Design or Aesthetics?

It is easy to think design and aesthetics are the same, indeed Bain implies as much.  I think it’s important to distinguish between them.  You need to understand which you are talking about: design or aesthetics?

What are They?

Design and aesthetics occupy opposite dimensions of effectiveness and creativity.

Design should answer the question: does this do what it is designed to do efficiently and effectively?  The question is primarily functional.    If it doesn’t then it is not well-designed.

Aesthetics appreciates the beauty of the solution.  Does it look good?  Trousers serve many purposes, eg they cover the body, protect it from injury or cold.  They can also look smart or beautiful.

Here’s the deal: design and aesthetics support each other.  This is not an absolute, they don’t always.

An effective website does not have to look good.  Usually it is better if it looks good but it is not essential.  Furthermore, it does not have to look good to everyone.  Different groups have different aesthetics.

Value for the Client

To design something effective requires creativity.  The best designs look good and there is something satisfying when a well-designed solution is beautiful.  Aesthetics sell but only up to a point.  If the underlying design is poor, the product is discredited, however good it looks.

Aesthetics are packaging but they can be more than that.  Think of slimline TV screens.  Televisions used to be huge and heavy.  At the time they seemed to be the height of technological sophistication.  Now no-one would contemplate having one in their living room.  Modern TV screens do look better and take up less space.

We did not mind the old style because most of us did not think about what a TV screen might be.  That is the job of the designer who seeks something effective and aesthetically pleasing.

How to Get There

Design principles apply as much to services as they do to products.  A well-designed service delivers its promise on time.  Aesthetics apply to the marketing of the service, sometimes the right image is not easy to find.

If you are a designer, then delivering an attractive product that works is your brief.  But coaches must help their clients understand design principles for their product or service.

Whether as a prelude to employing a designer or something the client does themselves; the client must understand the principles beneath their design and aesthetics.

None of this is easy but done well, it is effective.

Your Offer

So, designer or coach conveys why understanding what is good design and good aesthetics is important.  To engage a designer you must define what you want from them.  Work in partnership with the designer, if you want something that works.

Your offer may be to help with briefing a designer through deeper understanding of your client’s offer.

This is the eleventh of 31 posts about elements of value.  Make sure you don’t miss any by signing up for the offer below.  The posts in this sequence can be accessed below:

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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