What is Damn Good Design?

05.04.2012 / Author: Steve Zelle

Damn good design can be groundbreaking, making us reflect “I NEVER would have thought of that”. It can suddenly become painfully obvious making us think “why DIDN’T I come up with that?”. Damn good design can surprise us, make us smile, form strong opinions, and result in action.

In the recently published book Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their all Time Favourite Projects, Tim Lapetino and Jason Adam of design-firm Hexanine explore what sets Damn Good work apart.

Damn Good Design Cover

Damn Good Design Table of Contents

Damn Good is comprised of four sections: Print, Packaging, Identity and Miscellaneous.

Damn Good Design Logo Spread

Identity work (top left to right): Ohio State Athletics/Rickabaugh Graphics, Home of the Games/Seven25. Design and Typography, Unreserved/The O Group, Loud Scholarship Foundation/Seven25. Design and Typography, Play/Kliment, Granada’s Millennium/ Valladares Diseño y Comunicación, Maria Videtta/Southpaw Studio, Spasiba/Tim Bjørn-Design Studio

Damn Good Design Nobis

Nobis Interactive case study by Erwin Hines II

Damn Good Design Wash Me

“Wash Me” case study by Nico Ammann

The cleanly designed book is comprised of designers personal favourite work from around the globe. Rather than focussing soley on the beautiful, the book also explores the passion designers feel for their work. The book accomplishes this by including insights into the creative process, thereby providing inspiration beyond a picture gallery. Hexanine has managed to gather intimate stories that remind designers why we constantly search for “work that turns us on”.

Damn Good Design Queen Mary Tea

One example from the book is provided by Kurt Niedermeirer of Niedermeirer Design. He talks of the emotional ups and downs of developing the packaging for Queen Mary Tea, a project that unfortunately wound up on the cutting room floor—a number of projects included in the book did not see the light of day. He recalls that during his first presentation with the client—who had already hired two other designers:

“… the client literally started crying over the excitement she felt that someone had finally realized her vision. Sadly, I soon realized why the other creatives were let go, or likely quit. The client proceeded to manipulate, alter, and add until there was nothing left of the original design.”

Damn Good Design Packaging

Damn Good Design One Village Coffee

One Village Coffee case study by Able Design

A Matter of Opinion

We all have experiences battling over just what is Damn Good Design with clients and fellow designers. As with all things creative, Damn Good Design is a matter of opinion (share yours below and you could win a copy of Damn Good) and so I invited several designers to share their thoughts on the question:

What is Damn Good Design?

Dipika Kohli / Design Kompany

(If slideshow does not appear above, please check it out on Speaker Deck)

Image credits: Gekkeikan Petit Moon designed by Hiroshi Mitsuishi; H2O Fluid designed by Sayuri Studio, Inc.; Mina Ryushi book design by Bluemark Inc. The images are from the book, ‘Japanese Graphics NOW!,’ edited by Gisela Kozak & Julius Widemann. (Taschen: Los Angeles). The book cover design is Brutus Magazine Cover with art by Tadanori Yokoo for Magazine House Ltd.

www.design-kompany.com / twitter: designkompany

Isabelle Swiderski / Seven25. Design & Typography Inc.

Damn good design starts by being appropriate. Intentions behind design work are myriad: to inform, to delight, to organise, to shock, to seduce, to provoke. If the designer’s intention is clear and finds its expression in an appropriate—and well-executed—verbal/functional/visual form then it will be good.

The “damn” qualifier is less quantifiable. It has to do with delight or surprise; it has to do with rewarding the viewer or user for engaging with the work. It speaks of respect for dialogue, layers of meaning and rich sensory experiences. It demonstrates that design can succeed when it heeds context.

2×4’s design exhibition “It is What It Is” has such characteristics. Oxo Good Grips embodies those as well. Unlike art—which arguably can exist solely for the pleasure of its maker—design’s purpose is decidedly utilitarian and its success dependent on whether or not its user understands it. And that, to me, is the beauty of it.

Great design has the ability to provoke in its audience a specific reaction, thus creating meaning and subtly enriching our lives.

www.seven25.com / twitter: Seven25

Leighton Hubbell / Leighton Hubbell

Damn good design. That description doesn’t come around all that often—and I’d say that’s definitely a good thing. It’s not something you want thrown around all of the time. That would only dilute its meaning to the general design populace.

To me, for a design piece to be damn good, it would not only have to fulfill its strategic objectives very well, it should be well-crafted and produced, and of course, be something pretty awesome to look at. Something that, if you had it in front of you, you would be peering at it from all kinds of angles to see how it works and exactly how it was put together—you know, really take it all in. Of course, if it was really amazing, it wouldn’t be overtly obvious how it was done and would keep its little secrets.

