A reappraisal of ‘aesthetics’

9th February 2012
Paul Bailey

Aesthetics is a term which I have always shunned. It has always felt so surface, so inconsequential, so throw-away. I thought as a designer that my work should be more than ‘aesthetic’, more than just a pretty piece of work.

For me design is about much more than something that looks good. In fact I would go so far to say that as I designer I have intentionally shunned aesthetics, belittled it in fact.

However, the more I study branding in a sociological, cultural and psychological area the more I see a value in aesthetics. It seems that the deeper I think about how brands impact upon society and culture the more aesthetics have an important role to play. Obviously it is a role as part of a considered, overall strategy, but the more I read on human response and nature the more I appreciate the value in aesthetics.

One of the references which have altered my thinking on this is a book by Leonard Koren which is called ‘which aesthetics do you mean? ten definitions’. Essentially Koren, who trained as an architect, was in the business of ‘formulating questions about how various aspects of the aesthetic dimensions of life function, and then fashioning responses to these questions in book form’ (Koren, L. 2010). At some point he realised that he hadn’t looked at the central question, what does the word ‘aesthetics’ actually mean. This is what this book looks at.

In the book he explains ten definitions of the word ‘aesthetics’ which he has referenced from a variety of sources through the years. The definitions, in their simplest forms are:

appearance
style
taste
philosophy of art
thesis or exegesis
artistic
beauty
beautification
cognitive mode
language

The book gives a whole new insight in to the meanings of the word, and really opened my mind up to its importance when taken in its multiple meanings.

If you work in the visual industries, design, art, or such like then this book is a must read. It will literally take you fourty-five minutes cover to cover.

Koren, L. 2010: ’Which “aesthetics” do you mean? ten definitions’, Imperfect Publishing, Point Reyes, California

It seems that the deeper I think about how brands impact upon society and culture the more aesthetics have an important role to play.