Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Aesthetics VS. Usability

On a recent trip to Milwaukee, my partner and I were wandering around the historic third ward, and happened upon the show room of an award winning furniture design company (whose name escapes me now). Since moving to Philadelphia, we have been in the market for new furniture, so we thought we would take a look.

Entering the studio, was like entering into a segment of 'Lifestyles of the Rich and Snobby; Future Edition'. Everything was smooth, and sleek and monochromatic, oh, and did I mention really uncomfortable looking?

The first piece of furniture I tried out was what I believed to be a chair. It was made of white solid plastic and looked like a sideways 'S' with a long tail. They placed a throw pillow in the crook of the 'S' to help illustrate where your back is to go, and then you put your feet up onto the bump. The end result left me sitting in an uncomfortable 'V' like position, and wondering where I was to put my arms. Overall, it was an awful design for those interested in comfort. I didn't think it could get much worse, but then we discovered the couch with nearly no back! Talk about awkward.

The point I am trying to illustrate, as you have probably guessed by now, is that I completely agree with Norman in his statement about award winning design being more so about aesthetics than anything else. My question, is why is this the case?

I understand that when you are the designer, you are putting a lot of yourself into a design, so it maybe hard for you to take criticisms from outside sources. Still, it boggles my mind just how often really uncomfortable, but pretty stuff gets made, sold, and then placed into some lobby or office somewhere.

I guess maybe there is just a larger demand than I realize for uncomfortable designs. I can understand limiting the user-friendliness of a design so as to not attract certain users, (example: bars across benches in order to keep homeless people from sleeping on them). However, I don't think I will ever understand why someone would want to spend lots of money on a design that is incredibly uncomfortable, and actually intended for use. Talk about silly and wasteful.

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