This curiosity of me about beauty all started because too many people neglect or don’t acknowledge the power of beauty. Too many people don’t see the positive impact beauty can have on their brands and products. So too often I’m seeing myself defending beauty, frustrated I can’t seem to successfully persuade people why it matters so much. So I wondered, where does this don’t-care-about-beauty attitude come from? And is there research that proves the added value of beauty.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, we keep ourselves less busy with beauty, and more with how useful things are. This is supported by a study which measured the usage of the word Beauty in books since 1800, and in the last century, we see a drastic decrease. Why this happens is explained in the documentary “Why Beauty Matters (2009)”, which tells us that people today are too often looking for useful stuff, if it’s not useful, we don’t need it. All advertisements and product promotions always communicate about the usefulness of something, so it’s not a surprise this happens. Beauty has become neglected in some sense. While before the beginning of the 20th century, beauty was a huge buying motive. For centuries it was seen a basic need of humans, something that was actually making us happier.
The effect of beauty
So in my search for an answer on why beauty matters, I came across this study from the early 90’s. Where two researchers were interested in the effect of aesthetics on one’s opinion about a product. They compared the “user friendliness rating” of two ATM’s, both with the same interaction design, but visually the second one looked better. The result of this study was that products that look good, are generally rated 20% easier to use, even though they were both equally easy to use.
And after reading “Emotional Design” by Don Norman, I also got some insights into why people have an emotional connection to a brand or product, and not to the other. And it appeared this had a lot to do with the visceral part of the product: how it looked. Basically, we can break down any design into three pillars.
Behavioral design: how it works.
Visceral Design: how it looks.
Reflective design: if it matches your personality, can you see a reflection of yourself in the product or design?
Don Norman states that most products really focus on the behavioral part of a design; how it works and what it can do. This complements my other findings on the importance, or actually lack of, of beauty in the 21st century.
In “why beauty matters (2009)”, Roger Scruton smartly notes that solely useful things quickly become useless. Think about the modernist architecture in the 60’s, a lot of buildings were very simple, gray and ugly. Soon nobody wanted to live in them anymore; the useful became useless. While with beautiful buildings, people will find a good use for them, simply because people want to be close to beauty. In other words: “the useless has become the new useful”. (Roger Scruton, 2009).
So what we should do it make sure we think about the visceral and reflective part of our designs as well. Make it aesthetically pleasing to look at, create a piece of beauty, and think about how we can match the design with the “self” of the user. What does the user value in life and how can we create a design that matches these values?
To summarize, there is enough research done that proves the necessity of beauty. The only question that remains it, what actually is beauty?