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Updated: 28th February 2018


Keith Flynn is the author of this blog and Creative Director of Trademark Studio.

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The goal of design as we know it has always been to advance communications and objects intended for the production and consumption of society. By making something better by design it becomes more economical, efficient, visually pleasing and therefore desirable. By continually solving problems in product design we have made objects more accessible, desirable, affordable and obsolete. This constant need to improve is inherent in our nature as humans,  design is simply the language and strategy we use to make sense of it all. 


After 100 years of experiments in form and content, design now explores its effect in a social, cultural and political context. Design Thinking can change how organisations create products and services, it can even change the way we look at processes and various forms of strategy. The term “Design Thinking” was coined in 1991 by David M. Kelley, a Faste’s Stanford colleague and founder of the design consultancy IDEO. It was first noted in a 1992 article “Wicked Problems in Design Thinking” which was the precursor to a new movement in problem-solving. 

Everything we use has been intentionally designed one way or another. New objects are constantly being created and old objects are being redesigned to become new versions of themselves. The real value offering isn’t just based on aesthetic communication, it also needs to meet requirements of increased functionality and dependability in order for design to be successful. Saving time and money should be the result of the solution and not the cause.

“Design is about how something works, not just how it looks. Its what’s inside that counts. The best designs are the result of someone’s questioning everything around them"

(Dyson, 2001)

Design principles grew from the practical requirements of society. Nowhere else was this more clear than within the Modernist movement at the start of the 20th century. One of the great modernist principles of design is cleanliness. Today industrial designers value these principles to such a degree that more products are designed to imply simplicity and mobility.


Functional, clean, accessible, modest, simple, trustworthy and progressive are the codes of value which are inherent in the conception and execution of new products. All these principles inform the design process and continue to communicate to the user by offering a better experience. The design of buildings, products or communication should start with a concept that has roots in a set of principles that are relatable, even desirable.     

“An object exists at the meeting of technology and people. As designers we not only influence the nature of that meeting but by creating something physical we have a potent and immediate means of communicating the identity and very meaning of an object”

(Ive, 2004)

People unconsciously seek out consistency in every part of their lives because it gives them a sense of order and control. Customers are more likely to follow something when they know what to expect. Consistency offers people a comfortable familiarity, which helps to make sense out of all the noise in the world.


Just from the aesthetic design alone one can tell a lot about the people behind it and what their vision of the future might be. This vision according to Apple is one of an achievable utopian society. An environment filled with clean sexy lines, meaning of materials, color and thoughtful functionality in all areas of life. What interests Apple is the convergence of the consumer to object.

The aesthetic, interaction and internal fixture design is fashioned with the intention of eliminating inessential accents therefore rendering the product functional in more ways than have been considered by designers in the past. This approach to the reduced “undesigned” quality of the product again echoes modernist principles but in areas of design that the original godfathers of modernism would appreciate but not understand. The world has changed to such a degree since 1920 with the new discovery of materials and processes. When redesigning the MacBook Pro Jonathan Ive says  “It wasn’t the design of a physical thing that dictated the functionality of the MacBook, it was defined by the processes used to create it” (Ive, 2009)

When comparing design from the early modernists to the design of today although the principles are almost exactly the same the visual aesthetic has changed to almost an unrecognizable degree. The “machine aesthetic” was still trying to hard to grab and hold our attention. Gone are the large art deco curves and the bulky woodstained appeal all vying to exude elegance and class. Little thought was given to internal space, functional design and ergonomics. The empty space inside a radios housing would not have been taken into consideration or its components or how will the user interact with the product. These things were not taken into consideration because they were not seen as valuable to the consumer.

Each new model may have exhibited only superficial modifications over the last, but these changes were the visual trappings of progress desired by consumers and they kept the company’s sales high. (Whittley, 1987)

The zeitgeist that typified 1950’s western society resonated the buzzwords of the “jet age”. Progression, efficiency was the visual rhetoric with a preoccupation to “build in” style obsolescence into objects. And again in contrast to todays design principles obsolescence is still very prevalent. In particular with the smaller Apple mobile products such as the ipod, iphone and the ipad all have excessively poor battery longevity. Also the battery unit cannot be removed from these products.

