dreary without beauty. Lawyers
make the big bucks framing
the rules of our coexistence.
Doctors deal in matters of life
and death. Engineers build
massive structures that shelter or transport us. All critical activities that ensure our
survival. But what would we
do with our wealthy, sheltered
lives without that for which
we all ultimately strive (
without that for which survival is
sought): beauty and harmony?
Don’t give in to those who
demand the justification of
beauty with data or its subordination to technical feasibility—
as if beauty were in the service
of bean counting. Beauty, just
as truth and goodness, is an
end in itself because it’s both
a transcendental value and
something deeply human.
November + December 2010
stands his lifetime as an organized,
recountable series of events and
changes with at least a beginning
and middle. We need narrative like
we need space-time; it’s a built-in
thing…. The narrative patterns
to which literate Americans are
most regularly exposed are televised. And, even on a charitable
account, television is a pretty low
type of narrative art. It’s a narrative art that strives not to change
or enlighten or broaden or reorient—not necessarily even to “
entertain”—but merely and always to
engage, to appeal to. Its one end—
openly acknowledged—is to ensure
continued watching. And (I claim)
the metastatic efficiency with
which it’s done so has, as cost,
inevitable and dire consequences for
the level of people’s tastes in narrative art. For the very expectations
of readers in virtue of which narrative art is art. Television’s greatest
appeal is that it is engaging without being at all demanding” [ 1].
So now we come full circle
to the opening question: Would
you agree that one of the purposes of art is to enable us to
relate to the world from a position of coherence?
There are other ways to
relate to our world, perhaps
more directly than art does.
Consider journalism, politics,
science. But they can’t do what
art can. If art doesn’t connect
you to your environment while
simultaneously kicking you
above it, it’s not art. It’s entertainment.
So what does all this have to
do with design, or information
It’s a genuine question given
that this publication is primarily focused on those topics. For
some, the answer would clearly
be “nothing.” And that’s a plau-
sible insight. Yet for others the
response would be “everything.”
After all, don’t we arguably
contribute with our software-designing work to the machinelike framework of our contemporary daily existence, with
its enshrinement of efficiency,
its value of all that’s measurable, its deep-seated disrespect
of aesthetics and emotion? Its
deconstruction of all narratives, even the narrative and
meaning of our own lives?
We like to say that design is
problem-solving, but do we really
believe the sum total of our
collective activity results in, as
David Foster Wallace put it, helping people sort stuff out? Does it
feel like we are all coping OK?
Let’s be honest: The least we
can do is to embrace reality if
we want to have a chance to
improve it. Know thyself and
thy time; capitalize on relatively short-lived but powerful
current trends or, conversely,
embrace the timeless; aim
for greatness, not conformity,
both in your daily professional
activities and in the way users
will ultimately experience
the products that you design.
Understand that people’s attention spans are nonexistent, so
you’d better get it together;
abandon old cardboard postures in the way a company
needs to relate to its customers;
be genuine, honest, and fearless; don’t take bull from anybody because, really, who has
time for bull these days. And
above all, be proud of defending
aesthetics even if you are not a
Why do we need aesthetics?
Apple Inc., anyone? But
let’s not resort to that cliché,
cop-out answer. Life would be
About the Author
José Martínez Salmerón is
the creative director at Cell
Division in New York City.
Prior to that, he was the
director of visual design at
EightShapes and the associate creative
director at frog design, having also worked
as a creative leader at Yahoo!, the
University of California Irvine, and Organic.
The list of clients Salmerón has worked for
includes Cisco, U.S. Department of Energy,
Sprint, Motorola, HP, and Urban Science.
Salmerón has written about the intersection
of creativity, business and technology for
I.D., Design Mind, Global Entrepreneur, and
the Newspaper Association of America’s
“Classified Update.” For six years, he
played the role of independent trends and
innovation advisor for the management
team of Japan’s premier financial institution,
Nikkei (Nihon Keizai Shimbun’s Electronic
Media Bureau). He has lectured on user
experience design at Poynter Institute, San
Francisco State University, and University of
Málaga (Spain), among other venues.
Salmerón holds a Ph.D. from the University
of Málaga, as well as a bachelor’s in jour-nalism from Spain’s University of Navarre.
© 2010 ACM 1072-5220/10/1100 $10.00