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Aesthetics as a concept was founded in 1750. Up until then, the notion did not exist or rather, it was equal to artistic beauty – a beauty based on proportions, harmony and symmetry for the most. Still, the terms “aesthetic” and “beautiful” are considered interchangeable by most people. However, when the concept was founded by Alexander Baumgarten in his book ”Aesthetica” in 1750, he attributed the word with another meaning; it was that which could be experienced and thus known via the senses. In this he tried to propose a new science, but the notion of aesthetics was quickly connected to art and judgment of taste by contemporary philosophers like Kant and Hume.

The whole process has been eloquently summarised by Udsen and Jørgensen:

“Although aesthetics is far from a new invention, it has never achieved a commonly accepted foundation as a theoretical discipline. Subsequently, the task of self-definition is one of the most stable features of the discourse in aesthetics.“

Principle: Fashion should never trump usability

Generating artificial obsolescence through fashion is a time-honoured and effective way to sell everything from clothing to cars. A new fashion should not and need not detract from user-performance: Enormous visual and even behavioural changes can be carried out that either do not hurt productivity or markedly increase it.

Principle: User test the visual design as thoroughly as the behavioural design

User test after aesthetic changes have been made, benchmarking, where applicable, the new design against the old. Ensure that learnability, satisfaction, and productivity have been improved or at least have stayed the same. If not, newly-added aesthetics that are causing a problem need to be rethought.

Principle: Aesthetic design should be left to those schooled and skilled in its application: Graphic/visual designers

Leave it to the experts - they will take care of it

What do objectivity, aesthetics and design all have in common? Beauty!

Mark is a seasoned leader of product teams, with experience in consumer electronics, automotive, and product design. His work has won international awards, including Best in Show in Automotive at CES 2012. He is a frequent presenter at technical and design conferences in Europe and North America.

Further Reading