Shaker Furniture as a Guidepost for Web Design

I was recently lucky enough to take a 3 day intensive learning seminar from an org called “Hyper Island” that bills itself as the first institution of higher learning dedicated solely to learning about digital marketing, creative development and production. It was a three day immersion in all things digital, and the speakers, mostly big ad agency creatives, espoused the role of digital in the creative process and shared many great case studies.

One of the analogies shared was that of Shaker furniture design. Wikipedia defines the shaker design philosophy this way: “Don’t make something unless it is both necessary and useful. But if it is both necessary and useful, do not hesitate to make it beautiful.”

I happen to think this is a perfect description of the method by which great digital marketing creative is built. Necessary means it has a purpose in the lives of users, and fills a gap not already met. Useful speaks to the need to be only as complex as is ultimately usable by those same users and then, only then, made beautiful.

Too many agencies focus on one or the other of these, but rarely all three at once. What comes to mind are brands who have developed fabulous platforms like Nike. Fulfilling a need in the marketplace in a simply useful and usable manner, made beautiful to appeal to both our emotional as well as our rational senses, and built upon regularly to keep  even a shaker inspired approach contemporary. Not enough brands are taking this approach to heart, and are either focused purely on the aesthetic without fulfilling on the need to be useful, or they overindex on usability and forget that pleasing design helps to engage the user emotionally.

Necessary and useful first, only then made beautiful. