The state of design in 2019
In recent years design has become much more mature, we know what works for conversion and sales, we can rely on best practices, and there are tons of books and blogs out there that tell us what works and what doesn’t. In other words, design has become very rational. And I am here to ask the question whether that is okay or not and what the consequences are.
To answer this question, we should look at the origin of this rational approach for design. What caused this way of thinking and approaching design? And afterwards, look at the results of this approach.
Where rational thinking all started
From the times of the old greeks, until the late 19th century, we believed beauty was one of the most essential things in life. This started with Platos claiming that beauty is as important in life as justice and trurth. But after World War I this perception changed. We no longer believed that beauty should cover up for all the horrors we faced every day. We believed that we should face the reality.
So there was, for example, this architect named Louis Sullivan, who came with the famous expression “form ever follows function” who started designing much more simplistic buildings. And the term ‘functional minimalism’ was born.
Another person who joined this counter-culture against beauty was the artist Marcel Ducamp. He was the one who exposed a urinal in a museum and got a lot of attention for it as well. This was around the time people asked what the function of beauty was anyway, and decided to deem it less important. Where philosopher Roger Scruton replies many years later in 2009, “what is the function of love or friendship, none whatsoever.”. In other words, simply because beauty has no function, it doesn’t mean we should add no value to it.
The consequences of functional minimalism and rational design
In the previous paragraphs, I summarized where the rational movement all started. It’s up to you to decide whether you agree or not. But if you ask me, I prefer seeing beauty as an equally important value like truth and justice. In the final paragraph, I will tell you why.
But let’s first look at the consequences of this functional minimalism and this more rational approach to design.
One example is the architectural trend we saw during the 1960s. Where we made a lot of living space with a purely functional approach in mind. Where we deemed it more important that something functioned than how it looked. This partly makes sense because of World War II, but the trend never stopped. An image above of the result. Another result is that we had to tear these buildings down after some years because nobody wanted to live in them. Funny, because they had only one function; for people to live in them anymore. And the only thing these buildings where suppose to do: they didn’t. This is a great example of functionalism, where Roger Scruton famously said: “The functionalism did not function”. And why do we want to live in the carefully designed buildings? They simple make us feel better.
Another example is the subway system of for example Rotterdam. Where all the stops look the same, so it’s very hard to tell wheter you are at the right stop or not. You have to carefully pay attention as you travel, keeping your eyes open for signs with the name of a stop. Because this textual sign is often the only way in infrastruce and traveling to tell where you are.
The designers for the subway system in Moscow solved this problem a lot better. Each stop is a work of art. Not only does this become a famous tourist spot, but it also makes the subway system function better; it’s easier to tell where you are, since every stop looks unique. Beauty does function better. Beauty makes the useless useful.
Why beauty matters
To summarize, beauty simply makes us feel better, and it makes the useless useful. My message for you is to pay more attention to beauty. Because things designed with love and care, will work much better. We are in an age where we design with such a rational approach, but wouldn’t a design work even better because it’s beautiful? Wouldn’t a design that touches us emotionally function even better?
For further reading about this subject, you might like “Why people are emotionally attached to your brand or product”.