William Morris first shared his golden rule of design in a lecture to the Birmingham Society of Arts and School of Design in February 1880. It still rings down the years. It is echoed at greater length in Dieter Rams ‘ten principles for good design.’ And at even greater length in the way Jonathan Ive talks about his work for Apple. And I always thought it was the Victorians who were verbose.
To pay close attention to the quote, Morris suggests an either / or option. But I guess the holy grail is to try and achieve both at once – to solve a problem, to provide a system, to improve matters – ‘design that does something’. And at the same time to gladden the heart and be easy on the eye – design that will literally be attractive. It’s perhaps the balance of head and heart.
This is a tall order of course – something to aim for, rather than claim one can easily deliver (be circumspect with anyone who claims to have a surefire formula). I think good contemporary examples of the Morris adage can be found in the attractive and super legible re-working of the ‘ClearRx pill bottle’ by Deborah Adler. And in the data visualisation of ‘Information is Beautiful’ designer David McCandless. You will, I’m sure, have your own favourite examples.
There is of course a commercial benefit in delivering on the Morris philosophy. Because if one can achieve beautiful and useful design then as a consequence it will be meaningful. It will matter in the hearts and minds of consumers, and this will inevitably be reflected in commercial success. That’s pretty useful and beautiful too, in its’ own way!