Qualifying a design as a "masterpiece"

I came across an article on Fast Company this morning, Samsung’s Latest TV Is Also An Unexpected Design Masterpiece, whose headline struck me with the use of the phrase “design masterpiece.” Beyond debating the merits and flaws of this specific product, it got me thinking in larger terms of what to consider in deeming something a “masterpiece” of design.

The word itself, masterpiece, has some interesting value attached to it these days. On one hand you can argue that it’s simply another subjective qualifier, carrying no more weight than deeming a piece of work “really good” or “really bad.” But in the context of modern criticism, I think the term carries more weight. I remember listening to a review of Mad Max: Fury Road on Filmspotting (filmspotting.net) in which they used the phrase “the M word” while they were debating just how great that film was (obivously the two hosts both had extremely positive reviews.) They were cheekily afraid of even saying the word, as if it had some mythical significance that should only be bestowed upon a select few pieces of work and dare not be attributed to, or even mentioned in the same breath as, those not worthy of the moniker. Whether or not you agree with this distinction or use of the word, it’s often the connotation with which it is used today: the absolute utmost praise for a work of art.

When applied to design, and more specifically product design, what should that mean? The Fast Company article does a decent job of praising the wide range of well-designed features of the product, from its physical construction and appearance to its user interface, outlining how they all combine to elevate the piece far above the status quo aesthetically, functionally, and emotionally. These merits, with differing levels of importance depending on the specific product being designed, are elements we all can agree must be combined to create a design possibly worth of the badge, masterpiece.

Where I believe the article is lacking, though, is in discussing the market viability of the product. Sure, “this is the TV [members of Co.Design’s editorial bullpen] all want,” but when was the last time you knew anyone, especially anyone of means (for whom this is obviously designed,) to buy a TV 40-inches or smaller, the only sizes the product comes in? Couple that with the fact that without publicly-released price points it’s fairly easy to assume this product will be expensive, possibly absurdly so, and you have the very real possibility that they’ve created an incredibly beautiful, functional product that is destined to fail commercially.

But should commercial success even be considered when debating whether or not a product is a masterpiece of design? Going back to film as an analogue, there are plenty of commercially unsuccessful films that we now wouldn’t hesitate to call masterpieces, including Citizen Kane (often touted as the greatest film ever made.) While commercial success is on the list of goals at the start of nearly every product design project, everyone who has been in the industry for any amount of time knows how many different factors can sink even the most thoughtful, beautiful, or innovative products.

Does a product have to check off every box in its list of goals, commercial success included, to be considered a masterpiece of design? Does it even matter? I don’t know. I’d love to hear thoughts on the subject from others.

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If enough of the right people declare something a masterpiece, then it is. For fine art, it is about 300 critics in NYC. Not other artists mind you, but people who are professional opinionators. I can’t think of anything more subjective.

As for commercial success, it is irrelevant. Could have bought a Van Gogh for the price of a go around with a cheap hooker in 1875. Not so much today. But I’m betting Citizen Kane is not raking in the download bucks. No, it depends on the right people declaring it so, nothing else.

I am not one of those people. But I play one on TV.

Interesting qualifier, Keno. Iab, if you were one of those people, what criteria would you use to qualify designs?

I don’t know.

To top that, I don’t care. Reason being, my opinion is just that, my opinion. Nothing else, nothing more. I don’t like the idea of influencers.

While those 300 critics in NYC can declare something is a masterpiece it doesn’t mean I have to agree. It doesn’t mean I have the same experience as they do.

If anything, total sales is a much more democratic means test for a masterpiece. But then again, with that criteria, Dogs Playing Poker is a masterpiece.

When I think of a masterpiece I think of a one of a kind work of art. Something about the mass production aspect makes it hard for me to think of a product as a masterpiece. Thinking of a TV as a masterpiece considering it will be outdated in 6 months is a hard sell for me. If anything B&O products are more artsy/masterpiecy just because of the proportions and materials.

About the design. I like that it is different, going the opposite direction of the thin bezels. I’m afraid though, that if you didn’t read the article or saw the video first, it might look cheap in person. Also confused about the size & stand. It’s too small to have it’s own stand.

With products, it seems that if you go against the current trend then it’s noteworthy or at least merits an online article and a bunch of people commenting and re-posting. But those same products are usually outdated a couple of years later. What makes a design successful? Sales, profits, “likes”, longevity, media coverage, etc. What makes it a masterpiece? Craftsmanship, materials, volume of units produced, “expert” reviews, etc? It’s a hard one.

