Rube Goldberg Machines Work But So What? An exclusive post from the newsletter

If you have a kid in your life, I recommend watching the video at the heart of today’s post with him or her. The delight you experience in watching kinetic artist Joseph Herscher’s fantastically silly “Cake Server” will be amplified exponentially by the sheer amazement on the face of your young companion.

I’ve been thinking about this video for days, since I first watched it over the weekend with my own kids. I knew there was something in there about design, something relevant to the work that I and many readers of this site do. It just took a while to tease out.

Ultimately I realized that this was about a question that I’ve been considering a lot lately: is it really enough for designers to settle for saying something works? Isn’t it also our responsibility for creating things that are also good?

Of course, defining “good” is difficult. What kind of good? Aesthetically good? Professionally good? Socially good? The answer is probably yes to all of the above—which would make lots of designers uncomfortable. There is a subset of the design population who practically take pride in their disinterest in aesthetics and devote themselves entirely to concrete business metrics. I respect them but I don’t believe they’re seeing the whole picture.

Granted, it’s very hard to make things that are good, and even harder to make things that are great, which is what we should all be striving for. But, as an old mentor told me once: we all had our chance to choose a career in banking instead of a career in design, and we passed. Our job doesn’t end when we make something work; we also have to make it great.