April 14th 2016

Talking about how technology and online design has evolved, Stefan Sagmeister:

It's a gigantic mistake. I think we will reach a time where we will look back at this idea of pure functionality and we will shake our heads, and we will think...were we nuts? Were we crazy? Were we completely out of our minds?

He continues:

The crap that's happening now online or in tech - 'let's concentrate on functioning' - that's exactly the same idea as the Soviet building factories, it's that same mindset: let's make it work. But that's not human, that's not who we is part of who we are...The shit we are making now that's only functional is actually inhuman...not made for human beings.

Sagmeister continues, critiquing Apple and Google for not delivering on beauty (Apple, specifically, for its online presence). It was an "oh snap" moment in the conversation; a divisive statement if I've ever heard one. Sagmeister's counter examples of where beauty exists – and has succeeded – are physical places like The High Line in New York City and Grand Central Station.

The people who really figure out how to do something online that's actually beautiful...I think there will be unbelievable riches and incredible success associated with it.

My initial reaction to his statements – some may call it defensive – is that in the same way there is inherent function in beauty, there too is inherent beauty in function.1 Not to mention that there is a different subjective beauty in digital places and physical places; I'm not yet sure if one should try to be like the other. 2

On a screen it's different. I'm trying to get something done. I'm trying to connect and communicate. I'm trying to read and be informed. I see beauty in being able to do all of those things faster, without interruption, with thoughtful interactions and with clear expectations. This is possible because of people who build products with a focus on function, but are not blind to the form that will make their products great.

To be clear, I don't disagree with Sagmeister. A world of pure function is cold indeed. But I do disagree with the assertion that tech believes function is the only goal.

I haven't met any designer in tech who believes function and beauty are mutually exclusive. In fact I'm not sure where this assumption comes from in the first place – perhaps I've missed something.

No, the overwhelming mindset I see in tech is function before form, not in spite of it. And to me, that's beautiful.

Jump to 24:30 in the linked episode to hear the full discussion.

1 I know from experience that what Stefan articulated in ten minutes is just a glimpse into his thinking on the subject, so there's more context to be gathered.

2 VR seems like an exception.

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