As visually inclined beings we, as designers, and myself, as a visual communicator, often forget that beauty surpasses more than just aesthetic values.
Whilst last week, we dipped our toes into the relationship between beauty and cultural values, beauty in design deserves to be explored beyond the mere aesthetic. To do so we will look at the the ‘plastering artisan’, Shuhei Hasado’s Geta, a series that re-defines an everyday assumption. Whilst some in the set seem intrinsically beautiful by sight, with natural materials almost evocative of luxury and comfort, others hold a beauty more susceptible to the notion of the sublime. Ugliness and even fear take over the consideration of beauty – a role that sight is fundamentally responsible for. However, by considering the set in terms of an experience for all the senses, beyond the associations of sight and ‘prettiness’, we see the value of beauty to derive from much wider realms.
Looking beyond sight, the most obvious form of observation is through touch. In design, the consideration of touch throughout our processes and outcomes is not uncommon. No doubt, When perceiving the works of Hasado, it is practically instinct. To the touch (or wear) Hasado’s Geta is to be reunited with the textures of ground that an ordinary shoe or geta would normally distance us from. Here, however, there is a lovely poetic in the material reminder of a shoe’s origins; something that is awakened through the qualities of haptics. Such an analysis seems profoundly valid when viewed in relation to the work’s context, being designed upon request by Hara for an exhibition aiming to highlight the textural communication of design. The instructions given were to ‘design an object motivated primarily by the goal of awakening the senses. By this criteria it is tempting to end our analysis here; at touch the Geta series seem to adequately perform their role – there’s no denying it. Unfortunately, much analysis of most design ends here for less reasoning than just stated; and it is almost forgivable when visuals and haptic qualities are so strongly advocated by Hara and the likes throughout contemporary design theory. There are however, other voices available to open our perceptions to the value and beauty in other senses.
Take for example, Neil Harbisson – self declared human cyborg. Born with an incurable monochromatic perception of the world, he relies on technology – specifically the device that has been surgically implemented onto his being – to perceive the value of colour. For Harbisson, sight is translated into sound. Such a phenomena deserves explanation beyond the written word of this blog, and to fully appreciate his story it would be wise to watch his ted talk. In short, Harbisson reminds us that aesthetic beauty, in contrast with common assumptions, can be trumped by the beauty of sound. With Harbisson in mind, aesthetics are suddenly less relevant. With Hasado’s Geta, the sure sound of twigs snapping underfoot in place of otherwise silence is no doubt an added element of sophistication, if not beauty, to his design. At the very least ,while the foreboding sight of a bed of twigs provokes the viewer, sound seals the experiential deal – the snapping twigs bringing a wave of nostalgia for our care free bare foot days perhaps.
From here, It is tempting take Hasado’s series further and complete a sensory breakdown of the design one by one through the senses; touch, sight, sound, smell, taste. To do so individually, however, would be to create a wide and dispirit catalogue of narrow perceptions. To view one sense in isolation would be as if viewing the Geta through a tiny window. A very limited perception indeed. The success of a design rather, as endorsed by Jinsop Lee, is when a design creates an experience that affects all of our senses simultaneously. This, he tells us, is how one designs a truly successful designed experience. The Geta, when viewed holistically in this way, certainly nail this.
Whilst yes, on initial interaction, sight begins the dialogue through the implantation of the uncanny, the accompanying presence of sound, smell and touch enabled by the use of natural materials (grass, twigs etc.) round off the experience creating something endlessly more profound and meaningful. Through Geta the senses harmonise to provoke a more poetic experience of the shoe; one where our connection to the earth is something we instantly reflect upon. Regardless of interpreted meaning, it is the implementation of a design that is capable of provocation at a range of sensory levels that renders its communication successful. Had the twigs been illustrated on the soles of the Geta, meaning may momentarily be inferred, but quickly forgotten. The experience would be lessened to a superficial state of replication. The role of the Geta would have assumed that of its standard (to be worn in ignorance of the ground we freely tread on) rather than shift the mindset of the user.
Beauty, once again, is found here in the concept, yet more strongly in Hasado’s ability to allow materiality to plunge the user directly into a conceptual experience. Maybe it would be a good idea to follow in Hasado’s earthy footsteps, and trade cheap replication for the sensory orchestra that comes with designs that favour a genuine experience.