At some point everyone has experienced the idea or heard the adage that “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” or, as explained by the iconic Scottish philosopher David Hume, “Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them.”
So if beauty exists in our minds, how does that happen? The celebrated late art historian Rudolf Arnhem, author of Art and Visual Perception, said that it has everything to do with form and how we perceive it. Which then begs the question: What role does form perception play in our contemplation of physical products and their function?
Maslow suggests that the most vital human needs start at the bottom of his now famous pyramid and that the need for self-esteem and confidence is at the top of the same pyramid, far above the more important initial desires, say our desire for food and shelter. Of course Maslow never met an iPhone.
As knowledge work gives way to a creative age, it also appears that beautifully formed objects and the self-esteem we derive from attaching ourselves to them have come of age in a more meaningful way than Maslow ever imagined.
Far from being the premium nonessential element, beautiful forms and answers may be the only way to survive in the automated and overly abundant product and service markets we are experiencing today. Positive perceptions of form trigger the power of emotional connection that consumers seek in the offerings they buy and use, whether they are physical products, services, systems, software products or brands. Connecting users emotionally with a product is the new killer app, and in this regard, form rules and function is the new table stake.
Said another way, the performance and function of products and services have reached such a high state of accomplished parity that beauty, both in physical form and performance/interaction-based beauty, now dictate the success or failure of products. Interestingly, in the same way, selection serves to propagate species. It’s a fact. Honeybees are drawn to the most beautiful flowers and fragrances first.
Consider for example any tablet computer or e-reader device. As a group they are all fantastic and are feature equal. Which one will endure? I would suggest that the one with the most beautiful form has the best shot.
Beauty comes in many forms, and its importance is usually underappreciated. The author and poet John Keats once said, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever; its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”