Are some ID's too focused on aesthetics?

Hey all, I have a really quick question. I don’t mean to offend. :blush:

It seems like a lot of ID portfolios on here have designs that are heavily aesthetics based. They seem to be so focused on looks that they sacrifice usability.

When I read this article here, I feel very close to the author. On a regular basis I run into products that could have small tweaks that would make them so much better. His description of ID is 110% what I want to do.

I don’t want to get into a glorified art program. I want to get into a program where I obtain all the tools to really make a difference in this world by helping create products that make peoples lives better. To be able to sit down with fellow designers, come up with a design, and then build a prototype with my own hands. I am so hands on that I need to be able to prototype myself. I won’t be satiated by just making drawings, although I completely understand that it is a large part of the design process.

Anyway, I don’t mean to offend. I just want to make sure I’m understanding what ID is and is not.

IMO anything can have minor tweaks to be better since there is no such thing as a perfect product to begin with. Style is strong with this field as it is the 1st thing people look and judge at. Often there are things that design is chosen over function (cough…Apple…cough), but if done right people are willing to sacrifice (some) functionality for the added aesthetics. In the “real” world, the designer may not be able to have the opportunity to design the product they perfectly wanted because of time/budget/restraints the client wants. A good designer should see a happy marriage between all (style, function, time, budget, etc), but can never have all or it will never be finished.

Student portfolio projects may seem to be more aesthetics than others. It’s a good time to practice while in school without having to deal with as many restraints in the production world. But often I see really unrealistic concepts that’s more sci-fi design than industrial design. But we all have our own styles and opinions, there is no 1 answer to the question…

Okay, that makes a lot of sense. Like you said it seems that the student portfolios have the crazy sci-fi stuff that I cant imagine flying in the real world, but again I haven’t been in a real world design situation. Thanks for your post it made a lot of sense and was very helpful. :slight_smile:

Beauty is a function. Not the most important one to all, but an important consideration to many. That’s the reason we have jobs. We have the ability to elegantly combine the constraints of a brief into a shape or object that is beautiful and appropriate. It is so difficult for a great idea pass through all those constraints–many of which are completely out of the designer’s control–without being tainted or ruined.

That is why I usually find mass-market great designs more meaningful than low-volume stuff, although that is great for aesthetic and intellectual inspiration. It is an opportunity to celebrate a designer’s verbal communication skills, a management team who ‘gets’ design, and some good luck, too.

Cameron, thank you for your post. :slight_smile:

I feel a bit sheepish now. Of the two people to comment, neither of them have a portfolio that contains any of the “uselessness” that I mentioned. You both have amazing work that I find very inspiring. I think the big difference is “student” portfolio versus “professional portfolio.”

Thank you all.

ID is like any other profession - there is a wide range of skills, interests and specialities in the people and industries it covers. Making any sort of blanket statement will naturally have some parts of truth and untruth. It’s like asking “Are some doctors too focused on research?”.

There are different types of design, some more focused on aesthetics, some more focused on other factors. What your interests are and where you end up, is (mostly) up to you.

Some designers say, working on industrial tools may have little interests in aesthetics and be more focused on function, or costs. Some designers say, working on footwear or trans may have aesthetics as well lifestyle storytelling as primary factors mixed into function and other issues. There are all sorts of designers in the middle doing everything from tools, furniture, consumer products, etc.

As for “making a difference in people’s life”, how you qualify that and what you seek also has a large range. Are you looking to help by make a water purifying device for the third world? Improve a patients experience by designing a Xray machine? Make a powerdrill safer to use? Allow someone to feel better about expressing themselves through a unique pair of shoes?

You will not always be designing what you want. You will not always be designing for yourself. You will most likely not be making the prototype yourself. You will not always be involved in the “whole” process.

That being said, ID can cover a lot of scope and if you are good you can determine where you want to be and what you want to do.

Hope this helps,


OK, be honest now, is Core 77 really a mind-reading website disguised as an industrial design forum?

I was seriously thinking this EXACT thing after uploading some of my design concepts onto Coroflot a day or two ago. I dialed the experience to 0-2 years and saw nothing but Star Trek props and weird wood furniture that works more as a sculpture than a real table or chair. And, like the OP, I too started to wonder, “Are these artists that took a wrong turn at Albuquerque or am I not totally understanding what ID is supposed to be?”

