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Good design is five things

In design school, Dieter Rams's "10 things" changed the way I thought about design. A design was no longer a pretty picture — it was a system. But Dieter Rams's checklist never seemed to cleanly fit software UI design. Also, 10 checklist items is too much. Since college, I've slowly whittled down Dieter's list and added a few concepts.

Good design is

  • Modular
  • Flexible
  • Scalable
  • Fluid
  • Simple

Modular & Flexible


Does the design use standard components in an obvious arrangement? Can components be re-arranged to suit different activities?

In the left screen (above) content elements follow a simple modular system. Modules allow for an image, icon, meta data, and title. They can span half the screen or the full screen.

Can the design house disparate content types (ex. text, images, video, etc.)?

The top left screen shows how switching the module icon and meta data can communicate a different content type. These modules are flexible with respect to the content they preview.

Scalable


Does the design work well with zero, one, and 50+ elements?

The three screens above show a first use case (no widgets achieved yet), a first widget, and many widgets. Designing scalable interfaces starts with good empty cases, uses clear messaging, and has compact module forms to allow for more dense screens.

Fluid


Do tasks with this design lead naturally to one another—building toward completion of a key activity?

The 3 screen flow above shows how tapping on the top right tile fluidly transitions to the tapped content screen.

  • First the background takes on the tiles color
  • The tapped tile fades out
  • The grid of tiles slides off screen to the left while the next screen slides in from the right

Simple

A good design is entirely void of clutter. But a lack of clutter does not make a product simple. A simple design uses the smallest number of obvious controls to mediate an activity. Simple designs start with simple activities.