Of all the principles and definitions outlined within Chapter 1 of Artful Design, I am perhaps most intrigued by Principle 1.12, which reads: “Design is artful engineering.” In particular, I am intrigued by the notion that design incorporates both engineering and pure art “in balance.” I appreciate this wording because the essence of equality is never explicitly mentioned, and thus, the door is left open for it to remain possible to achieve balance with a disproportionate amount of one (of engineering and pure art) over the other.I would go so far as to wager that in most cases, a successfully balanced design features a particular emphasis on either engineering or pure art. Where the emphasis lies depends solely on the case itself.
For example, in the case of a video game controller such as the Nintendo GameCube controller (below, left), I argue that the element of engineering is more heavily weighted than that of pure art. Careful engineering measures are taken across the board to ensure that the controller is as responsive and ergonomic as possible–the grip is firm but comfortable, the analog stick has an appropriate amount of grip, and the face buttons are all strategically placed such that the thumb can easily reach any of them with a particular emphasis on an enlarged “A” button, the main button of the controller. All of these decisions directly affect how a user interfaces with the game console, and as such they are certainly of an engineering perspective. Nonetheless, artful design is achieved because Nintendo incorporates elements of pure art as well. Controllers each come in a variety of vibrant colors, and the opportunity exists for one to customize their controller shell with decals and stickers. These are obviously artistic decisions as one typically doesn’t even look at their controller while playing. Thus, what remains is a lopsided balance of engineering and pure art that results in a successful design.
On the other hand, tin lunchboxes, especially those marketed toward children, are examples of a case in which the element of pure art is more heavily weighted. Such lunchboxes (above, right) are typically engineered to the extent that they can open and close, keep their contents secure, and (preferably) have a handle. These are relatively basic requirements, which is why manufacturers that create these lunchboxes place a heavy emphasis on artistic appeal. They are available in a wide variety of colors and themes, to such a degree that there is even a substantial community of hobbyists dedicated to their collection and preservation. Hobbyists and children alike certainly aren’t attracted to these lunchboxes because of their function as a receptacle. Their design succeeds because it favors pure art over engineering.
I use these two examples as a way to demonstrate how artful designs can be balanced without equally favoring both engineering and pure art. Comparing these two elements against each other is an admittedly subjective affair, and there is certainly no formula to determine whether “balance” has been achieved. Still, it is important to understand that a design does not need to value both engineering and pure art equally in order to be successful. As long as a considerate amount of thought is placed into both, the conditions are satisfied for a promising design to emerge.
Three things I have noticed to be both beautiful and design are:
I find this charging cable especially beautiful because when plugged in, it rotates through a bright array of vibrant colors. It's a pretty mezmerizing display and doubles as an effective nightlight. Of course, the cable's means-to-an-end is charging my iPhone. The superfluous luminescent feature is its end-unto-itself because it looks cool.
This pot has a pretty obvious means-to-an-end: I'm able to use it to cook with. It's non-stick and has an effective lid–as a food-lover, that's beautiful enough for me! It does take some of its beauty from its form as well: the chrome finish is sleek and the bright-red color makes it stand out–especially when compared to the rest of my kitchen appliances. I know this form-based beauty contributes to the pot being an end-unto-itself because I have an appreciation for it that goes a little beyond it holding hot food over a stove.
My Stone Brewing sun hat helps protect my face and neck from the sun. It is the means to my desired end of going outside without getting a sunburn. As a person of particularly pale skin, I have an immense appreciation for this hat. I find it also acts as an end-unto-itself when examined under a different light. I think the gargoyle design looks pretty badass. Just by bearing the Stone logo, it reminds me of the joys of craft beer. For these reasons, I don't keep it in my closet alongside my other caps, and instead proudly display it as wall decor over my nightstand.
My sister and I are pretty big memers, especially with each other. Often times, we send messages to each other with a funny quote from a TV program that we remember from childhood. Recently, we started making these memes into challenges for each other by encoding the desired TV quote as a string of emojis. This has made our correspondence especially fun, because now the activity doubles as design. The text message correspondence is a means-to-an-end because the message is an attempt by one of us to instill a feeling of nostalgia in the other; that feeling of nostalgia is the desired end. With the addition of emojis, the correspondence also becomes an end unto itself in part because the string of emojis has a peculiar minimalist aesthetic, but especially because the whole exchange is enjoyable because of how utterly ridiculous it is.
I made a ChucK program that plays the "Song of Storms" from The Legend of Zelda franchise. You can download a link to the ".ck" file by clicking here.