The Confrontation between Beauty and Functionalism

BDES 1201 — Week 4

Designers come from many backgrounds and work in many different mediums, ranging from the fine arts to digital design to product design. A designer’s role is to provide solutions to problems, to innovate and merge the worlds of technology and the creative arts into a cohesive product or service to adhere and reflect the needs of its customers.

When designers come from different areas prioritization of different aspects of design reign higher than others. The discussion of Beauty and Aesthetics versus Functionalism is one every designer is more than familiar with. Dieter Rams, a notable innovative Designer that everyone is familiar with in the industry brings forth the idea in “Omit the Unimportant” of simplicity in design and allowing functionality to shine through in the design. Dieter states that “people do not buy a specific product just to look at it, rather because it performs certain functions” (Rams 111) The aesthetic quality of a product’s design worked collaboratively with utility, beauty was only achieved when the products were well executed. Designers use aesthetics to enhance their designs’ functionality with attractive layouts. Beauty was seen as a secondary factor in a product’s design in contrast to Functionality. Designs should be neutral and simplistic so that they may allow for a user’s self expression.

Dissimilarly, Eva Zeisel, an influential figure in the realm of 20th century design who specialized in ceramics, values beauty far more highly, and through a contrasting lens in comparison to Rams. Zeisel brings forth her observations in “On being a Designer” that the world of design is not concerned by the popular notions of beauty, and her own definition of beauty is that it is in the eye of the beholder. A customer will purchase a ceramic plate not for its functionality but for its beauty, that is what draws someone in initially. Beauty solely revolves around a sole person, and the context of which we define beauty varies from person to person. It is enjoyed without reason. (Zeisel 73) She believed that the usefulness of a product came secondary which is directly contrasting with Rams.

We see today in the modern climate of technology and digital design that advertising such as pop up ads, billboards and other visual stimuli is what tends to bring customers in, we live in a fast pace society and economy, the finer things are often overlooked by majority and people have a tendency to be attracted to the idea of quick production, such as fast fashion. There’s a focus on the visual over the quality and usefulness in most products now. Rams stated how latest design trends are superficial, “they exploit people’s weaknesses for visual and haptic signals” (Rams 112)

I find myself aligning with him, that trends have become too focused on these meaningless visuals in exchange for things of substance. Have we become too obsessed with the visual, and sacrificed the value of well designed products for “shelf appeal”?

Zeisel, Eva. “On Being a Designer.” Eva Zeisel: Designer for Industry. Montreal, Le Château Dufresne, Inc., Musée des Arts Décoratifs, 1984, pp. 73–82.

Rams, Dieter. “Omit the Unimportant.” Design Issues vol. 1, no. 1, Spring 1984, pp. 24–26.

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Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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Maya Sonya Sowinski

Maya Sonya Sowinski

Student of the DXD program at George Brown.

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