Form over function? Fashion, design, and the crossroads

Incredibly thoughtful piece from Khoi Vinh pondering the various meanings of the word design, through the lens of a rumored wearable product from Apple, Inc.

Things that you wear are a wholly different proposition. There is almost literally no reason why we need collars on a shirt, frills on a blouse, pleats on a pair of pants (actually, there is no good reason for pleats on pants for men, at least until the winds of fashion decide the opposite), or any of the countless design details that make what we wear compelling to us as things that we want put on and walk out the door with. These things are designed from the outside in; they’re fashion first and goods second.

When technology companies look at goods that are built from the outside in, they generally see irrationality and inefficiency, a broken market just waiting to be corrected and “disrupted.” They believe that they can engineer so much value into these items that people will be swayed to buy goods built from the inside out, that the promise that drives hardware and software—“adopt this and benefit from its utility”—will convince people to upend their sartorial habits. This is how you get products like Google Glass, which assumes that consumers prize utility so much that they’re willing to look like they have no interest whatsoever in having intimate relations with another human being.

We often say at The Carmichael that making something pretty isn’t our goal. I think this piece gets more at the heart of what we mean by that. Of course designers approach projects from an ideal, hoping to beautify the world. But beauty without function often times is narcissistic and indulgent. But then again, the opposite risks feeling banal and dogmatic.

Good design transcends these two approaches.

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