To me, industrial design should to be most prevalently concerned with improving user experience, period, and I don’t feel like that is coming from most of these recent graduates’ portfolios or future design concepts I see around the internet. I’m from an engineering background, but I have always been more interested in product design than plug and chug engineering. When I design something, I always start with “how should they hold it? how big should it be? what problems exist with similar products?” and when I solve those problems and make a shape that addresses the big questions, then I start looking into ways to make it more presentable without interfering with any of the key functional elements. On the other hand, I feel like many industrial designers (at least the ones fresh out of college) seem to start with some crazy design premise that leaves all of the functional elements to be worse off than they were with existing designs (buttons are smaller and harder to find, display harder to read, more difficult to use, etc.). I guess to sum it up, I feel that looking cool should never get in the way of working well, that is, of course, unless you’re making a conversation piece like a shoe or an art watch or something meant to be ridiculous for the sake of being ridiculous.

Another thing he mentioned that reminded me of an issue I’ve been having is how he mentioned that he likes to be “hands on” and build the prototypes himself. See, this is where I seem to depart from the rest of the ID world. My favorite way to design is to go straight to Solidworks and cook up a model, dimensionally defined and all, yet it seems this would be frowned upon by most design firms that ask for sketches, sketches, and more sketches and a few hand-built models when listing a job opening. Is it so wrong to prefer working in a digital environment where I can easily make drastic changes with a mouse click rather than starting all over with a new sketch or new carving/whatever? The way I see it, going straight to Solidworks means I’m just a few steps away from a real-deal produceable product, especially when it’s something small enough to prototype on a 3D printer, but I feel like it’s viewed as “improper” to jump into CAD right away without doing it “old school” first. I know this is going to immediately be met with “how do you know it’s right until you build a model?”, but I feel I can get a really good idea just using a ruler or measuring tape (say, measuring my hand for use with an ergonomic grip design) and replicating those dimensions in the program, print it up in plastic, and fine tune it from there. Furthermore, isn’t the CAD model the part you really need to be good at making? I’m just not a great pen and paper sketcher, yet I can do great stuff with a mouse and keyboard, I guess that sort of thing just happens when you’ve been toying with Photoshop since junior high. I always thought computer skills were really the deal maker in the job market, but in this case it seems to be hurting me that I didn’t doodle in my notebooks more often.

i agree that function is a critical element of any design, but aesthetics or attractiveness or visual appeal contribute directly to a product’s success. looks get you in the door, so to speak. if it (whatever “it” might be) doesn’t look good–you’ll have a harder time selling it–to yourself, to your client/boss, or to the end user. a product that represents the height of functionality, doesn’t function very well if it never makes it into production, or into the end user’s hands…so to quote Eames, “the details are not the details…”

I think this is more a matter of personal identity than evaluation of function. When you work hard at something you tend to become emotionally invested in it and project your identity/personal values onto it. It’s natural and easy to view things through that lens. For example, even within the community that stresses aesthetics, there are people who treat minimalism like a universal virtue and apply it to everything, even when it doesn’t make sense. At the other end of the spectrum, I see a lot engineers overdesigning things to include a lot of ‘cool’ mechanical complexity (I was certainly guilty of this when I first started working). It takes some work to keep a sense of perspective.

@engineer. There are many approaches to design development, no right or wrong; just preferences and requirements. Not all models are fit and finish, you wouldn’t want to spend a 3d print for all models. Initial cardboard models are great to see physical size/volume that you cannot see on a computer screen. What you have in your head/screen can actually be too big in real life. Also often if I’m stuck, I change my approach. If I can’t think of any more sketches, I’ll mess around with CAD or paper models and will always find fresh solutions I wouldn’t be able to realize if only doing sketches. Sketches are great to give quick feedback, not all sketches are fit and finish as well. Sketching has its place, CAD has its place, model making has its place; how much to use each one will vary on personal preferences and project requirements.

Sounds like engineer and I are on the exact same page.

I completely understand the idea of designer products. In some cases sacrificing a little bit of usability for aesthetics is fine, but at a certain point it just becomes useless. That said, aesthetics are certainly a top priority. Anyone can make a lightweight mp3 player. But only a few can make one with such a strong brand and design identity that it can be recognized with nothing but a basic silhouette. Aesthetics and design are very important. But it’s just as useless if the thing doesn’t work.

A sphere is the most simple and aesthetically pleasing 3d object (in my opinion), yet I’m not going to make a spherical iPod. (“Is that an iOrb in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” :laughing: )

Engineer I think we should have a chat… you have a PM.

Well, here’s an example to demonstrate my point, taken from my own portfolio (now I’ll definitely be shooting myself in the foot if I p*** someone off, so best behavior from me :mrgreen: ):

I know you probably can’t read the text, but don’t worry, you can in the PDF version I send out.

