Unity and Variety

Throughout our lives we continually seek order in an often chaotic world. We like to organize our bookshelves by categorizing books alphabetically, or by size, or even by color (Fig 1). We create a pleasant digital working environment by arranging icons on our computer desktops, or sorting and organizing our digital files (Fig 2).

 Figure 1

Figure 1

 Figure 2

Figure 2

When a variety of elements–be they books, computer icons, or buttons on a car dashboard–are neatly organized (Fig 3), our perception is eased and we feel as if the whole is unified. The ability to see this unity within variety is labeled the principle of Unity-in-Variety and results in maximal pleasure. Without unity, what we perceive feels segmented and chaotic. Without variety, we are bored and become disinterested. To create beautiful products, designers therefore strive to create unity in designs using organizational principles, while leaving the inherent variety of their fresh perspective intact.

My research investigates how unity and variety together determine our aesthetic appreciation for product designs (e.g. car keys, lamps, espresso machines and websites (Fig 3)). Both vision and touch are assessed by systematically studying how changes in shape, color and material together influence unity and variety and their subsequent aesthetic appreciation (Fig 4).

 Figure 3

Figure 3

 Figure 4

Figure 4

PhD project by RUBEN POST (Supervisors: Paul Hekkert and Janneke Blijlevens)

Publications

Post, R. A. G., Blijlevens, J., & Hekkert, P. (2016). ‘To preserve unity while almost allowing for chaos’: Testing the aesthetic principle of unity-in-variety in product design. Acta Psychologica163, 142-152.

Post, R. A. G., Da Silva, O., & Hekkert, P. (2015). The beauty in product-service-systems. In: IASDR2015 - Interplay (pp. 1717-1729). Brisbane, Australia.

Post, R. A. G., Saakes, D., & Hekkert, P. (2015). A Design Research Methodology using 3D-Printed Modular Designs to Study the Aesthetic Appreciation of Form and Material. In: Design and semantics of form and movement - Aesthetics of interaction: Dynamic, Multisensory, Wise (pp. 347-350). Milan, Italy: Politecnico Milano, Department of Design.

Post, R. A. G., Blijlevens, J., & Hekkert, P. (2014). Aesthetic Appreciation of Tactile Unity-In-Variety in Product Designs. In: Proceedings of the 23rd Biennial Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA). New York, USA.

Post, R. A. G., Blijlevens, J., and Hekkert, P. (2013). The influence of unity-in-variety on aesthetic appreciation of car interiors, In: Consilience and Innovation in Design: Proceedings of the 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research. Tokyo: Shibaura Institute of Technology.

Post, R. A. G., Blijlevens, J., and Hekkert, P. (2013). Unity-in-variety in product design aesthetics, In Proceedings of TeaP 2013, Pabst science publishers, pp 217.