Over the last decade, the world has rediscovered its appreciation of aesthetics. I’m not sure exactly which cultural or historical factors have played a role in this transformation, but I think the average person appreciates good design much more today than we did twenty or thirty years ago. And for good reason: in a chaotic world, design is often the only thing that keeps us sane.
Design isn’t powerful because of the aesthetic experience it creates, though I would never discount the power of beauty. An aesthetic experience is intrinsic; it can stir the soul just like good art. Design is powerful because it provides an extrinsic, emotional connection to otherwise unrelatable facts.
In its simplest form, design can turn data into information. Consider a stacked line graph that charts the historical performance of two stocks. By themselves, the individual data points don’t tell you much, but the act of graphing them gives the data points dimension that didn’t exist before (trends over time, points of comparison, etc.).
What makes business intelligence relevant to decision-makers? The well-crafted dashboards and reports that display essential information in a compelling way. What sells products on a supermarket shelf? Packaging that inspires consumers by consistently evoking the right kinds of emotions. It’s the art in data analysis and marketing that gives these disciplines their power.
Perhaps good design is a luxury that has just become more accessible, but I think the evolution is more complex than that. Our minds have learned to live with facts and data, but we want something more. We want to experience the world in new and interesting ways. We want to feel connected to objects and experiences in a uniquely human way. What art did for the Renaissance, design can do for the information age.