Good Design

What makes good design?

Earlier this week, a group of co-workers and I were having lunch and talking about some of our current projects and the progress we were making.

It wasn’t long before we started talking about upcoming projects, and one in particular that is planning to kick off sometime this week.

As we discussed our roles and ideas for the design phase of the project, someone asked, “What makes good design?”

In the midst of the silence that hung heavy in the air for the next few moments, I thought about how I would answer this question.

I’ve written before about my design process, and with the number of years of experience I have as a designer, the design process is somewhat second nature to me. But the question remained, “What makes good design?”

The first thing that came to mind was the old adage, “Form Follows Function,” otherwise known as the “three F’s of design.”

One might argue that this phrase is a bit ambiguous, but when each element is considered individually, I believe one can start to understand the basic principals of design and ultimately what would be considered “good design.”


What is form? Quite simply, form is what something looks like. It is the size, shape, and space that the object in question occupies.

When we study form within the landscape, oftentimes we must evaluate the different levels at which the design elements exist. Form can be found in every aspect of the landscape, from individual elements such as shrubs, trees, and site furnishings to larger groups of elements which, when combined, create their own group form.

An example of this might be a massing of plant material in a planting bed.


Function describes how something works. I also think of function as how things flow.

For example, if I’m designing a pedestrian path through a project site, how would a person utilizing the site move from point A to point B across the site?

Of the two components, I believe function must be given more consideration when determining the ultimate success of the design.

Having said that, when one evaluates the rule, “Form Follows Function,” it becomes apparent that one must first consider the function of the site. Once the flow of the elements of the site have been organized so that they flow smoothly, one can then focus on the form of each of the individual and grouped elements and how they relate to the design.

As we continued our discussion about what makes good design, we all agreed that there is no easy answer to this question.

Collectively, we developed quite a list of possible answers that could be used to create the basic outline for a paper or book.

While we had many different answers, the one thing we all agreed on was that while good design may be difficult to define, we all know good and bad design when we see it.

Do you have any ideas for what you think makes good design? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Feel free to leave a comment below, send me a tweet, or even an email. I look forward to hearing from you.

Have a great weekend!

Boyd Coleman is a landscape architect in Phoenix, Arizona. He can be reached on twitter at @CDGLA or email: .