Visual design is often the polar opposite of engineering: trading hard edges for subjective decisions based on gut feelings and personal experiences. It’s messy, unpredictable, and notoriously hard to measure. The apparently erratic behavior of artists drives engineers bananas. Their decisions seem arbitrary and risk everything with no guaranteed benefit.
An experienced designer knows that humans do not operate solely on reason and logic. They’re heavily influenced by emotions and perceptions. Even more frustratingly, they often lie to you about their reactions because they don’t want to be seen as imperfect.
and in the comments are some more excellent soundbites
…exceptional design has ideals, integrity and vision. It listens and is informed by its users, but sometimes more importantly, it knows better.
Great design creates new data. Design is creative, not reactive
Two weeks ago I met Jonathan Ive. Ive is SVP of Industrial Design at Apple. He’s credited with some of Apple’s design triumphs: the eMate, the iBook, the iMac, PowerBook G4, iPod, iPhone, Mac mini and a raft of others. He said his team is small but they’ve been working together for a very long time now – something that affords great understanding between them. Ive seems a quiet and humble bloke, but his presence and passion were able to shine through in the brief meeting – his volume increasing as he became more passionate about the subject. This bloke, from the same part of the country as David Beckham, was voted by the Daily Telegraph as being more influential than Beckham (which probably says more about how out of touch famous footballers are with the rank and file).
I love how some of the designs I like inspire strong feelings in myself and others. Exceptional design should inspire polarity of thought – you should be in love with it or hate it – it should, by it’s very name, be an exception. This is subtly different from ‘the most usable design’ of course, which should slot into your own user model so easily that you barely notice it. Great design in interfaces can also polarise but even the worst reaction should acknowledge the attention to detail in the user model. This is something that, again, Apple does well. It’s always been a medium where Apple has changed things incrementally and when they have perhaps taken a step backwards (like Mac OS X Public Beta) it was most definitely a ‘girding of our loins’, a ‘hitching of our skirts’ so we could better witness and experience the changes going forward.