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Work / Opinion

Why beauty is the hardest won thing and the key to good design

Alan Moore is a designer and an artist who has designed everything from businesses to books. His new book, Do/Design:Why Beauty is the key to everything, invites creatives to rethink not only what they produce, but how and why. Here, he shares some thoughts on the fundamental importance of beauty in design.

Emerson said beauty gets us out of surfaces and into the foundation of things. The Shakers, Doug Engelbart (the designer of the mouse and video conferencing), the inventor of Aikido, and tech company Apple all share a common theme – they have all brought the new into the world, increasing our social, spiritual and economic potential. And they have done it by creating beautiful things, objects and experiences.

Beauty is not a throwaway remark about a child’s drawing, pretty dresses or sunset vistas. It is the hardest won thing – because it endures often beyond the lives of its creators. Beauty is foundational to life – we know nature to be inherently beautiful – yet it is not taught, or seen as a serious subject. Curious when you consider that human beings experience the world through their senses.

Sensations pour into us 24 hours a day. It is how we make sense of the world. Scientific theories of our universe such Einstein’s are called beautiful. Supersymmetry – the theory that every elementary type of particle has superpartners which dance interactively with each other – is often described as being too beautiful to be entirely wrong.

A CEO asked me the other day if design and beauty could help a company change what it does, and how it makes money? In turn, I asked him: “Do you truly want to do it any other way?” Sure there are other ways of doing things but none are so enduringly satisfying. And with all that love, care and attention to making things, making money is never far behind.

Design as ‘experience,’ for example, understands that designing and creating for our tactile selves – things that are intuitive, easy and joyful to use – will sell more products and services at a higher value. In a Temkin survey six times more people were likely to buy with a positive emotional experience, 12 times more likely to recommend the company, and five times more likely to forgive a mistake. Because it’s about taking common objects and experiences, and turning them into works of uncommon grace. As a consequence, people are drawn, naturally, to return to them again and again.

If we then consider design as a practice. Some of the most highly-valued businesses today were founded by designers. A designer asks a simple question – is it useful and how can I make it beautiful? At a profound level a designer can answer needs people have and in so doing reshape the world we live in, as did Doug Englebart. And a design-led approach uses everything to create the optimum outcome.

Everything we make in this world follows the same process. We must think it, imagine it, dream it, then we make it. As the artist Elle Luna said: “I dream my painting, then I paint my dream.” Everything is designed. And if everything is designed then we have the opportunity to make it beautiful, restorative, engaging, valuable and meaningful. We all need something to believe in so why not make it with beauty and grace.

Alan Moore is the author of Do Design: Why beauty is key to everything. Published 5 May 2016 by Do Books, PB £8.99/ Ebook £5.49.