Good Design Matters

The summer I turned 18 I was accepted into a summer camp called Shad Valley, held at university campuses across Canada. It was a one-month-long camp focused on entrepreneurship and engineering. It was to be the first time I lived away from home for any length of time.

Shortly before leaving for Shad at the University of New Brunswick, my dad told me he wanted to get me a small, battery-powered alarm clock for the trip (this was before cell phones). So we set off to various stores around town.

We visited several stores. We looked and we looked. I kept saying “what about this one?” “No,” my dad would say, “that’s not right.” And so we’d keep looking. Finally, being a teenager, and frustrated by the length of what seemed like such a simple task, I asked why a particular alarm clock wasn’t good enough. “Because good design matters,” my father replied. Because design is important, he told me. When we buy things we have a choice, and we shouldn’t settle for something that isn’t both functional and beautiful.

Finally, my dad picked a small alarm clock off the shelf. “Here,” he said. “This one.” It was a small black clock with an analog face set behind a circular piece of clear plastic. The face was marked with lines of a nice thickness. The numbers on the face were written in a clear and attractive font. The face was surrounded by an edge of a pleasing thickness. It had a button that made the face light up. The button was exactly where you’d put your thumb, if you were to grab the clock in the dark. It wasn’t an expensive clock, and it was just at a local hardware store, but it was attractive and functional.

At the time I didn’t think much about it. But, the other night, as I sat with my son reading stories at bed time, I looked over at that clock on his bookshelf to see the time. I realized that I’d had that clock for over 15 years. The colours have faded a bit, and the face has a crack in it, but I still like the way it looks. A clock of a lesser design would probably have been tossed years ago.

I doubt my father even remembers having this conversation about that little alarm clock, but it has stuck with me. As game makers we are creating experiences for players that are at their best when both functional and beautiful. It’s not good enough for a game to just be beautiful, or just functional. Something amazing happens in games when form and function act as one. Good design matters.