Analyzing design for aesthetics

How do you analyze a design ( product, furniture, consumer) and confirm if it has a good or bad design aesthetics? I think scientific reasons like golden mean, humans are comfortable with organic forms etc will aid for some sort. But is there a general key points that you use for analysis?

I think if you could identify a bad design language then you could eliminate them and provide good designs.

Any suggestion?

Because of the subjectivity, it’s hard to say a general forumla or theory as to what is good form. True, each may refute that with their own theory and a few might agree with them; but then, that is the point. What really throws this off are the “followers” of brands, wanting to seem “cool” and “hip,” so they will agree and say, “Yes this is good design,” even though they can not explain it other than, “It just looks really cool.” What I love about where Industrial Design now–or maybe this is my own philosophy adapted from iconic designers before me–is the subdued craze of beautiful aesthetics and, for the most part, expulsion of socially clueless, magazine dwelling, designers. Good design isn’t really concerned with the form first; good design is concerned with the user first. The form will follow after all needs and problems have been addressed; or, as many as could have been. And somewhere around the process of developing form and production manufacturing comes the analyzation of the materials and their ecological effect. A product that is easy to understand, delivers what it claims to, has what is necessary and nothing more, and gives the user a better experience than previous products, than it will have good aesthetics.

Know the market your aiming for, really know them, and use this to fit an aesthetic to their tastes… a bad design language for one market could be a good design language for another

As noted, it’s complicated.

First part, ones needs to determine what the target market is/was. Think about Admiral TVs in Madmen (“Could negroes be buying these televisions?!?!?”). Sometimes, designs will find unanticipated markets, keep that in mind.

The second part is to try to interpret how the design is trying to appeal to the target market. It’s like making a mood board, but in reverse.

Last is the analysis. Does the design truly respond to the desires and aspirations of the target market?

It’s a fun and valuable activity that should be done far more often. It reminds me of how I feel about the Pontiac Aztek versus the Nissan Xterra. The Aztek was the perfect concept for the target market (active adults and people that want to look like active adults). I’m defining the concept as the space and flexibility of the Aztek and the neglect of non-functional elements (styling for example). However, the styling is where the Aztek failed it’s target market and the Xterra succeeded. The Xterra appeared more function over form (boxy, weird asymetric glass and bulge for the 1st aid kit in the rear, etc). In other words, the Xterra communicated the functions that the Aztek actually possessed: ability to haul a ton of gear, flexibility of the interior from driving to a mobile home base.

Also even if we all some how definitely agree on what a good design aesthetics is, there’s still no accounting for taste. Lots of hokey stuff still sell like pancakes to some markets (cough…my parents…cough)… :laughing:

In general, I think there are two magnetic poles to gravitate toward, and what kind of designer you are tends to determine the pole, or if you have the ability to go between successfully.

The first is minimalism. As to become so anti aesthetic that it again becomes aesthetic. Much easier of the two in terms of philosophy, but the more difficult in terms of practice because it requires discipline and a high level of execution. Also, if you half ass it, it is horrible. Very little tolerance.

The second is emotive. Much more difficult philosophically because it is based on the randomness of our emotive interpretation of things. It is much more difficult to judge an impressionist painting than that of a renaissance master. This requires a tremendous amount of free thinking. If the first is like writing a non fiction book, this is like writing a poem. It can be easier in its final execution because it is easier to modify as you go along, and in general you have more places to hide things… but a lot of bad products get designed this way.

I think the best designers can do both, and effectively mix both, but that is very rare.

How you judge them ultimately is personal. Gaining that eye typically requires a critical experienced person who can help mentor you.

So, in a design process i think designers have a large contribution towards aesthetics while the functional and mechanical is taken over by engineers.

In modern design how true is form follow function philosophy? Recently I had a talk with one sr designer at a top design consultancy. I told him that my design process focuses more on function and aesthetics is secondary. His view was opposite, his and his companies philosophy is more along aesthetics while functional design will be dealt by engineers. His suggestion was that I too must focus on aesthetics and function will evolve. Its just hard for me to digest.

So, when you design, what is your first focus- aesthetics? function?solving problem? I think it based on the project too. William sonoma- probably emotional/aesthetics, aerospace - function /solving problem etc.

Shyam: You are right, the balance shifts between form and function depending on the product, project goals and corporate structure. I understand why the consultant you talked to said what he did. The service that consultants often sell is aesthetic oriented. I feel like corporate gigs can offer more balance. Look at how much Apple’s design team drives their manufacturing: the aluminum extrusions, aluminum machining, etc.

The answer is ‘yes’ - its the balance of each needed for each project that changes constantly. I think that most people can perceive function in aesthetics, and the aesthetic of function. (A side thought however: Apple could make a solid machined unfunctioning block of aluminum with the logo laser-etched on the top with radiused corners, offer it for $99, and sell zillions of them.)

You’re expected to focus on the aesthetics, and make it look effortless. If you don’t, you are simply Engineer-Lite.

Thanks for the replies,
I agree that designers focus on aesthetics but should also have good knowledge on function- mechanism, tolerance, manufacturing ability etc. If you are in school, there is less stress from instructors on functionality and you are capable of exploring anything conceptually. But with clients with specific needs, from my work experience, they need specifics that needs to be covered. Some focus on function and think of how it works. With functionality covered, it was easier to come with aesthetic look and feel. But some focus on aesthetics- eg. retro look, and we need to come up with functionality surrounding the aesthetics, that was really challenging.

I use the Creative Product Analysis Matrix. I will put a copy on my website at:

I use Creative Product Analsysi Matrix. I will put a copy on my website at: … mation.htm

This is a great tool, and have used it in my own work. It is incredibly helpful (at least to me)