I guess above all you might hear the ultimate compliment from a fellow designer—‘I wish I had thought of that’.

Two of my favorites have got to be the National Parks poster series by Michael Schwab and the Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Honey packaging.

Even though Schwab’s original series began in 1995, the campaign was continued with occasional new pieces until at least 2008. They were beautifully designed and illustrated in their simple and limited color palettes and each highlighted the essence of each National Park elegantly in Schwab’s signature style. To this day, you can order a limited edition autographed print of your favorite poster. Having that kind of longevity in this day and age is a testament to his work on this project. If that doesn’t say ‘damn good’ about a piece of design work, I don’t know what does.

As for the Jack Daniel’s brand extension, I think the firm, Cue really nailed it on that one. It not only pays great homage to the classic, signature Jack Daniel’s branding look, but gives the packaging enough of its own personality to let it stand on its own. You know it’s part of the brand, but instinctively you know it’s something different and give it a second look.

One of the many nice details about the project is the icon illustrations of the bee, honeycomb and whiskey barrel for the label’s side panel. Details like that, to me, can set a package apart from the others and show how thoughtful and meticulous the design was carried out. Well done.

www.hubbelldesignhub.com / twitter: leightonhubbell

Win a copy of Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their all Time Favourite Projects

Hexanine is giving away two copies of their brand new book to random readers that either:

  1. Leave a comment below with a response to “What is Damn Good Design?”. Use a valid email address so we can contact you.
  2. Tweet your answer using the following format including the hashtag and url:
    #damngooddesign is (your response here) http://bit.ly/IMo5yE
Winners will be announced May 18 and will be contacted for their shipping details.

Purchase Damn Good

Cant wait to win a copy? Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their all Time Favourite Projects is available at many online book stores including My Design Shop and Amazon.

Update: Winners Announced

Congratulations to Kate Lawless and Steve Wilson. Both of you will be receiving a free copy of Damn Good thanks to Hexanine. Much thanks to everyone that left a comment or tweeted about the book.

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39 comments, please join in the discussion

  1. 05.04.2012

    Damn good design is that one that first leave you breathless, than leave you sleepless ’cause you didn’t think about it in the first way…then you go pantless, ’cause it took already all your clients.

  2. Robert

    Damn good design is something that invokes feelings in everyone, not only in the direct target group, but also everyone else who will manage to get into contact with it. I certainly believe that damn good design is first and foremost art, and only after acknowledging that one can start to talk about business. Art in the sense that it touches emotionally, makes you think or just appreciate the effort that the creative people behind it have given. Finally, when focusing more on the business side, damn good design happens when a perfect balance is met between the designer’s creative capacity and the needs of the client. I love damn good design!

  3. 05.04.2012

    Damn good design is simple and clever.

  4. Michelle

    Damn good design gets in yor head. It doesn’t just leave a lasting impression, it assaults the thought process and forces you to focus on what, where, and why you can’t get it out of your head.

  5. 05.04.2012

    Damn Good Design is when you effortlessly get the idea being communicated by the designer. Then you get emotions or thoughts about what you just saw. And for the rest of the day, you’re still thinking about how smart, creative and appropriate the piece was. You get ready for bed, lay down, and think…”Damn. That was a good design. I want more of that in my life.”

  6. 05.05.2012

    Design is fantastic when it inspires and innovates. When it pays homage to the old while looking at the new. When it it isn’t just about the design, but the associated feelings, emotions, and mystique. Design is at its best when it feels instantly familiar, yet full of pleasant surprises. Design is at it best when it’s human, natural, synthetic, antiquated, futuristic, planned, and spontaneous. It’s any and all of these things. It’s fantastic!

    Hope I Win!

  7. 05.06.2012

    a damn good design is one that captures and projects the sensory experiences in a jam-packed visual sensation; a design so good that you can almost feel what the design is all about. it’s imagery that sticks with the viewers, not just because of aesthetic appeal, but because of an impression it makes, even to those not learned or not fascinated as much by the arts. it’s a design that communicates its subject in all its aspects.

  8. Rui

    What is Damn Good Design? You should look out for the ‘Damn Good: Top Designers Discuss Their all Time Favourite Projects’ book and you’ll find the answer.

  9. 05.07.2012

    Damn GOod Design may not always be the most beautiful but makes you think. It can change anything and make mountains out of moleskins!

  10. 05.07.2012

    Damn good design is an entire idea portrayed in it’s simplest and most understandable form.

