Is Aesthetics the New Function in Design?

The well-known formula “form follows function” has long been considered the unofficial mantra of the design world. It states that the design of an object or product is primarily determined by its function – aesthetics follow afterward. But today, we live in a world so flooded with products that I wonder if the meaning of aesthetics in the design process should be redefined.

In this day and age, it’s no longer about the mere function of a product. It’s just as important how a product feels, how it fits into a space – and especially: how it feels to interact with it. Design (and here I’m deliberately using the term synonymously for the word aesthetics) has established itself as an important differentiator in today’s plethora of products. So, does design without aesthetics even stand a chance these days? Has aesthetics become the new function in design?

The perception of aesthetics varies from person to person, we have already written about this in detail in the last essays. But I believe that there is a universal value hidden precisely in this subjectivity: Because aesthetics is so individual, it therefore holds a central place in our personal perception and interaction with objects.

This aspect is particularly evident in the first impression of a product. If this is positive for the user/consumer, there is an increased chance of deciding to buy a product.1 Similarly, aesthetically pleasing products are seen as more user-friendly and users are more tolerant of minor usability problems if they find a user interface visually appealing.2 Aesthetics thus help us to a large extent to decide in favor of this or that product – it connects us emotionally with it. Careful choice of shape, color, and material can transform an everyday object into something special – something we enjoy using, over time.

Generated minimalist chair design
Aesthetics should not play an overriding role in the design process – but an equally important one. Then, perhaps, this chair would be more usable. © Aesence, created using Midjourney
Minimalist Table Lamp "Nox" by Alfred Häberli | Aesence
There are countless lamps on the market, all offering the same function: they provide light. So the decision for a certain lamp is made based on aesthetics. © Table Lamp “Nox” by Alfred Häberli

In a world flooded with products, aesthetics are more important than ever.

So at this point, it becomes clear: design without aesthetics may be possible, but it is not desirable. I believe that designs that don’t touch us emotionally, that we can’t identify with, and that don’t hold aesthetic value can’t last long in our modern world. In a world flooded with products, aesthetics are more important than ever.

But does this mean that aesthetics should play a superior role in the design process today? By no means. The function should never play a subordinate role. If a website or chair is incredibly aesthetic but impossible to use, the beautiful aesthetics are of no use at all.

So it’s about equally weighting both aspects in the design process. In a world where we are flooded with products and visual stimuli, aesthetics is no longer just a matter of taste – it has become an indispensable factor for the success of a product. It influences the start of our interaction with an object and our emotional relationship to it.

A very interesting topic – and I’m only scratching the surface here. That was my humble opinion on the subject. Now I’m interested in what you think about it. Feel free to share it in the comments below!

Further Reading / Interesting Additions

  1. Creusen, Schoormans 2005, S.64 via Anonym, 2014, Erfolgsfaktor Produktdesign. Einfluss der visuellen Wahrnehmung von Produktdesign auf das Konsumentenverhalten, München, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/284072
  2. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/aesthetic-usability-effect/

Norman, Don A. 2005. Emotional Design: Why We Love (or Hate) Everyday Things


About Exploring Aesthetics:

Sarah loves asking questions and exploring the things she engages with on a daily basis. Exploring aesthetics is her column which discusses art, design, and aesthetics to explore, inspire, and question the status quo.

  1. Sarah, first I want to thank you for your post. Your observations and reflections got me thinking. It’s true that aesthetics are becoming more important in today’s world – In fact, as a designer, I often find that clients respond to the aesthetic impact of an app/website first before fully appreciating its function. However, it is still a fine balance. Aesthetics should not come at the expense of usability or accessibility. A symbiosis should be strived for!

  2. People who claim the opposite have no idea about aesthetics 😉 No, let’s stay objective for once. Good thoughts. Thanks for the input.

  3. I totally agree with you!!! As a brand designer, I see every day how essential aesthetics are at all levels of the design process. “Form follows function” has its validity, but as you so aptly said, aesthetics is crucial in our modern world to stand out among the mass of products. Especially when it comes to lifestyle products, which mostly all offer the same quality, you can only define and stand out through aesthetics.

  4. Dear Sarah, I just stumbled across your essay and feel extremely addressed. As an artist and designer, I can only confirm the content of your essay 100%. Aesthetics and design are like ying and yang: they complement each other and make up the whole picture.

  5. Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes that will make the largest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

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Aesence is an independent art and design publication dedicated to minimalist aesthetics. Founded out of a deep appreciation and fascination, Aesence aims to promote awareness and appreciation of minimalism in art and design.