What a thing does should pretty much govern what it looks like. And feels like. And acts like. This maxim’s been deeply ingrained into just about every fledgling designer’s psyche. The sole principle that deters them from adorning every project with glossy pink hearts. Purity of function–that’s what imbues any design with an irrevocable, enduring beauty.
and yank left.
We’ll imagine I’m living the dream, an admired, in-demand luthier. More specifically, I design signature six-string scepters for rock royalty.
Four acclaimed guitar ninjas appear in the doorway of my studio. Each wants a new axe. Something exclusive. Considered. Nonpareil. My designer cortex kicks in, reminds me, “Ideal functionality must dictate the form’s aesthetics. A refined purity of purpose shall override any gratuitous nod to flash.”
Meanwhile, one shredder tells me, “I want a guitar that sounds like cape buffaloes mating.” A second grumbles, “Bloody Strats, they make me look short.” The third opines, “These new polycarb soundboards are a bitch to set ﬁre.” While the ﬁnal strummer simply states, “I want to sell a gazillion on eBay.”
Should I ask the archetypal guitar, “What exactly do you want? What aesthetic form would most effectively help you fulﬁll your raison d’être?”
A completely misguided question. Poetic musings aside, guitars want zilch. They’re tactical bundles of wood and wire existing sans intent until some lanky wanker wields one to craft a beatiﬁc solo. Express a lethal emotion. Seduce a ﬂight attendant. Or persuade some desperate wannabe to shell out for a signature model.
Does this diversity of intent on the part of each guitarist bastardize the instrument’s essential function? Or does it indicate a broader, more pragmatic palette of purpose, one driven by inﬁnite potential rather than functional purity?
The time has come to rethink design’s intellectual propensity to honor pure function as the sole mother of form, prioritized over every other ancillary consideration. In this pragmatic, shifting world of mongrel axeboys, the ideal has become a figment.
Our most solid design choices must be driven by a holistic combination of forces, not the least being user intent. Otherwise our best efforts are doomed to become exercises in irrelevance.
Good Design Tells an
One driven less by an idealized functionality,
and more by our reckless dreams.