“If you think that good design is expensive, you should look at the cost of bad design.”
- Dr. Ralf Speth, CEO Jaguar Land Rover
The three main asks every client requests at the start of a project are:
- Make it good
- Make it cheap
- Make it fast
Our rule is that we can only deliver on two of the three requests at once:
- If it’s good and cheap, it won’t be fast
- If it’s fast and cheap, it won’t be good*
- If it’s fast and good, it won’t be cheap
*and we won’t take it on
“Building brands that matter by challenging the norm.” — Studio Malvah
How do you know what good design is?
As Ambers Toxboe aptly describes, “good design is always the simplest possible working solution.”
It’s difficult to identify good design because we only ever notice bad design. You know what we mean, that frustrating USB slot that never quite fits any cable, or the complete lack of a USB slot on your latest devices. Cereal boxes that always tear when you open them and never close properly because the flap is just that little bit too short. Websites that take so long to load you move on to what is likely a competitor’s site and spend your hard earned cash on a site that loads fast enough for your 8 second attention span.
Good design goes unnoticed, is taken for granted, is subjective and can’t necessarily be measured, which makes it almost impossible to identify. However Dieter Rams attempted to express what he believed to be the most important principles of good design.
Here is a brief overview:
Good design is innovative
Good design makes a product useful
Good design is aesthetic
Good design makes a product understandable
Good design is unobtrusive
Good design is honest
Good design is long-lasting
Good design is thorough down to the last detail
Good design is environmentally-friendly
Good design is as little design as possible
Of course, this cannot be taken as a hard and fast recipe but Ram’s principles have guided some of the best designers in their craft.
You get what you don’t pay for
So what does good design cost? The better question is what is the value of good design?
Imagine asking an engineer to design a bridge in two days because you just need to get it done quickly and cheaply. That bridge would probably collapse, cause injury and incur the cost of rebuilding the bridge again at an additional cost.
You wouldn’t ask a heart surgeon for a discount or go to the cheapest studio for a tattoo.
Unfortunately, most people don’t think of bad design as literally. The consequences of bad design may not always be immediately visible, but in the long run you will lose users, spend more money building and rebuilding and fail to meet your objectives (whether that be click throughs, sign-ups or selling bananas).
The cost of good design is relative to the value of the objective you are trying to achieve. You are the only person who can define the value of your business or your brand and whether it’s worth selling yourself short by cutting corners and decreasing the perceived value of your brand.
What does this mean for our studio?
We like to bring ideas back to how they play into our studio’s operations because there is no point in projecting ideas that we don’t actually apply, as every parent says at some point “practice what you preach”.
During lockdown, we faced major economic pressures, more so because we’re a small business. On top of being a design studio, we were required to become professional funambulists, mastering the balancing act of being economically relative for clients, sticking to our belief in uncompromising design solutions, and making sure we, as a small team, don’t hit burnout mode trying to help everyone out with the good old ‘mate-rates’ story. (If we had a R5 coin for all the golden carrots that were dangled in front of us with the ‘future prospects’ promise we’d be buying matching Malvah jet skis for everyone for Christmas).
There were, and are, times when we have to turn down work, irrespective of how badly we need it because we don’t want to compromise on our objective to do what we do well. It’s not about being snobby or too good for some clients. It’s about identifying whether or not our vision and mission as a studio lines up with a brief, or if we can help the client craft their vision to better suit their objective, and then working from there.
We didn’t start our studio to make bank and retire early, even though that would be nice. We started it because we love good design and straight-up froth seeing it make a solid impact on the world around us. There is more than enough bad design cruising around and more than enough agencies/designers happy to sell average design in as amazing work to clients that genuinely need issues solved. That doesn’t sit well with us, so we are trying our best to bridge the gap as a small team.