Fast Company

Designing for Beautility: Where Beauty Meets Utility

Economics grab all the headlines but beauty is just as important, and even has serious financial ramifications. Beauty does serve a function. Didn't the way that cars used to look--and no longer do--have a big effect on the failure of Detroit? Beauty is more than skin deep. Beauty is powerful. Utility is beautiful and beauty has utility. Let's call it "Beautility" for short.

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The Avanti Studebaker, designed by Raymond Loewy (and one of my dad's favorites)

Beauty has different meanings in different cultures and eras--but everybody has some idea of beauty (even the Hell's Angels). Although humans can't agree on specific examples, we do all share a general formula for beauty: It has a very pleasing physical sensual element combined with mental enlightenment. "Aaaahs" and "Ah-has." It's the combination. There is an intellectual component to a beautiful person and an emotional component to a beautiful mathematical proof. The experience of beauty is the result of the convergence of body, mind, and soul. Form and function melt together. Art and science dance.

eiffel

The Eiffel Tower, an obvious feat of engineering whose only function is to show off

Compared to survival, beauty may not be a critical necessity like air, but beauty is certainly not a luxury either. Beauty drives evolution. In Sleeping Beauty, the evil queen had to ask her mirror what was beautiful (obviously she was not a designer). "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the fairest of them all?" (Quality is reflected in the visual image). The way things look is important. Is it only skin deep? You can judge a book by looking at the cover!"

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These Serengeti sunglasses designed while at Smart Design combine modern ergonomics and classic styling with a little refinement

My teacher, and one of founders of the Pratt Institute's industrial design program, Rowena Reed Kostellow, said: "Pure, unadulterated beauty should be the goal of civilization." Like water and health care, Beautility is an essential civic utility that sustains our life form.

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Jim Clark's old Lotus Formula 1: Where form and function meet

I have coined this word Beautility because I want people to realize that even in our mercenary world, beauty is not just about flower displays. Beautility is a new way of framing beauty, as something that serves a function, that elevates it to the bottom line. When things have a name and people can point at it, then it will be easier for them to appreciate the value. Designers are key drivers in the beauty business. The design profession's job is to create Beautility!

Read Tucker Viemeister's blog What's Cookin'?
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Tucker Viemeister leads the Lab at Rockwell Group, an interactive technology design group combining digital interaction design, modeling, and prototyping for hotels and restaurants, casinos, packaging, and products. The LAB seeks to blur the line between the physical and virtual, exploring and experimenting with interactive digital technology in objects, environments, and stories. Tucker also co-founded the collaborative Studio Red with David Rockwell that was dedicated to innovation for Coca-Cola. Since joining Rockwell Group in 2004, Tucker has been instrumental in the design and development of JetBlue's Marketplace at the JFK International Airport, "Hall of Fragments," an installation that opened the Corderie dell'Arsenale at the 2008 Venice Biennale, a "living wall" for the lobby of the Sheraton Toronto, the traveling Red Lounge for Coca-Cola, and MGM City Centre in Las Vegas.

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5 Comments

  • Matthew Shears

    Beautility - that's quite a mouthful. Perhaps a simpler and more concise term is better - such as elegance, as championed by Victor Papanek. He recognized that beauty is as essential as any functional requirement in design and that an elegant solution provides a "deep satisfaction" that is both aesthetic and intellectual.

  • Richard Geller

    "Utility is beautiful and beauty has utility."
    Tucker, you got me thinking about the relationship between beauty and utility. But to have ghost of a chance at clarity, I'd like to limit this reflection to just products, technology, package goods—ignoring art, literature, music, nature, the human form,etc. In that context (products, technology, package goods), utility must first be present, before design even gets the opportunity to matter at all. So, it just might be clearer to propose: compelling utility + design elegance = beauty.

    While technology is mostly about utility and empowerment, as it matures, all aspects of its design may achieve greater elegance and economy up to the point of its actual obsolescence. The "first" of most things are rarely beautiful to behold even if we argue they have an intrinsic or conceptual beauty. By the same logic, even if the packaging is quite lovely, but the content is crap (sadly, most packaged goods), there's not a lot of beauty to be found in its beholding.

    --
    Richard Geller
    http://www.aSiteAboutSomething...

  • Tucker Viemeister

    hay geller: check out my previous blog about how everyone's a designer - we can all dress better!! - but the real benefit is that more people will pay more attention to what they do, so things will be put together better!

  • Richard Geller

    My previous comment is a bit of a koan. That said, I'm deeply grateful to the designer(s) of my 24" iMac and anyone who had anything remotely to do with its creation. That said, I occasionally suffer from designer-envy. Aren't they kind of the Afghan hounds of the human race? They look better, dress better, smell better, are often clever, intelligent and sensitive people. They pay close attention to stuff and, consequently, are better put together than most. I'm sure they would never do anything as boneheaded as going into Iraq or argue against universal healthcare or the environment. It's so hard not to resent them just a little, especially if you're the kind of guy who mostly lives in different colored T-shirts and jeans. Just look them; I'm so conflicted.

    --
    Richard Geller
    http://www.aSiteAboutSomething...

  • Richard Geller

    The transformative power of design is frequently underestimated. The transformative power of design is frequently overestimated. Or as some audio engineer once quipped, you can polish a turd but all you end up with is a shiny turd.

    --
    Richard Geller
    http://www.aSiteAboutSomething...