Simplicity is good. Yes, we’ve all learned this by now – we want our products intuitive, easy to use, easy to understand… human focused we say. Clean, sober and minimal as in Ive, Fukasawa or Rams.
But wait – haven’t we forgotten something? Isn’t product design supposed to communicate, to build up an emotional connection between the product and its user in order to create a coherent brand experience? Do we experience this really?And how the heck did we get to the common belief that a geometric form is most approachable?
All you young designers under 30 out there – now this is for you: There’s a term that describes the formal expression of emotional attributes and it’s called „Semantics“. It’s an important principle
because it gives us designers control over our formal vocabulary in order to consciously make a product appear for example dynamic, fast, calm, young or sophisticated.
Today we are dealing with more and more products that are literally just a screen or a black box – so the form is not indicated by the functions anymore. Most designers today meet this challenge with totally uninspired, arbitrary and faceless non-designs. And squircles all over. Because they look nice. But simplicity in the sense of minimalism cannot be the universal answer in shaping those products, especially because they very often act as the one and only physical manifestation a brand has to offer. These brand ‘beacons’ that embody all the values of a larger service experience (think ‘tado’ for instance – the hardware is NOT generating the value of the service, but it adds to it) need to be designed in a way they transport the sensual attributes of the experience. In other words: If all the other touchpoints of a service are digital, the hardware better tells a convincing story! By reducing it to geometric minimalism we’re losing a lot of that sensual connection and the association with the brand’s values is lost.
Sure it’s hard to free up in formgiving – because it requires a lot of consciousness, experience, care and control. You will need to master the principles of form in relation to the brand’s sensual attributes so the consumer is able to make the right visual associations, places the product into the right sociocultural context and truly experiences that the product fits his expectations. That in the end makes a product approachable – and not the level of geometry of its form.
The conscious translation of a brand’s sensual attributes to form – let’s call it “/Sebrantics”/ for now – is a skill that becomes more and more crucial to a design’s success. That’s why we are past the peak of minimalism already. We already see richer surfaces, patterns or even decorative elements on consumer electronics and I am certainly convinced we’ll also see a careful return to more expressiveness in form – because form is not irrelevant.
About the author:
Ralph Christian Bremenkamp is a senior creative leader with over 15 years of experience in creating award winning product designs for fortune 500 companies.
In the most recent past Ralph worked for BMWDesignworksUSA as a Creative Director. Before he was working for global design consultancy frog where he led the European industrial design discipline as a Principal Director out of the Munich studio. Ralph started his career as a designer for design superstar Ross Lovegrove in London, and since then has collected a broad and intensive knowledge of user-centered, holistic design processes around products and services. Ralph Bremenkamp regularly sets marks in the academic field. His designs were published in several international design books and he was a Jury member in various design competitions – just recently for the renowned IF design awards.