From a consumers perspective in order to solve this problem one would need to either return the product back to apple for repair or purchase a new updated version of the product. We’re accustomed to planned obsolescence. New models come out every year—faster, shinier and just plain better. But before the iPhone, cell phones without user-replaceable batteries were almost unheard of. Apple realized that they could sell more phones if they built the phone with an integrated battery; prompting users to upgrade once the battery wore down. (Kyle, 2011)

With the reduced, undesigned, modest, stripped back aesthetic of new objects vomiting themselves into the marketplace its becoming more difficult to understand what a particular products function is simply by looking at it. For example a doorstopper has to look like it does because the design of a doorstopper is based on its function. A 1920’s modernist could look at an iPod and not ever guess what the object does. Just by looking at a doorstopper you can immediately tell what its function is. This “analogue” object cant be improved functionally by adding or taken away parts, it does its job very well as it is. Form follows function is a paramount law in modernism and looking around at the saturation of new objects, redesigned objects, unnecessary objects that we use, their design are so minimal that form doesn’t follow function here as well as for instance a cup.  With continually new emerging ideas focused on functionalism such as infographics, ergonomics, transportation, communication, packaging and many more modernism is still giving birth to new concepts that are readily accepted by society.

Applying functional elements to a design is generally a more objective process than applying aesthetic elements. A functionally objective process results in designs that are timeless but may be perceived as simple and uninteresting.(Bradly, 2010)

The use of honest simple lines in aesthetics emanates a calm, trustworthy sense that is valued by everyone to some degree and evokes feelings of security. Wabi is an old Japanese word of which there is no English equivalent that was concerned with simplicity, cleanliness, and uncomplicatedness. It is associated with anything that evokes a feeling of reassurance, contentment and serenity much like a smooth weathered stone or minimal clean lines or curves that are again echoed in the Macbook.

Paradise does not exist on an obscure beach on a remote Thai island, seven thousand miles away, but it is also just down the road.(Thompson, 2008) 

Why are Apple products so desirable if obsolescence is still frequent in their products? With an obsessive considered solution to manufacturing processes, not only did Apple create the MacBook but also a list of other highly sought after products. They all followed the same social parameters of people’s values that were discovered not created by Apple.  Jonathan Ive and his team’s outlook on society’s necessity toward functionalism and their desire to purchase an esthetic experience are inherent in these products. In abstraction and empathy Wilhelm Worringer examines such values from a psychological perspective: “The determinant lay, he believed, in those values which the society in question was lacking, for it would love in art whatever it did not possess in sufficient supply within its self” (Worringer, 1953)


Our world today has inherited the gifts of the aesthetic experience from the original modernists of the early 1900’s. An appreciation of simplicity, functionality, cleanness, accessibility and progress are some to name a few. These principles Represents modernist intentions that can be applied to anything from structures, literature, art and objects, but to suggest that something has been inherited suggests that it still exists. It would be easy to accept that modernism might not still exist because the materials and methods we use today have changed so much over the last hundred years, and what was necessary then my not be necessary now.

The modernist movement may have lost its momentum and retired as a humble oracle that has survived through all the ism’s, endured the gimmicks, fought the Nazis and manipulated consumer culture. An artistic movement is not a tangible thing to buy into, we either believe or not. “Isms are not solid, monolithic blocks. They are constantly formed, transformed and reformed throughout their lifespans by way of unceasing negotiations” (Fallan, 2004)

The fundamental roll of a designer is to improve an object for whatever reason and the choices that he will make in creating an object are influenced by what he believes to be practical. It’s impractical to be dysfunctional, unclean, inaccessible and unprogressive in any area of life, so to choose the antithesis is to choose modernism.

Maybe there are people that don’t want clean water or air for their children, or a functional safe environment to nurture their young. The very suggestion of these values when compared to civilized society is proof that modernism has never retired, that to believe in a new “crystalline world” for generations to come and the strength of that value is modernisms legacy. “The legacy of Modernism remains here, seen in our widespread acceptance of the positive benefit of integrating art and life, as well as in our belief in the power of art and design to create new models for living. In this way, much of the new world envisioned and designed by the Modernists continues to exist to this day” (Corcoran, 2008)


“The best identity programs embody and advance the company’s brand by supporting desired perceptions. Identity expresses itself in every touchpoint of the brand and become intrinsic to a companies culture, a consistent symbol of its core values and its heritage” — Wheeler 2013


“The best identity programs embody and advance the company’s brand by supporting desired perceptions. Identity expresses itself in every touchpoint of the brand and become intrinsic to a companies culture, a consistent symbol of its core values and its heritage” — Wheeler 2013


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