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The Power of Beauty: Response to DO "You're So Intelligent"

Micheal Bierut has written another thoughtful piece on the Sept. 5, 2007 Design Observer. The gist was:

Like Clarissa, designers yearn to be respected for our minds. Like Clarissa, we take our real gifts — our miraculous fluency with beauty, our ability to manipulate form in a way that can touch people's hearts — for granted. Those are the gifts that matter, and the paths through which we create things that truly endure.

My response echoed those sentiments:

Thank you Micheal for addressing that which I've always wondered about designers: "Why are they not content with being designers (i.e. individuals gifted with the ability to make skilled decisions that transform ideas into tangible forms both appropriate and beautiful)?"

I train design students to become hybrid anthro/design thinkers in order to better cloak themselves in the "respectable" social science and political science discourses and build confidence in their context knowledge to go with their formal skills. This is because in the interdisciplinary contexts in which I practice, we need designers who feel confident enough in their knowledge about political systems or marketing to engage and translate with their colleagues from other disciplines. Even when for me to talk of beauty is enough, I find that designers are not comfortable or feel they don't have anything to say without this contextual knowledge, so I train them to feel more confident.

Yet, I wonder why beauty seems to be so devalued these days. It seems that once upon a time beauty held tremendous power to move people to accomplish great and terrible things. Have we become so "rational" that we are no longer moved by our emotions? Behavioral economics even shows that business decision-making is not ration. Have you ever heard an MBA wax poetic about the beauty of her business case?

So perhaps for designers who are proud of being the makers of beautiful artifacts and don't want to get MBAs or PhDs in anthropology, the next AIGA campaign is to "rebrand" the power of beauty, so that designers can be both "authentically" beautiful and intelligent. There is an inherent intelligence to beauty which is about the depth of passion we feel for the world.

So beautiful and intelligent designers, to thy own self be true. 


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