How design works: the extra ingredient.

I tend to believe that design gives well-balanced answers to the problems that really concern users. Meticulously defining a problem is a big step toward a good design solution. Luckily for all of us, there are plenty of examples of good design. It’s a shame there are always so many more bad examples. But it’s much more satisfying to write about the good examples. Determining and analysing what makes a product or service really good is an interesting and creative exercise for anyone involved in design (whether you order or deliver it).

Philippe Starck is a remarkable designer who has created beautiful interiors and products. But, let’s be honest, not all of them fulfil their function brilliantly. (Uh-oh – are we going to be critical of one the biggest designers of the past 50 years?) For example, his Juicy Salif fruit press, designed in 1989 for Alessi, is really not great for pressing fruit. To attempt it, you will need a lot of space, a sink, a towel and a spare set of clothes, to deal with all the juice flying around (slight exaggeration). There are dozens of presses that perform better (not an exaggeration).

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So we can agree that the Juicy Salif doesn’t offer a perfect solution to the most obvious problem. So why is it so famous and such a design icon (it’s even made it into MoMA’s modern design collection)? Because it has that extra ingredient, one that makes you evaluate the product from another point of view.

It is barely a fruit press – rather, it is an object of beauty. Its primary function is being attractive, remarkable and beautiful. People tend to fall in love with things of beauty and immediately forget all their other demands. The designer who can satisfy this aesthetic craving is a step ahead of his or her competitors. This extra ingredient can make products bigger (and more untouchable) than they really are. It’s a magical ingredient, called poetry. Juicy Salif is a beautiful, poetic object.

Creating poetry in industrial design is tricky; a narrow path that can easily end in lavishness, superfluous ornament or total absurdity. And that’s exactly why Starck is a great designer; he can walk that line with elegance. And that’s also why Juicy Salif is not an example of good, functional industrial design; it strives merely for beauty.

But boy, do we love those non-functional designers from time to time!