Creativity is often, wrongfully, judged purely on its aesthetic quality. Something is said to be creative because it is beautiful. And beauty is constrained to what pleases us. The saying “beauty is only skin deep” is a reflection of our limited understanding of beauty.
A far richer way of looking at what is creative is to see it as an elegant design that melds together what Victor Papanek calls the six parts of function. These are
- Method – how are tools, materials, processes used to achieve function?
- Use – what purpose does it serve?
- Association – how does it fit in or shift what we value?
- Telesis – how does it reflect the order and spirit of the times?
- Aesthetics – how does the form please or delight us?
- Need – how does it fulfill a survival need?
When I look at the iPhone, one can easily be amazed at the elegance of the solution. It brings together multi-touch displays, GPS chips, and cell phone technology (method) and wraps it in a pleasing design with a delightful sensory interface (aesthetics). In a culture that has learned to text on cellphones or watch videos on iPods, the iPhone finds a ready consumer audience (association and telesis).
On the other hand, it fails the “need” aspect of the creative function. 130 million cellphones are disposed of every year according (Inform Inc) which amounts to about 350 000 per day! Today, it is probably more like half a million per day. A truly beautiful iPhone (in my humble opinion) would also have a cradle-to-cradle program where retired iPhones are dismantled and reused for new phones.
Even truly creative art serves a function. The painting of the Last Supper is not only a “work of art”, but it communicated a message for the Holy Church at a time when most were illiterate. In addition, the painting served a purpose as wall covering (Design for the Real World).
I think the more we appreciate beauty through all its facets, the more that we can encourage its creation.