The designer’s ability to embrace paradox is the key to solving complex problems. This ability is not reserved only to designers, of course. We are all born with two eyes, two ears, two hands and two brain hemispheres. Two eyes give us perspective, two ears give us location, two hands give us the ability to use tools, and the two sides of our brain give us the ability to grasp problems at the intersection of logic and intuition. The thirteenth century philosopher, Thomas Aquinas, said: “Beauty requires three qualities: Integrity, harmony and radiance.” Integrity is the quality of standing out clearly from the background. Harmony is how the parts relate to the whole. Radiance refers to the pleasure we feel when we experience it; and, the language of beauty according to Aristotle is aesthetics. But what does aesthetics have to do with twenty-first century business? Isn’t strategy more powerful than beauty? Not so fast. An idea is only an intention until it has been perfected, polished and produced, while design thinking can deliver the raw horsepower needed for innovation.
Design execution is where the rubber meets the road. Aesthetics provides the formula for usually pleasing execution. Some modern philosophers claim that beauty is universal, connecting our senses with deep evolutionary tides. Others say it’s associative, drawing its power from ephemeral signals. I believe it’s both. Some sensory and signal juxtapositions push our emotional bonds no matter who we are, where we live, or what we believe in, and there are others that shift with each person’s perspective or circumstance. When I’m working on a design problem I’m not thinking about beauty. I’m thinking about how to solve the problem. But when I’m finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know its wrong.
The round proportion of a baby’s face has universal appeal, but the round proportions of an Apple watch may only be appealing to those who belong to the Apple tribe. Everyone knows that the principles of aesthetics can be applied to the curve of a fender, the layout of a web page, or the textures in a clothing line, yet you can also apply them to upstream strategy, organizational change, and customer experience. For example, when you increase differentiation, you’re actually using the principle of integrity. When you optimize energy, you’re using harmony, and when you enhance customer experience, you’re using radiance. Most people would agree that there’s beauty in a well-run business but I’ll go one step further – The same principles that activate other forms of art will soon be essential to the arc of management. Why? Be- cause the more technological our culture becomes, the more we’ll need the sensual and metaphorical power of beauty.
Traditional management has only led to resentful customers, to spirited employees and a divided society. Why would this change? Because it has to. In an era when customers are not only omnipotent and omniscient, and when overproduction leads to landfills, a focus on the bottom line is essentially bad design. Good design in contrast is a new management model that deliberately includes a moral dimension. It’s a model that not only serves shareholders but employees, customers, partners and communities. For the first time since the industrial age, successful businesses will ultimately be design- lead businesses.