Anyway, this is the current Gatorade gallon bottle design:

So, compare what I created vs. the current Gatorade.

The current Gatorade bottle is, I feel, awful in many ways (I really hope whoever designed it isn’t on Core77 somewhere… :blush: ). For starters, the grip is all wrong because no human hand could ever fit around it to properly lift that much weight. To remedy that issue, they attach a grip handle that can only possibly work in tension and thus doesn’t even become effective until you’re already pouring and it’s too late.

My bottle, on the other hand, is meant to be gripped at the top where the hand naturally will slide up to the cap ring (that molded circle of plastic all bottles have below the cap, which would be more pronounced here) so there is no way the bottle could slip out of someone’s hands as long as they kept their fingers wrapped around it. To pour, I made the lower grip slanted and wide to encourage “cradling” so that they will intuitively wrap their arm around the bottle and thus stabilize it side to side. If desired, it can even be butted against the chest or stomach like a shotgun for even more stability. My design also benefits from the curvy neck that lowers stress concentration and prevents buckling of the bottle and the mid-bottle lip that creates turbulent flow as the bottle is moved and helps mix the beverage for best taste. Lastly, I did away with the AWFUL ridged cap that EVERYONE HATES and replaced it with a wingnut-inspired design that even an arthritic grandma could open and would only add a tiny bit more plastic when molding.

Now, I know someone is going to say, “but couldn’t someone just cradle the existing bottle?”, but the answer is mostly “no” because the weight balance is all wrong and the location of the pour spout and the implementation of the handle doesn’t adequately position the pour spout properly.

To back up my claim of preference to render in Solidworks right away, I was able to properly size the bottle using the volume feature of Solidworks, I couldn’t have done that with a sketchbook. I don’t mean to offend if you like to sketch, but just why I wish it was more acceptable to work in CAD straight away.

and for an example of what I feel is “too aesthetic” we have the 64 oz Gatorade:

For this bottle, I can only say “what the f***?” We get all sorts of busy design work that looks like someone covered a cylinder in glue and rolled it through an art room. Bumpy textures and weird shape embossments all over the place with no real theme or purpose whatsoever. The only redeeming feature is the finger grip in the center, only, once again it is poorly conceived as no human hand could possibly fit around it. So what does the 64oz bottle accomplish? nothing, in my opinion. I’d much rather a form with a proper hand grip than something that is the design equivalent of a shouting “look at me! look at me!” with nothing to actually say.

So, to conclude, we can all have our own opinions on what things should look like and what is appealing, but I feel like function is what the people really want outside of shoes, watches, and other “personal fashion” items and I feel that my design still provides something that is striking and interesting to look at.

You’re too quick to dismiss the design of those bottles. The 1 gallon bottle is clearly optimized for packing efficiency above all else. Seems reasonable – usability is less of a big deal for pouring compared to smaller bottles that you drink directly from. I imagine they judged the marginal returns from supply chain efficiency gains to be larger than possible sales boosts from better usability (Let face it - the 1Gal drink market doesn’t exactly have the same competition as the 12-16 oz one). For packing efficiency, it’s hard to get much better than a brick.

The 64 oz. bottle isn’t particularly nice looking, but many of the features you complain about have functional value. The sunk sections – embossments as you call them – are there to provide ribbing for structural reinforcement and to direct the stresses to regions that can bear them. They’ve made some effort to integrate them into the aesthetic look and feel of the bottle. Sure they could have done better, but let me assure they couldn’t get rid of them altogether. Pick up one of those Glaceau Smart Water bottles to see what a flat walled bottle does. The texture appears only on the finger grip area (which met your approval) and I assume is there to provide grip.

All in all, not perfect, but not bad. I certainly consider the 64oz Gatorade more usable for drinking from than say, the 2L Coke, which holds a similar volume. Of course, the design of the 2L Coke is weighted towards different use scenarios.

for the 1 gallon:

I know the original design is for pure efficiency, but my design would really only make it a tiny bit taller and otherwise should be just as efficient to produce.

for the 64oz:

OK, sure, the embossments might add some structure to the bottle, but aren’t there less hideous ways of doing it? It’s like someone took a giant honeycomb and jabbed it on and said “done!”. I, however, didn’t approve of the “grip” ring because it’s far too big in diameter for any normal person to take advantage of it and likely leads many people to grab it there and have it slip from their hands when they realize it isn’t as ergonomic as the shape implies. I mean, my bottle design doesn’t have many fully flat surfaces if you look closely, but the design remains very simple and doesn’t overwhelm. I haven’t made a prototype to prove its “strength under pressure” so to speak, but knowing what I know of structures I would be very surprised if there was any major issue for the same plastic thickness of the existing bottle. For what it’s worth, also, the 64oz has a tendency to sound like gunshots as it heats up if you keep it in the refrigerator, empty the container, and leave the bottle out at room temperature to bring it out for recycling later. Scared the crap out of me the first time it happened, I thought I was under attack!

