Qualities of a Great Designer


What does the term mean to you? In conducting research for my Parting Thoughts column in this, our Design Issue, I searched for famous quotes by designers of all sorts, including graphic artists, interior designers and architects.

Some of the quotes verged on being Zen-like:

“A designer knows he has achieved perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

“Good design is finding a solution to a problem. Great design is finding the simplest solution to the same problem.” – Nicholas Petersen

“As an architect you design for the present with an awareness of the past for a future which is essentially unknown.” – Norman Foster

Others are more straightforward:

“Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” – Steve Jobs

“There are three responses to a piece of design—yes, no and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.” – Milton Glaser

“Serious is a word that must be entirely avoided when it comes to decoration.” – Kathryn M. Ireland

Others make you pause and think:

Architects can’t force people to connect, it can only plan the crossing points, remove barriers and make the meeting places useful and attractive.” – Denise Scott

“Less is only more where more is no good.” – Frank Lloyd Wright

And then there are the ones that give you a chuckle:

“Good design is all about making other designers feel like idiots because that idea wasn’t theirs.” – Frank Chimero

“Don’t be like the rest of them, darling.” – Coco Chanel

So, what is “good” design, then? Drawing upon the above quotes, I’d say it doesn’t take itself too seriously, it must be functional/appropriate for its purpose, it should be beautiful, simplicity is a plus, and uniqueness counts. Of course, that’s only the tip of the iceberg…

My sense is that the truly great designers, like other artists and musicians, draw from a deep reservoir of natural talent. They study and find inspiration in the work of other great designers past and present, but seek out their own style. They seek creative ways to meld beauty with function. They seek a balance between what the client expects, and an ideal that surpasses his expectations.

But in my mind, the single greatest attribute shared by all great designers is their ability to think outside the box. As Henry Ford once remarked, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”