Faced with today's economic realities, affordability is of intense concern to most people. Personally, I live on a very tight budget; so defining affordability is exceptionally important in trying to stretch every dollar. As I write today about finding a suitable definition for affordability, it is necessary to remember that the initial cost of a good or service is not the only factor in this equation. Further costs and the quality you receive also have to be considered when making decisions regarding affordability.
From a consumer standpoint, the automobile is a perfect illustration of the intersection of design and affordability. Ford's Pinto and Toyota's Corolla, both introduced at the beginning of the nineteen seventies, were aimed at the same emerging American small-car market. Both were designed with low cost in mind, but one is now synonymous with catastrophic failure, while the other is one of the most successful vehicles ever produced. Each car was undoubtedly marketed as 'affordable,' but the superior design of the Corolla (and its lack of explosive tendencies) meant that it was perceived as a much better deal in the long run.
The design processes that lead to these vastly different outcomes were obviously unequal. In designing towards the goal of affordability, or under many other constraints, good design is separated from poor design by the alternatives of compromise and sacrifice. As our last speaker pointed out, the design process is simply a systematic way to address a series of problems, questions, or constraints. When these factors are considered in a reasoned and creative way from the beginning of the process, the resulting design can be a positive compromise between otherwise conflicting goals. If a constraint like cost is factored in at the end of the process, however, the result sacrifices other standards. When a company like Ikea or Toyota begins the design process with all their objectives and constraints on the table, then the possibilities for quality, affordable design are much greater.