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This is typically where I personally fall and how I distinguish between art and design. Art doesn’t have to solve problems. It can simply be. Design, though, must have direction and purpose, even if that purpose is as simple as being beautiful.

Modern Man questions whether any product consumers are likely to dispose of somewhere between the first 18 minutes to 18 years after its original retail purchase can be rightly deemed a “masterpiece”.

How about a tissue?

It’s typical use is under 18 seconds before its disposal.

Yet functionally, it is a masterpiece.

Unless of course you use your sleeve. In that case, ew.

In any case, Samsung Galaxy s6 cover is a much more democratic means test for a Samsung Galaxy S6 edge plus cover. But again, this dog is playing poker criterion a masterpiece.

Modern Man questions, is that the only criteria for a “masterpiece”? And is generic tissue actually a functional masterpiece? Modern Man, finds that claim to be dubious at best.

So if it’s priceless it can’t be a masterpiece?

/Please don’t say everything has a price; Modern Man may be forced to test that assertion by asking a potentially extremely offensive question. :wink:

Please, do tell, let us know a better design to remove the snot from your nose. Also, do better than the self-feeding fold.

Maybe it is that you think wiping one’s nose is too pedestrian? Please then, do tell, what is more of an issue than preventing disease?

What exactly are Modern Man’s priorities? An app to locate the closest hookers and blow?

This discussion is silly, so I’ll join.

I think a masterpiece has to reach some level of iconic, highly recognizable status, as well as it has to be somewhat exclusive, hard to get.

IE, the Mona Lisa is a masterpiece, the postcard of a Mona Lisa is NOT a masterpiece.

So, maybe the first ever tissue was a masterpiece? Kind of falls apart. Like I said, this discussion is silly at best, especially when applied to design in my opinion. It makes more sense when applied to art.

Certainly there are criteria for “masterpiece” beyond snot removal, even in terms of functionality.

A handkerchief is washable and therefore reusable hundreds, if not thousands, of times and thus more sustainable than tissue paper. Soap and hot water together are vastly better at preventing spread of disease than tissue.

Tissue is no more a masterpiece than toilet paper or 8-1/2" x 11" copier paper. Utility ≠ “masterpiece”

Modern Man completely agrees with yo.

Your understanding of disease transmission is completely incorrect.

Any search of PubMed will reveal to you that a disposable prevents disease in a far superior manner that a reusable. Go ahead. Find a study to refute that simple fact.

But fell free. Put that snot rag in your pocket. Use it twice, three times. Then fish some change out of that pocket and tell yourself you aren’t spreading disease.

Flu season is coming. If you happen to be in a hospital at that time, ask the Infection Preventionist about your “theory”.

It is silly. But I have some time this morning.

I think you proved my point. I am not one of the opinionators who decides what is and what is not a masterpiece.

But I will stick with the lowly tissue. It is easily in the top 100 of all items that have prevented misery to humankind.

I prefer it to a bust of Caligula or a portrait of Napoleon or any other “masterpiece” of some loser who brought untold misery to humankind.

But then again, why exactely is the Mona Lisa a masterpiece? I seriously don’t know. It’s just what everybody says. There might be a reason for it, but I don’t know the reason and I guess no one here really knows either. We just believe. It is certainly iconic but only because it was declared a masterpiece, not the other way around.
Well, but Da Vinci was famous, so I simply conclude you need to be someone famous in order to make a so called masterpiece.
Without fame you can achieve something “good” or if you are lucky maybe even something “great”. The “masterpiece” tag is reserved for the famous, sorry :wink:

You haven’t and can’t refute that soap and hot water used together have a greater overall impact in preventing the spread of more types of disease than common paper tissues. They’re also more environmentally sustainable. Paper tissues for snot removal do not prevent aerosolized germs from coughing and sneezing, the main cause of transmission of cold and flu viruses. This is due to the fact that sick people rarely reliably have an immediately deployable tissue to effectively position between their hand and nose or mouth at every instant they reflexively cough and sneeze. Furthermore, Modern Man sees that you’re incorrectly presuming or suggesting that the majority of human snot production is virulent and due to infectious diseases. Allergies are the more pervasive cause of human snot production.

Toilet paper is also a more broadly and effective preventer of spread of disease than tissue paper or what is most commonly referred to as “Kleenex”.

BTW, since you’ve already chosen to use an ad hominem fallacy you’ve already lost this argument.

It can’t be a masterpiece unless it was created by a master. :slight_smile: