Chapter 8. Beautiful

Go beyond utility

A COMMON MISCONCEPTION IS THAT DESIGN IS PRIMARILY CONCERNED WITH AESTHETICS, with giving products style and making them fashionable. Of course, designers have long understood that their role is something more: that design includes the way things work, not just how they look. But at times, that pendulum swings too far, breeding a kind of defensiveness in which designers reject aesthetic concerns entirely in favor of a focus on usability, functionality, or strategy. This either/or mentality is a mistake, with negative consequences for our environment, culture, and lives. Beauty that is only skin deep disappoints, but products that are beautiful throughout have the greatest possibility to enrich and improve our lives.

What makes something beautiful is a subject of ancient philosophical debate, with viewpoints ranging widely from the Greeks to the Renaissance. Some argue that beauty can be found in absolutes, in particular measurements and proportions, a perfect order of symmetry and ratios that brings intrinsic harmony to a design. Others champion its subjectivity, claiming a dependence on the individual pleasures of one’s eyes and ears, unique to a culture if not every person. Finally, there are those who focus on functional beauty, believing “each thing is beautiful when it serves its purpose well.”[298] This latter notion can be traced back to Socrates, who said, “Even a golden shield is ugly and a rubbish bin beautiful if the former is badly ...

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