Editor's Note: Voting for the Readers' Choice from among the winners of Inc.'s Best In Class Awards for today's best-designed American-made products has closed. The results: Announcing the Inc. Readers' Choice for Product Design 2014.
New York City-based industrial designer Jonas Damon has seen the trajectory of design in the U.S. launch into the stratosphere in recent years.
"Design used to have a very small audience. Aside from the relatively high end, things were just made to be ordinary," says Damon, who serves as executive creative director at the innovation consultancy Frog Design. That's no where near the case anymore.
From apps and video games to wearables and smartphones, companies are increasingly demanding a thoughtful approach to how consumers interact with their products and services. Why? Because that's what consumers want, says Damon. "If it's a choice between two products: one is designed to have a good user experience and one that's cheap, they'll choose the better experience every time."
So just what exactly is "good design?" I spoke with Damon on the subject recently. Below is an edited version of our conversation:
What's your definition of good design?
Jonas Damon: Good design has to serve people; it can't be gratuitous. It can't be something that has no meaning. To exist, it has to serve a real function. A good design today has to stand for something - it needs a reason for being. I think a good design has to be respectful of our environment - environmentally friendly - you need to be able to recycle it, take it apart-- manufactured sustainably. A good design needs to be really well considered. It needs to have integrity through and through.
Favorite product you've designed and why?
JD: My favorite projects tend to be the most recent projects, as with recent work, you deal with the most recent problems and address them with the most recent technology available.
What was the best-designed historical product and why?
JD: It's a Chemex coffee carafe. It's a beautiful piece of design made of a single material. Its design seems natural to how it was made. Nothing is superficial. It's a completely modern design and at the same time it's very delicate and fragile.
How will design continue to remain relevant in the future?
JD: We're physical people; we live in a physical world. We exist by touching and feeling and holding and shaking and scratching. That's the world around us, and if we're going to continue to need that, we'll need people to design new products and experiences.
What product or categories of products could benefit from some design help?
JD: Infant mortality is something that Bill Gates identified as a big problem in the developing world, as nearly 50 percent of the babies who die in the developing world die within the first 24 hours. He wished that there was a solution that existed for that. We designed a healthy baby kit that helps mothers have a healthier more robust pregnancy. The kit helps them track their pregnancy--they can see warning signs and go see community health workers--so that babies are born strong enough to survive the first 24 hours. If we can do more work like this, that's where our attention is needed not necessarily in another piece wearable technology.
What should businesses know about design?
JD: In the past couple of decades, we've proven that good design sells well. The top companies got to that spot because they are creating products that are useful, more satisfying and delightful. At the end of the day, if a company cares about its bottom line, it'll care about design.
Design doesn't have to cost more; it can end up costing less if, as designers, we're do our job right. One of the rolls design plays is to optimize process and lifecycle. Doing that will reduce cost.