World Economic Forum Annual Meeting 2009

  • What Is Good Design?

    Thursday 29th January 2009 - 8:00pm - 10:00pm

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  • What Is Good Design?

    Paola Antonelli

    Yves Béhar

    Tim Brown

    Brian Collins

    Hilary Cottam

    Elizabeth Diller

    Kigge Mai Hvid

    William McDonough

    Moderated by •

    Alice Rawsthorn

    Thursday 29 January

    From toys and transport to consumer electronics and kitchen appliances, participants in this session debated what pushes certain designs into the category of “great”, “truly bad”, or, worst of all, the vast majority that is forever deemed “mediocre”.

    Opinions varied widely. Debate was vigorous. Yet, in the process of defining the moral fibre behind design decisions, participants rebutted the saying that “there’s no accounting for taste.” Eventually, the dozens of critics cast brutally honest eyes on the design of badges, systems, structure, topics and format of the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting.


    • Good design is often so functional that we do not notice it. Think buttons, Velcro, forks and knives. Utility alone does not make an extraordinary design, however; greatness must stand out and grab the beholder, challenge intellects and stir the spirit. Consider emotional reactions to the hybrid spork.

    • There is often a fine line between extreme reactions. An ornate G othic cathedral may be great in some eyes, but awful in others. Many people swear by the comfort of Croc brand soft gelatinous sandals; others would rather walk barefoot across broken glass than don such hideous footwear.

    • Changing values test great designs over time. The brash Hummer SUV won design awards when it first came out, while the designer of the Smart Car walked away from his modest creation. However, as cities grew crowded, gas prices rocketed and greenhouse gas emissions were frowned upon, the smaller compact triumphed while the Hummer is on the verge of bankruptcy.

    • Majority overrules. The classic British Routemaster double-decker buses won national design awards. They were eventually replaced by the relatively ugly Bendy Bus, which no one liked as a design but which increased ridership 45%, reduced commuting times and shortened trips across the board.

    • Design is best approached from the outside in. It took a design student trying to solve the problem of her grandmother’s dangerously confusing medication containers to revolutionize the design of pill bottles with rings, caps, colours and new labels in ways the pharmacists in the industry never could envision.

    • Form follows function. Some designers turn to biomimicry – fashioning a windmill blade based on the shape of a humpback whale fin – to enhance functional objects in aesthetically pleasing ways.

    • There are two definitions of design: objects drawn and the intent behind that drawing. Great design is respectful, efficient and insightful. Hence, Smart Cars objectively triumph over Hummers.

    • Greatness must also be increasingly sustainable. Teddy bears can be harmlessly chewed on and decompose if buried; try that with a Barbie doll and you will sicken the body and pollute the earth.

    • Design is getting trickier. Armed with the Internet, consumers grow ever more savvy, informed, discriminating, smart and demanding. They want something simple, strong and intuitive.

    • When it comes to design, the Forum Annual Meeting is failing spectacularly. Badges are boring. Long rectangular dinner tables stifle interaction. The organizers continue to design lifeless panels that suppress debate rather than design more vibrant workspaces that engage all parties, encourage interaction and produce useful outcomes.

    • The financial world should employ designers for economic recovery to avoid more dysfunctional instruments that consumers cannot grasp and regulators cannot stand.                                                                        

Moderated by

  • Alice Rawsthorn Alice Rawsthorn
    Design Critic, International New York Times, United Kingdom

    Graduate in Art and Architectural History, Cambridge University, UK. 1986-2001, Journalist and Forei...


  • Paola Antonelli Paola Antonelli
    Senior Curator, Architecture and Design; Director, Research and Development, The Museum of Modern Art New York, USA

    Graduate, Milan Polytechnic School of Architecture. 1987-91, Contributing Editor, Domus magazine; 19...

  • Kigge Mai Hvid Kigge Mai Hvid
    Chief Executive Officer, Index: Design to Improve Life, Denmark

    Since 2002, current position; develops, tests and implements new concepts; leads Danish government's...

  • Tim Brown Tim Brown
    Chief Executive Officer, IDEO, USA

    BA in Industrial Design, University of Northumbria; Master's in Design, Royal College of Art. Former...

  • Yves Béhar Yves Béhar
    Chief Creative Officer, Jawbone, USA

    Designed XO laptop for social welfare organization One Laptop Per Child, which supports education of...

  • Brian Collins Brian Collins
    Creative Chairman, COLLINS, USA

    Formerly, Chief Creative Officer, Brand Integration Group, Ogilvy & Mather; clients included Levi St...

  • Elizabeth Diller Elizabeth Diller
    Architect, Diller Scofidio + Renfro, USA

    Graduate, Cooper Union School of Architecture. Professor of Architecture, Princeton University; teac...

  • Hilary Cottam Hilary Cottam
    Founding Director, Participle, United Kingdom

    Studies at Oxford, Sussex and Open universities; PhD in Social Sciences. Until 1995, with World Bank...

  • William McDonough William McDonough
    Consulting Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Stanford University, USA

    BA, Dartmouth College; Master of Architecture, Yale University. 1993-99, Dean, School of Architectur...