Just curious what you guys think makes something beautiful? Whether it’s a painting, building, person, but especially a product.
What makes something aesthetically beautiful?
I have been researching topics on this to try and enhance my abilities as a designer, first book I’m reading is Art and Visual Perception by Rudolf Arnheim. I read Design as Art by Bruno Munari over the summer, and he touched a little bit on it, but I’m hoping to go more in depth.
Any recommended books that really taught you guys about this topic?
For me it has to do a lot with values that I resonate with, or that I’m intrigued by and want to align my own thinking with.
When I was a child I was very intrigued by almost anything made of plastic, it was very beautiful to me. But as you change your own values also your perception of beauty changes.
For me, very ‘high’ beauty in design comes when there is a harmonious and simple coming together of form and function, that just create this ‘click’ between product and user and makes it pleasant and intuitive to interact with as well. Also when materials are used properly, it feels as if the material just naturally wanted to attain that shape without being forced into it, and that creates beauty as well.
Books I can’t recommend a particular one. I recently read ‘the Soul of Design’, it’s not very well known but it had some good examples and analysis as well. I like the book ‘invention and evolution’, it shows how functional structures can be beautiful when they are smartly optimized.
Ralph, thanks for the book recommendations. I’m going to get those.
One of the analogies I see here is in the apparel world where they talk about the difference between style and fashion. Fashion is something that dates very quickly and is mass distributed, style is something that is lasting and more individual. Certain things “never go out of style” while many other things go out of fashion quite quickly. Fashion you might say is bell bottoms vs peg legs while style might be knickers evolving to pants. The cycles are much different.
In our world you can make the same observations, and the two words I use to substitute are beauty and novelty. Novel things are shiny at first but they tarnish quickly, while beautiful things are often more subtle, they sink in later, and they stay with you much longer. Lets use a car example because it is easy. The new Lexus design language is very novel, but it is not very beautiful, and as such I think it will date very quickly, while the new Mercedes Benz AMG GT is very beautiful and will likely still look beautiful in 50 years. By studying objects over time in sculpture and design you can start to connect the red threads.
Like Ralph was saying there are a lot of other things that go into beauty beyond the visual. Think of seeing a person from a distance who is very visually stunning and then later talking to that person and their personality is revealed to be not what you imagined. Are they still as beautiful as you thought or can you separate the visual from the secondary experience?
Well, but aren’t there a ton of designs that were once extremely novel but successively became the universal standard of their category? So much that it sometimes seems inevitable to design something very similar because this novelty is just obviously so much superior? Sometimes the shine never tarnishes. Sometimes their novelty is what makes them immortal and - beautiful. I am not sure if “novel” and “beautiful” are proper antagonists.
Examples: Citroen DS, most of the Eames products, lots of braun products that were first in their category, lots of Sony products that were first in their category, the iPhone, the iPad, a bunch of other Apple products.
For a comparative view, check out the book “The Aesthetics of the Japanese Lunchbox” by Kenji Ekuan.
Ekuan is part of the group of esteemed 20th century industrial designers - you probably know his work best from the Kikkoman shoyu bottle though. The book is somewhat esoteric in subject and organization but dares to directly correlate beauty and everyday function.
Personally I find the current Lexus language interesting - no, not classic, not in any way timeless - by contrast its completely trendy and timely. Reminds me of the Sottsass idiom of designs that strive for timelessness end up being forgotten while designs that are immediate and capture the spirit of the age thus live forever…I’m butchering the exact words.
Slippyfish: Thanks for the recommendation, I will have to read it. I studied Kenji Ekuan for my History of ID course (and did not give that book the reading it deserves). He has done some great stuff, but for being one of the “founders” of ID in Japan it is surprisingly hard to find everything that he has done. Besides the Kikkoman and motorcycles, some of his modular housing concepts were awesome, and unfortunately just concepts.