Some ill-formed, but sincere thoughts on Beauty

Beauty is a high form of quality. Beauty is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. This is true because an object is truly beautiful when its form and function are in the proper proportions. When this happens the meaning of the object is revealed intuitively.

Form follows function—that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union. — Frank Lloyd Wright

I always strive for beauty and rarely achieve it. The pursuit of beauty is the pursuit of the impossible. In this world, where ugly happens naturally and without effort, it can feel pointless to try. But occasionally, a miracle happens and humans come together to make a beautiful experience. When there is nothing left to add or take away.

I do not oppose form, but only form as a goal. Form as a goal always ends in formalism. For this striving is directed not towards an inside, but towards an outside. But only a living inside has a living outside. Only intensity of life has intensity of form. Every How is carried by a What. — Mies van der Rohe

The pursuit of beauty is not for the faint of heart. In my experience, almost everyone is satisfied with the cheap, easy answer instead of the costly, difficult innovation. I have to fight my own instincts daily, to keep beauty as the aim. It’s too easy to lose sight of this goal, and therefore lose the joy of the work. We don’t rejoice in making something utilitarian. We rejoice in elegant utility. And when I stop striving for that, I am frustrated. But when the ray of beauty shines through even for a moment the light of it feeds my passion and invites me to keep trying, keep striving. It’s like the piercing ray that shines through the dark cloud. It reminds me that there is a wealth of beauty, that we will be bathed in beauty once the clouds are parted completely.

If it is not useful or necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to make it. If it is useful and necessary, free yourself from imagining that you need to enhance it by adding what is not an integral part of its usefulness or necessity. And finally: If it is both useful and necessary and you can recognize and eliminate what is not essential, then go ahead and make it as beautifully as you can. — The rule of thumb for Shaker creations, from ShakerBuilt by Paul Rochleau & June Sprigg

The Shaker philosophy creates a kind of reserved beauty that reveals the very philosophy that created it. This alignment of the philosophy that created the chair and the final form of the chair exemplify the wonderful marriage of form and function.

Of course, the same could be said of a chair at Walmart. It was made cheaply. The philosophy is to maximize the seller’s profits while appealing to a mass market of low to middle income people. Does that mean the object is beautiful? Cheap furniture does not inspire me. I don’t find it beautiful. So there must be something more. The philosophy itself must be worthy in order for the object created by it to be considered beautiful. Maximizing profits might be a kind of beauty to some but the objects it creates are not of an enduring nature and will be forgotten. Beauty is not skin deep. In fact beauty runs so deep that it is impossible to detach the inward beauty from the outward beauty. They are linked to each other by meaning and purpose, the one expressing the other.

Who decides whether the philosophy is worthy? I do. And you do. And we often disagree. There are a lot of Thomas Kinkade paintings that people find beautiful. I find that kind of beauty to be skin deep. It’s just a pleasant surface with no meaningful content.

How is beauty relevant to UX design? I’m designing software to help people to complete a task—what could possibly be beautiful about that? The truth is, we’re creating things that people will spend hours, days, weeks, months, and years of their lives looking at. We’re talking about the very essence of life—a human’s time. Out of respect for another human being, I want to give them something beautiful to use, as beautiful as I can make it.