Good Design is…

belatrova is a collaboration between a painter, a potter and a musician, so each one of us brings his particular slant to any discussion during the Tuesday morning meetings. To our surprise, we often agree on a number of issues, and this week we ended up in general agreement about “good design”.

hand painted belatrove table

table / painting

Good design (we three nodded) has to strike a balance between commercial imperatives and aesthetic ones. A customer buys the product in order to use it, its design clear and understandable, and good design points to this whilst also highlighting the product’s aesthetic value. And design must be honest, in the sense that the product should “do what it says” and not be weighed down by details that only confuse. Another more recent definition has become part of the debate, and that is that good design ensures a product achieves positive results for all involved, while having as little impact on the planet as possible.

Personally I have always had a soft spot for the Coca Cola bottle: its shape is the perfect invitation to grip it, and it shows its content openly. When it first came out in 1916 it must have been perceived as futuristic, its contours a contrast to the straight-sided bottles that preceded it.

coca cola bottle


Nowadays, of course, it is considered a “classic” and probably associated with the 50s more than any other decade. Unless it is recycled after use, though, I am not sure that it fully fits into our description of good design.

I naturally assumed that Josh of Josh Thomas Design House ( would agree with me, specially since he favours the fifties look. But I was surprised when he told me what summed it all up for him: the Bic pen. Why? Because it hides nothing. It says to the customer: “I am for writing, I am easy to hold, I am cheap, you need not worry about loosing me, you can throw me away”.

image of bic pen


By the way, is there a way to recycle the Bic?

And what product design does it for you?

5 replies
  1. Nicky Arscott
    Nicky Arscott says:

    The Suffolk Punch:

    “The Suffolk Punch tends to be shorter but more massively built than other British heavy draught breeds, such as the Clydesdale or the Shire, as a result of having been developed for agricultural work rather than road haulage. The breed has a powerful, arching neck; well-muscled, sloping shoulders; a short, wide back; and a muscular, broad croup. Legs are short and strong, with broad joints; sound, well-formed hooves; and little or no feathering on the fetlocks. The movement of the Suffolk Punch is said to be energetic, especially at the trot. The breed tends to mature early, be long-lived, and is economical to keep, needing less feed than other horses of similar type and size. They are hard workers, said to be willing to “pull a heavily laden wagon till [they] dropped.”

    • peter arscott
      peter arscott says:

      Hmmm. In order to accept the Suffolk Punch as good design one either has to believe in God the Designer or in Nature as Designer. Being an agnostic I prefer the latter, but would hold out that design is really about the man made. Still, it’s a whole can of worms you may have opened up, m’dear.

  2. Barry Missioner
    Barry Missioner says:

    Citroen 2CV & Land Rover Defender; vehicles whose functionality defined their design entirely & yet became style icons. It’s not just simplicity of design but the clarity of purpose behind it that marks out greatness.

  3. peter arscott / belatrova
    peter arscott / belatrova says:

    Yes, there’s a brutal honesty about the design of the Land Rover Defender, in the sense that it goes out of its way to emphasize its lack of frippery, and therefore it is a particular market that is being targeted (you’d never see fury dice hanging from its rear view mirror, would you, unless it was an ironic gesture), and so it does not quite have the universality of the Bic pen, for example. However, I realize that targeting a particular market is part of design as well. More thoughts, please, Mr M.


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