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Odds and Ends, Requirements Gathering

What is a good design?

If you were posed this question, the most probable answer would depend on the receiver of the question.

  • “What do you mean by good?” – a process person
  • “What do you mean by design” – a designer
  • “Depends” – a management person

A compelling attribute of a good design is perhaps simplicity. In that context I feel that we have reached the elusive utopia with regards to a ball pen. Consider a throw-way ball pen. A cap, the actual pen and the shell – can it be simpler than that? Yes, perhaps we can remove the cap. May be not – the ink may dry up and carrying it becomes a problem.

Consider a reusable ball pen. Reynolds is a sterling example of a good design. A cap, the actual pen, the screw-able top and bottom – in all 4 pieces, can it be simpler? Yes if we move the realm of reuse to the onetime. It becomes three. A pencil by contrast one piece and I am sure that would be proposed as a contender. However, to use it we would need a sharpener and that adds to the count.

Ease of use is another attribute of a good design. The example that comes to my mind is an egg timer – more complicated inside but extremely simple to use.  Turn it right to indicate 3 minutes and after that wait for the bell to ring.  A mobile phone as an egg timer is perhaps more difficult to use. My mobile users would probably like to meet me in a dark alley for saying that, but I will take that chance! In this respect I am yet to find an easy to use umbrella. They are compact but not easy to use. My niece actually hurt herself trying to close one – resulting in some surgical stitches.

Anything multipurpose by definition cannot be an example of good design. This is due to the impossible task of combining many goals into one. If you do succeed, then the result is complicated and I suspect would suffer from some aberration as well.  Many users of the Swiss army knife would oppose my statement.  The knife is an excellent work of engineering but actually trying to mix a knife, toothpick and a compass…?

Coming to software design – we have read tomes of good software design, perused through pages of advice on good programming styles and countless code beautifiers, yet we are still struggling to manage requirements.  Why are some problems hard, I wonder?



9 thoughts on “What is a good design?

  1. “Clarity” would be a good one-word answer to your last question. “Simplicity” would nearly complete the answer. “Common sense” is the definitive closure.


    Posted by Rajagopal K | August 23, 2012, 12:30 pm
  2. A comment I received on this – a designer his own right
    “The finest example of design that has not had to be amended or improved in any way since its invention and patent registration in 1876 is the humble gem clip. It does what it is supposed to do reliably, and is cheap, easy to mass produce, and does not require an instruction manual.”

    Posted by eswarann | August 23, 2012, 2:34 pm
  3. Problems are not hard they are simple. But the way we think. It is always based on past experience and gained historical knowledge. Future is just future it will not be totally based on past and that 10 to 20 per cent change creates the problem and thing becomes hard enough. Because one thought to solve an issue one way but the problem got twisted

    Posted by Uday | August 23, 2012, 2:41 pm
  4. What is a good design?

    I would counter that by asking, “When is a design considered complete?” because you can measure quality only when something is ready. I am obviously not a fan of Software Project Plans that speak of software 20% complete. As if a car with 1 wheel can even qualify being called a car. And let’s not even speak about component testing in this context.

    IMHO in software, a design is never “complete”. You take it to a point where it is “good-enough” or you run out of time or money to continue and have to stop designing.

    …just some food for thought 🙂

    Posted by Sandeep | August 23, 2012, 4:18 pm
  5. The best quote I read on simple design is that it is complete not when you cannot find something to add but when you cannot find anything to remove.

    Posted by Manish | August 24, 2012, 4:05 pm
    • the dimension of simplicity.

      Posted by eswarann | August 24, 2012, 4:19 pm
    • Well said. Derived from Occam’s Razor perhaps? Removing complexity is an important aspect of what makes a design good.

      Which is where my point starts from. In software, the definition of good can be an intermediate step to a long journey and a series of good designs. Or conversly, foe example the spiral development model can be viewed as a series of bad designs getting corrected to reach a final “good” design?

      Posted by Sandeep Dhar | August 26, 2012, 3:00 pm


  1. Pingback: Designing for simplicity « A Ra News - September 4, 2012

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