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C&H and the transparent plastic binder

The aftermath is obvious: the whole class in one single voice says to Calvin that “Bats are not Bugs!” and the grade he gets is bad enough that he prefers to bury (actually) the report.

The transparent plastic binder did not save him.

Still, it would be deceitful to deny it does save us sometimes. Even more so if you are a designer, and more than all if you are a design student.

Appearances can be fooling. And many times we use this to our advantage. It is also foolish to downplay the importance of appearance based on it’s capacity to fool.

Perception is not a mechanical data-collection process. It does not “register” the world around, it “grasps” this world. This means that we do indeed take some shortcuts (like seeing a tree instead of a lot of leaves). Those shortcuts are not problems of our perception mechanism, they are neutral characteristics.

When perception of Finishing is translated blindly into value judgment there might arise some problems. For example when a design teacher ascribes good grades to the students who have models with good finishing and bad projects.

I usually did fall on the category of bad finishing for a good project and therefore had very bad grades, but this is not really what worries me — a high standard where a good finishing is required is reasonable. What is unacceptable is that you do not force a high standard of project also.

The thing is: appearances are not bad. But the naiveté towards appearances is.

For example, the whole of so-called “Functionalism” can be traced to an overreaction to the seduction of appearances. As we know, it turned out that, despite a bit of rationalization of form being a good thing, form does not follow function. Form is form and that’s all. Sometimes minimal forms are good, sometimes they are not. And as much good the functionalists have done to our material culture, most of it has been lost in the endless and fruitless struggle over the fear of ornamentation.

One clear example is the aforementioned bias in grades. The explanation is simple: teachers are pressed to judge students only through objective criteria (for taste is sin), so they suppress their appreciation, then obviously their analysis of the project becomes impaired, so every time they come across a criteria that is not directly measurable (like “would it sell?” or “does it fit the current trends?”) they end up judging only by their suppressed likes and dislikes, even if unaware. And, because they are unaware, their tastes are directed more by simplistic factors (like finishing) than by a carefully bred and disciplined (good) taste. The suppression of taste becomes an undisputed reign of taste.

If we can abandon our fear of appearances, we will see that subjective appreciation (like that generated by a good finishing) is not a bad thing, it is like a shortcut. When you are making hasty decisions, particularly buying decisions, you can judge by finishing. Most of the time an company that can’t produce good finishing also does not have a good quality (though it is much more likely that a good finishing comes with bad quality). But after some time, the relationship between appearance and quality becomes more clear.

What i mean is, a shiny and brighty product can often achieve impulse-buying, but for the most part when you want a tried and true thing you can find the product you want. Everyone buys a shiny pen once or twice, but when you just want something to write you buy the unglamorous Bic.

Now, consumers should not be forced to “look beyond appearances”. I mean, they should do it, it would be good if they did. But we can’t afford to make it their obligation and stop worrying about appearances ourselves. We are designers, our deal is to make things (indirectly, but anyways). Appearances are part of things. We must deal with it. And we must do so in an enlightened way. We must understand.

Instead of pretending appearances do not matter. Or pretending that they are all that matter.


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