Product design - do you have to choose between function and looks?

6th March 2015

Product design - do you have to choose between function and looks?

We often hear the appearance of a product described as styling – a common euphemism for a lack of substance or practicality. But is it really so bad to make things look good? You only have to look at the best brands in the marketplace, and particularly at the most successful company on the planet, to appreciate that spending years getting a design just right, including agonising for days or even weeks over the size of a simple radius, clearly pays off.

Here in the UK, many of our most successful manufacturing companies trade heavily on good design. Despite this, many companies remain concerned that product designers increase costs and undermine practicality.

To a very limited extent, they’re right. A good design will usually cost more than a bad one, but only in the very short term. The overwhelming evidence is that good design builds strong brands and even stronger profits.

However, the idea that great looks can only be achieved at the expense of practicality is simply nonsense. To an experienced designer, there is no conflict between the function of the product and its appearance. On the contrary, designers often use the functionality as a starting point for the external design, creating beautiful products that work…beautifully. Not only that, but their knowledge of materials and processes allows designers to find exactly the right solutions to practical problems in ways that are aesthetically attractive – and cost effective. Good product design is about the whole product, not just the external appearance.

So, to answer the original question - no, you do not need to choose between appearance and function. A good designer will exploit the necessities of the product’s function to create a unique and beautiful design that will delight both its owner and the manufacturer’s shareholders. Sure, it may cost more than a standard rectangular box in the short term, but the return on investment will make that irrelevant. As the saying goes… if you think good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of doing it badly.

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