  11. Charlie BZO

    Damn Good Design is having the ability to be easily discernible. Simple or complex, design should flow easily with the eye, be recognizable even when the viewer is unaware that they noticed, and it should either carry a message or compliment one. A Damn Good Design is evidence that whatever was created was created with a purpose.

  12. Stacy

    Damn Good design is design that breaks new ground – it is risky and innovative…

  13. 05.07.2012

    Damn good design is a work process from blank page, zero idea, constant headache, too much acid in stomach, black coffee, too eager caused by adrenalin’s flood, lack of sleep, too much thumbnails, megatimes online browsing, …and then when you almost surrender…you got it! and it is so simple and unthinkable…feel so good that you almost couldn’t believe it….and you finally realy believe because your client love the work.

  14. 05.07.2012

    I guess for me it’s design that goes beyond style alone, and beyond function. Its the proper marriage of these two, and through that union it applies an uncommon strength to the problem it was wed to solve.

  15. Damn good design is something that catches your eye and make you think or evoke some sort of emotional response.

  16. 05.07.2012

    Damn good design can be translated as the original motto form follows function
    Now with simplicity and miimalism trends damn good design is defined by simple shapes with full functionality a way good damn example Apple design is simple, clean functional no adding extra features or elements which only distract the interaction between gadgets and users, i can say damn good design less is more.

  17. Joanne boyko

    Damn good design is one that you hate because you didn’t think of it

  18. Josh Bennett

    Fulfills a need effectively.

  19. 05.08.2012

    A damn good design is a design that tells a story for the heart and mind.

  20. 05.08.2012

    Damn good design? Same definition as obscenity: “I know it when I see it.”

  21. Matt

    Damn good design is clean, simple and straight to the point.

  22. 05.08.2012

    A damn good design is something you can use naturally, without thinking too much about it (eg. street signals).

  23. 05.08.2012

    Good design involves the development of a visual message to identify and/or reflect the style or voice of a business/project. DAMN good design brings on that unexpected wow factor that blows their mind.

  24. 05.08.2012

    Damn Good Design is when something is so simple, and you think to yourself, gee, why didn’t I think of that?!?! We sometimes tend to over analyze the situation and complicate things. Make clever simple and simple clever.

  25. 05.08.2012

    Damn Good Design is the one that has a great concept, you don’t notice it is there but you can feel it.

  26. 05.08.2012

    Damn good designs are good damn experiences.

  27. 05.08.2012

    Damn good design is something that gets you to look at the design for more than what it is. You remember it and it stays in your mind. It shows creativity and has a lasting impression. Not only is it a great design, but it’s creativity emphasizes the brand/product bringing out the true characteristics of what the message is.

  28. Roberto Montiel

    Damn Good Design makes me smile, then it inspires me to work harder!

  29. Kerry Gonzales

    Damn good design requires no explanation. It just is.

    The concept, details, execution may be invisible to the general population, but even without explanation, damn good design is seen and appreciated.

  30. 05.08.2012

    Damn good design is what makes you inspired, even enlightened in a way. It makes you want to discuss and share it with fiends. You want to look at it, touch it, have it, keep it and come back to it.

  31. Nikki

    Damn good design is layered. The simplicity layer stops in your tracks. The message layer conveys the key message to the target audience. The complexity layer sticks in your brain, leaves you in awe that something could be so simple, so effective, and yet so brilliant that you can’t stop thinking about it with respect and envy.

  32. Hila elboher

    Damn good design is design that lets you see a new perspective on any subject, leaving you with a fresh outlook on any subject and makes you think twice on something you normaly might have not even thought of once.

  33. 05.08.2012

    Damn good design is when your brain connect with your sense. Ta-da!

  34. Julie

    Damn Good Design keeps you interested.

  35. Mel

    Damn good design gets to you!

  36. 05.15.2012

    Damn good design is born, not manufactured. those that see it understand it in an instance. It leaves you in awe and wondering how they came about it. It leaves an impression in your mind that keeps coming back for days on end.

  37. 05.16.2012

    A DAMN GOOD DESIGN is not only pleasing & attractive to client and the designer but also to the end user. A DAMN GOOD DESIGN is more like a solution to a problem. Also, if the design is made for a product, the Design should ease the functionality and make the product more pleasurable and user-friendly thus, increasing the User Experience. A design which confuses users is not design at all, rather its a toy which is of no use. A pleasurable design is one that is attractive and user friendly.

  38. 11.23.2012

    Great article, I love being inspired by the people around me. I’ve written an article on the five steps I work to when creating a logo from scratch. I hope this helps. Stay awesome! http://bit.ly/TVPdCc