As for the gallon bottle in general, Gatorade isn’t the only possible market. What about milk jugs? Everyone buys gallon jugs of milk day in and day out, even restaurants and such, and those things cause all sorts of improper wrist positions. Now, getting the milk world to convert would be a hell of a time as every shelf in America was designed exactly for the exact milk jug we use now, but my general form factor could probably be modified to work out. Let me put it this way: who ISN’T tired of spilling milk everywhere for the first 2-3 glasses you pour? With my bottle, you wouldn’t.

The real emphasis here is that starting with functional concepts doesn’t necessarily end up in ugly products. I feel that if you start with good function, you can easily make the form appealing. Making a good form function well, on the other hand, can be daunting. If more industrial designers valued function first, they would probably arrive at designs that engineers could actually turn into a product with minimal alterations and look better than the watered down designs that often make it to production.

a tiny bit times 1 million bottles = a not so tiny bit having some experience in packaging and supply chain, but this is way off topic.


I’m not disparaging your design. I’m saying they had different priorities and their design achieves the functional ones pretty well. Not perfectly, but pretty well.

Most of the points you’ve made aren’t as clear cut as you seem to think. Not clearly wrong, but worth a discussion at least. I’m not going to get into that discussion since it’ll be very long and go off-topic, but I will say you should ease up on making black/white good/bad design judgments. There are very few perfect products on the market – you can always find flaws. But there are also very few truly horrible ones. Most products make most of the design choices more or less right. A lot of things seem absurdly badly designed to me at first glance too. But I have a healthy respect for the fact that I’ve only been doing this for three years and a large team of people who presumably were qualified enough to be hired for large sums of money thought about this for a lot longer than I did before making these seemingly nonsensical choices. Sure they can still have overlooked critical stuff, but you learn something just from trying to figure out what they were thinking. More often I find I hadn’t considered something.

In the present case, for example, I think you are underestimating some of the aspects of the structural design, as well as the impact of small savings aggregated over millions of units of produced.

I’d be careful to generalize. A lot of students have more conceptual work because that’s when you can afford to, and before you’ve gone into the industry and had to deal with engineers, manufacturers, etc. I don’t think you can ever be “too focused” on aesthetics. On the other hand, I do think that you can overlook some critical parts of practicality.

Some design firms focus more on design and styling, which plays a huge role in the user and brand experience (I think engineer mentioned this in his earlier posts that user experience is a priority). I also disagree that people only care about aesthetics in footwear, watches, and clothes. Maybe you don’t, but I can find people who care about everything in their house. Aesthetics also contribute a lot to the user experience: nice to look at, show-off-able… these are things that people care about.

People do what they like to do, and if it’s focusing “too much” on aesthetics, that’s great. Concept cars are there to inspire and generate brand excitement and form ideas of the company’s future direction. Are they practical? Not necessarily, but they are damn essential to the user experience.

I guess impractical conceptual work does have its place:

I don’t want to get too into it , to get OT, but I think your Gatorade redesign does have a lot of flaws. The design wouldn’t be that great for pouring as the placement of the hands is difficult bringing it up to pouring position (the plastic ring can change angle on the original to facilitate this), if only a bit left would catch on the notch, bringing the bottom above the spout would be highly uncomfortable in your design, the weight balance would be really odd if not full, and the bottle itself isn’t that attractive to say the least.

Going back to the OP, I’d reiterate that ID is about combining both function and aesthetics and both are important. I think most real world designers with experience understand this and it would be very difficult to get a job if both weren’t in play.

With little experience with actual design I’d also caution as others have said about making claims and statements such as “this is wrong” or “this is the only right way”.

I’d also add to feel free to post your concept in the projects section if you want some real criticism and feedback on the design you presented.


Can someone explain this to me please? I just don’t understand how a company can spend money on designing something like that. What does it achieve? Most actions in business are taken only if they will increase revenue in the future.

So how does that generate revenue? Is it a form of viral advertising? Or is it just mental exercise when the firm has nothing else to do?

Don’t get me wrong, that looks like a really fun project… I love the design, the inspiration, and the (dare I say) innovative execution.

I just don’t see why a team of talented designers got paid to do it. :confused: