The Beautiful and the Useful

31 Jan 2008 - 5:34pm
6 years ago
9 replies
683 reads
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 31, 2008, at 6:32 AM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:

> No I dont agree aesthetics is a fundamental requirement for IxD.

For your consideration, another essay from Paul Rand, from his book
"Thoughts on Design."

--

To interpret the modern approach to visual communication as mere
sensationalism is to misunderstand the very spirit of our time. In
advertising, the contemporary approach to art is based on a simple
concept, the concept of the advertisement as an organic and
functional unit, each element of which is integrally related to the
others, in harmony with the whole, and essential to the execution of
the idea. From this standpoint, copy, art, and typography are
indissoluble. Editorial layout, promotional matter, direct mail,
packaging, book designing, and industrial design are governed by the
same considerations: function... form... production... process...
integrated product. Such an evolution logically precludes extraneous
trimmings and "streamlined" affectations.

That which makes for good *advertising* is one thing, and that which
makes for good *art* another; but that which makes for good
*advertising art* is an harmonious resolution of both, integrating as
a whole the utilitarian and formal requirements of the problem.

Commenting of the distinction between fine art and useful or
technological art, John Dewey states: "That many, perhaps most, of
the articles and utensils made at present for use are not genuinely
esthetic happens, unfortunately, to be true. But it is true for
reasons that are foreign to the relation of the 'beautiful' and
'useful' as such. Wherever conditions are such as to prevent the act
of production from being an experience in which the whole creature is
alive and in which he possesses his living through enjoyment, the
product will lack something of being esthetic. No matter how useful
it is for special and limited ends, it will not be useful in the
ultimate degree -- that of contributing directly and liberally to an
expanding and enriched life."

This philosophy is demonstrated in the life of the Shakers, whose
history reveals the love of, and strict adherence to, the principles
of harmony, beauty, and utility. It is not surprising that such
ideals should have found expression in the production of much
furniture and many utensils of great aesthetic value, characterized
by a keen sensitivity to form and constant awareness of function.
These products are a document of the every-day life of the sect,
their asceticism, their devotion to fine craftsmanship, their feeling
of fine proportion, space, and order, and their sincerity and
naturalness. This fusion of spiritual and material values is also
evidenced in Oriental art. The genuine pleasure we derive from the
best examples of early Chinese art testifies to these same qualities.

Interpreted in the light of our own experience and of the transition
from manual to machine production, these basic truths still prevail.
To realize the production of modern advertising and industrial art in
terms of functional-aesthetic perfection is to realize the oneness of
art and living.

- Paul Rand, "Thoughts on Design, Second Edition," pg 1-2 (published:
1947)

--

I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.
Formalized design professions have long moved past the notion that
"functional-aesthetic," as Rand puts it, is somehow optional to
practicing good design. In that light, I have no idea how IxD would
be excluded from the requirement that those that practice the
discipline need a proficient understanding and ability to create
esthetic work along with the functional components of their designs.

And by "proficient understanding and ability to create," I don't mean
tell somehow else how to do it, let someone else figure out the
aesthetic qualities, or delegate the aesthetic qualities in the process.

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

Comments

31 Jan 2008 - 11:15pm
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 31, 2008, at 7:44 PM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:

> On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
>> I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
>> world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
>> integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.
>
> Integral, yes; fundamental no.

Ok... I'm game. What other formalized design profession is this true
for? What other formalized design discipline exists where aesthetics
are not fundamental?
>

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

31 Jan 2008 - 11:23pm
Navneet Nair
2004

Andrei said:

Ok... I'm game. What other formalized design profession is this true
for? What other formalized design discipline exists where aesthetics
are not fundamental?
>

>
I've not been following the discussion, but let me take this bait...

Process design requires no fundamental integration with aesthetics. You may argue it is not a traditional design discipline, but it is design none the less...

Navneet
Sent from BlackBerry® on Airtel

31 Jan 2008 - 11:36pm
Murli Nagasundaram
2007

Where should I start? I fear that this discussion will end in a fierce
debate concerning the meaning of the term 'design' -- one that has probably
occurred several times on this list (and elsewhere). There might even be a
secondary debate on the meaning of the term 'interaction'.

Nevertheless, coming from an engineering background, there are several
streams of design in engineering where aesthetics play no role at all. Then
there is organization design, service design and systems design where again,
aesthetics, if it is an issue, is at best peripheral.

If you ask me personally, I would tell you that aesthetics should be
integral -- but I recognize that that is a personal value of mine, one that
I would like to evangelize, but one that is not universally shared, since it
is not essential to design (in many domains of design).

Aesthetics is an issue only where:

a) there exists human interaction with the design,
b) the human interaction involves the senses, mainly visual and auditory,
probably, and,
c) aesthetics are a key aspect of the perceived or real usability or
acceptance of the thing designed.

Now I beginning to wonder if there will occur a fierce debate on the meaning
of 'aesthetics'.

- murli

On Feb 1, 2008 9:45 AM, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com>
wrote:

>
> On Jan 31, 2008, at 7:44 PM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:
>
> > On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
> >> I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
> >> world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
> >> integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.
> >
> > Integral, yes; fundamental no.
>
> Ok... I'm game. What other formalized design profession is this true
> for? What other formalized design discipline exists where aesthetics
> are not fundamental?
> >
>
> --
> Andrei Herasimchuk
>
>

1 Feb 2008 - 1:44am
Andrei Herasimchuk
2004

On Jan 31, 2008, at 9:47 PM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:

> So yes if you are in US, aesthetics is such an important
> attribute of design that it will look almost fundamental, but go to
> Africa where
> every cent costs and aesthetics is a luxury that doesnt fit the bill.

I'll encourage you to re-read the part in the Rand essay concerning
the Shakers:

"This philosophy is demonstrated in the life of the Shakers, whose
history reveals the love of, and strict adherence to, the principles
of harmony, beauty, and utility. It is not surprising that such
ideals should have found expression in the production of much
furniture and many utensils of great aesthetic value, characterized
by a keen sensitivity to form and constant awareness of function.
These products are a document of the every-day life of the sect,
their asceticism, their devotion to fine craftsmanship, their feeling
of fine proportion, space, and order, and their sincerity and
naturalness. This fusion of spiritual and material values is also
evidenced in Oriental art. The genuine pleasure we derive from the
best examples of early Chinese art testifies to these same qualities."

The Shakers were hardly rolling in "luxury."

I think you are somehow confusing aesthetic with materialism, and
then making a broad and borderline offensive assumption then about
American designers in that vein. Aesthetics and materialism are not
the same thing, and I'm not talking about superficial qualities as
they pertain to design.

--
Andrei Herasimchuk

Principal, Involution Studios
innovating the digital world

e. andrei at involutionstudios.com
c. +1 408 306 6422

1 Feb 2008 - 2:33am
Jeff Howard
2004

Andrei, as far as I can tell, we're only hearing one side of a
conversation between you and Pankaj. Are you re-posting private
e-mail or is there just a lag with the list?

// jeff

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Posted from the new ixda.org
http://www.ixda.org/discuss?post=25427

1 Feb 2008 - 5:18am
Pankaj Chawla
2008

On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
> I think you are somehow confusing aesthetic with materialism, and
> then making a broad and borderline offensive assumption then about
> American designers in that vein. Aesthetics and materialism are not
> the same thing, and I'm not talking about superficial qualities as
> they pertain to design.

I think you got me all wrong. I said aesthetics is one of the attributes and
each attribute's need is a function of time and place. I dont know if
you know but the same toy manufactured in the same factory in China
comes in totally different packing when it comes to US and India and
you can tell the difference by just looking at the two packs - not
only there is difference in the quality of material used but also a
difference in how much aesthetic value has been added to both. Now it
doesnt mean that Indians dont care about design but just that given
the price point of affordability functional behaviour is more
important at this point of time than being extremely pleasing to the
eye. The same cannot be said about the American consumer because it
has matured beyond functional behaviour and aesthetics has become a
differentiating value proposition. And since the consumer can
appreciate that and is willing to pay for that, the American design
community is giving it to them (there is nothing offensive about it).
Now this doesnt mean that aesthetics in the future (time scale) will
not gain importance in the other geographices just like there is no
gaurantee that American consumer will not graduate to a newer
differentaiting value proposition (if everything becomes equally
beautiful, what will you do!).

So my only point then and now is that aesthetics is an integral part
of design but its value will vary both in time and place and hence I
dont consider it fundamental because I can still do design without
worrying about it, of course given the context of time and where I am.

Thanks
Pankaj

PS: If my previous post was in anyways offensive and put the American
Designer in the spot, I will apologise for that as that was never my
intention.

1 Feb 2008 - 7:29am
Adrian Howard
2005

On Jan 31, 2008, at 7:44 PM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:

On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com wrote:
> I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
>> world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
>> integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.
>
> Integral, yes; fundamental no.
[snip]

What's aesthetic?

