Stefan Sagmeister on "Why Beauty Matters"

Last week, Googlers in Mountain View had the privilege of seeing Stefan Sagmeister give a lecture on "Why Beauty Matters". If you don't know already, Stefan Sagmeister is one of my all-time favourite designers so I was beyond ecstatic when I found out he was going to give a talk at my office. 

“This whole idea that beauty is skin deep and surface-like is kind of stupid. That’s a very deeply stupid idea. There is an unbelievable function in beauty.” - Sagmeister

I find it really interesting that a lot of designers are 'trained' to believe that the answer "...because it's more beautiful" isn't a valid or good enough reason to why we choose to design something a certain way. However, Sagmeister argues that it is a completely valid answer. He uses the airport safety card as an example saying without beauty, people don't pay attention to things thus it cannot communicate or be functional. 

Modern day airports is another example Stefan brings up . Today, the interior of airports look universally the same so much that the only way you can really tell where you are (aside from looking at the language) is by the power outlets. Is it due to globalization and technology that we've become so unified and the same?  When you look at what the presidents and kings wore throughout history, every decade, every culture is drastically different but fast forward to the 60s to today, suits is all we see. 

Key Takeaways

5 rules that Stefan talked about:
Beauty is part of being human.
Even the oldest tools humans created such as the stone ax were made to be symmetrical even though it didn't add any intrinsic function to the tool other than to simply be more beautiful.

Beauty changes our mood.
Grand Central Station and Penn Station are two train stations in New York City. Looking at the different tweets from riders in each station, it was apparent that those were were in the beautiful Grand Central Station were in a significantly better mood than those at Penn Station. 

Grand Central Station

Grand Central Station

Penn Station

Penn Station

When we lose our mind, we can still recognize beauty.
A test was conducted for people with Dementia where they were given 5 paintings and were asked to put them in order from the most beautiful to least. Not only did all the participants rank the paintings in the same order, but they repeated this a few months later even with no recollection of already having done this. 

Beauty improves functionality.
Airplane safety cards were ugly. Nobody ever looked at them thus they weren't functional. Stefan showed an example of Virgin America's safety video which was clever, entertaining, and beautiful, and people actually paid attention therefore improving functionality. 

We agree on what is beautiful.
Sagmeister showed the audience two pieces of painting; one an authentic Mondrian piece, and another was a fake. In each example, the audience was able to guess correctly which was the real Mondrian painting.