional considerations - a natural approach when one is designing at first for their own needs/desires. Presumably Rawsthorn is not as functionally purist given her damning of compact fluorescent light bulbs as "so ugly, both in themselves and their soulless light, that they couldn't possibly qualify as good design." Not an opinion that I agree with, but given in the context of this rather modern tug-of-war that now exists between beauty and guilt. Every consumer tussling daily with the questions of what they would have (for beauty's sake) versus what they should have (for the world's sake). She cites Tata's 1 lakh (100,000 rupees) Nano as a case in point: heralded by the makers as a humanistic innovation yet widely derided as an irresponsible environmental burden.
Tata's' 1 lakh car - good, bad or other? - image from Tata Motors
Its a complicated question, that of good design, and one for which the goalposts continue to change.