* When I make a visual less ugly by removing half a dozen colours and
font variations?
* When I simplify a sales process from nineteen steps to four is that
a more aesthetic process?
* I spent half a day a week or so ago tweaking the words used to
drive a command-line tool so that they described the task in a nice
symmetric memorable manner that would be consistent with the users
understanding of the process, and the conventions of other commands
in that domain. Aesthetic word choice?
* The book Beautiful Code <http://tinyurl.com/3xxbny> is named that
way for a reason. Developers describe the internals of a piece of
badly implemented software as "ugly" for a reason. Aesthetic code?
* Some physics and mathematics dudes that I know describe certain
equations as "beautiful". Aesthetic equations?

I'd answer "yes" to all of the above myself.

In the larger sense aesthetics seem fundamental to good design to me.
I can't think of anybody I'd consider a good designer in any realm
who doesn't have a visceral "got to fix the ugly" reaction to bad
design.

Good design is beautiful all of the way down.

Does that mean that everybody should have to know the best way to
kern a heading and tweak the leading of some body text to be an IxD
(whatever that is :-)? I don't think so myself. They definitely need
to appreciate folk who do. Knowing how to do it themselves can do
nothing but help. But they're not completely incapable of good design
work if they lack that knowledge.

That's what I think anyway :-)

Cheers,

Adrian

1 Feb 2008 - 9:49am
Pankaj Chawla
2008

Reposting as it didnt make it the first time.

Thanks
Pankaj

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pankaj Chawla <pankaj013 at gmail.com>
Date: Feb 1, 2008 9:14 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] The Beautiful and the Useful
To: Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com>
Cc: ixda <discuss at ixda.org>

On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
> I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
> world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
> integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.

Integral, yes; fundamental no. There is a very important difference. Integral
is driven by the time context, fundamental is eternal. So yes the current
practice of IxD has a large focus on aesthetics integrated seamlessly
with design of behaviour but was it always that integral and will it remain
that integral or something else (sustainability, functional behaviour,
predictability etc) will take over. And since its integral and not
fundamental, can you do
IxD that is not focused on aesthetics - yes very much. Check out the consoles
of deep sea submarines (predictability and functional behaviour is of
prime importance). Checkout the airplane, the cockpit has literally
remained the
same for ages because sustainability is so important (you cant change the
location and form of the paddles and swtiches everyday) but go down the aisle
to the passenger cabin and you see aesthetics being of supreme importance.
The reason why aesthetics has become so important and almost looks
fundamental to IxD is because the major design focus of the current times
is Web design (By last count there are 27 billion web pages out there) and
the key differential is aesthetics - If you havent caught the eye you havent
caught the click, there is always a facebook to move to from orkut and a
gmail to move to from yahoo mail. Behaviour is important but what if you dont
even get the first click :-)

Cheers
Pankaj

1 Feb 2008 - 9:49am
Pankaj Chawla
2008

This one also didnt make to the list the first time.

Thanks
Pankaj

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Pankaj Chawla <pankaj013 at gmail.com>
Date: Feb 1, 2008 11:17 AM
Subject: Re: [IxDA Discuss] The Beautiful and the Useful
To: Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com>
Cc: ixda Discuss <discuss at ixda.org>

On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
>
> On Jan 31, 2008, at 7:44 PM, Pankaj Chawla wrote:
>
> > On 2/1/08, Andrei Herasimchuk <andrei at involutionstudios.com> wrote:
> >> I know of no formalized design profession in existence in this modern
> >> world where aesthetics, both material and immaterial, are not
> >> integral in some fashion to the practice of the discipline.
> >
> > Integral, yes; fundamental no.
>
> Ok... I'm game. What other formalized design profession is this true
> for? What other formalized design discipline exists where aesthetics
> are not fundamental?
> >

Well, pick any design discipline of your choice - UI Design, Industrial Design,
Visual Design, Graphics Design etc etc. Catch a plane from US to Europe
to Australia to Japan to South East Asia to Middle East to Africa (the itinerary
is a tour from the most developed nation travelling down to the least developed
part). As you travel this route you will see that each of the design disciplines
exist but each of them focuses on a different attribute of design (aesthetics,
ergonomics, sustainability, functional behaviour, predictability, adaptability),
but each works on the fundamental need of fulfilling an interaction between
a human and a machine. So yes if you are in US, aesthetics is such an important
attribute of design that it will look almost fundamental, but go to Africa where
every cent costs and aesthetics is a luxury that doesnt fit the bill.
Do you even
think people will worry about Arial vs Verdana discussions in that
part of the world
but we just had a huge discussion around that on IxDA. So the only fundamental
need of design is to facilitate a communication (an interaction), rest all are
attributes which exist within the context of time and place and once the context
is fixed the importance of each of the attributes also gets fixed.

I hope it makes sense.

Thanks
Pankaj

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