In his latest blog post, Seth Godin discusses the triumph of everyday design, arguing that simplicity is often superior to luxury when it comes to function and usability. That sink with an intricate, motion-sensing faucet is more difficult to turn on and more likely to make a mess than the standard model.
Luxury goods used to be better. Better than the alternatives.
Seth suggests that these high-end brands once offered the people who cared an opportunity to buy products with the highest performance–the higest value. Those who could afford it paid a premium for timeless cars, suitcases, and business suits that would last them forever. However, this is no longer the case.
Awhile ago, I wrote a post about how things aren’t made like they used to be. Items my parents received at their wedding 30 years ago have lasted longer than similar items I received for graduation less than 10 years ago. Today, brands like Honda are more efficient and more reliable than BMW, despite being sold at a fraction of the cost.
As we explore options for remodeling the torn our rooms of our home, we keep considering whether the uniquely aesthetic, more expensive option is worth the upgrade cost. Do we need modern looking light fixtures with dimmer switches and impossible-to-access light bulbs? Probably not.
Seth Godin recalls a recent stay in a high-end hotel where the light switches were complicated and non-functional, the door handle was awkward, and the fancy faucet sprayed the user. All of these fancy components were expensive, but none were very well-designed.
As materials have gotten cheaper and easier to find, it’s design that matters. And the market is demanding better design–which is easy to copy and easy to improve.
As we move forward in our remodel and as I continue though my Human-Centered Design course, I’m going to keep in mind that utility is the most important metric. The cost of an item is irrelevant if that product doesn’t adequately serve its purpose. As Albert Einstein said, “Make things as simple as possible, but no simpler.”