Aesthetics and intention

People not only appreciate the physical aspects of a product, but also assess the quality of the idea behind it. In Project UMA, the intentions of designers are also examined and addressed.

Aware Puzzle Switch by Loove Broms and Karin Ehrnberger

Aware Puzzle Switch by Loove Broms and Karin Ehrnberger

How can great beauty be perceived in designed products that are not particularly pleasing to the eye? Consider the Aware Puzzle Switch, designed by Loove Broms and Karin Ehrnberger at the Interactive Institute of Sweden. Seen as an object on the wall, this switch might not seem very aesthetically pleasant. But what if it were perceived in relation to its designers’ intention to promote the responsible use of energy at home?

The Aware switch was designed so that its visual pattern is broken when the light is on. Prompted by a simple, innate desire to restore visual order to the pattern, people easily remember to turn the light off. The switch might be perceived as quite beautiful, when its cleverness in fulfilling the designers’ intentions comes to light.

Designed products are often perceived in this way, although inadvertently. Press releases, marketing campaigns, critical reviews and guesswork, among other mechanisms, promote a product perceptions that involve reflection about designers’ intentions. Through ‘Aesthetics and Intention’, UMA explores the aesthetic appreciation of products in relation to designers’ intentions.

PhD project by ODETTE DA SILVA
(Supervisors: Nathan Crilly and Paul Hekkert.


Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (in press). Beauty in efficiency: An experimental enquiry into the principle of maximum effect for minimum means. Empirical Studies of the Arts.

Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (2016). Maximum effect for minimum means: The aesthetics of efficiency. Design Issues, 32(1), 41–51.

Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (2015). How people’s appreciation of products is affected by their knowledge of the designers’ intentions. International Journal of Design, 9(2), 21–33.

Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (2014b). Intentions and the aesthetics of artifacts. In A. Kozbelt (Ed.), Proceedings of IAEA 2014 (pp. 148–152). New York: Hunter College of the City of New York.

Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (2014a). Can a light switch be beautiful? Aesthetic appreciation of products as means. In K. Niedderer & Y.-K. Lim (Eds.), Design’s big debates: Proceedings of DRS 2014 (pp. 1691–1692). Umeå: Umeå Institute of Design.

Da Silva, O., Crilly, N., & Hekkert, P. (2013). Aesthetic appreciation of products: The effect of ideas underlying design. In K. Sugiyama (Ed.), Consilience and innovation in design: Proceedings of IASDR 2013 (Vol. 2, pp. 2558–2566). Tokyo: Shibaura Institute of Technology. 

As second author

Post, R., Da Silva, O., & Hekkert, P. (2015). The beauty in product-service systems. In V. Popovic, A. Blackler, D.-B. Luh, N. Nimkulrat, B. Kraal, & Y. Nagai (Eds.), Interplay: Proceedings of IASDR 2015 (pp. 1717–1730). Brisbane: Queensland University of Technology.

The aesthetics of product metaphors

Kastor by Alessi

Kastor by Alessi

A product metaphor is composed of both the designer’s intentional association of target and source, similar to the mechanism of a verbal metaphor; and the designer’s material application of this association. In Kastor by Alessi, the designer playfully ties together a pencil sharpener with the wood-gnawing skillfulness and precision of a beaver: these “beaver-like” qualities are the associations which inform the metaphor. The designer then applies the metaphor by shaping the pencil sharpener in such a way that its form recalls that of a beaver. The allusion is subtle enough to enhance what the product has to offer without interfering with our understanding of the product itself, or its function.

We investigated when and why product metaphors might be deemed as aesthetically pleasing, and focused specifically on designers’ intentions. We proposed that both the associative and the applicative components of the design metaphor influence overall aesthetic preference. We found experimental evidence indicating that in order to generate aesthetically pleasing product metaphors, the designer must strike a balance between clarity, i.e. the association must be comprehensible, and the source must be identifiable in some way; and interestingness, i.e. the association should also be novel, and the application subtle.


(With: Paul Hekkert)


Hekkert, P., & Cila, N. (2015). Handle with care! Why and how designers make use of product metaphors. Design Studies40, 196-217.

Cila, N., Borsboom, F. & Hekkert, P. (2014). Determinants of aesthetic preference for product metaphors. Empirical Studies of the Arts, 32(2), 183-203..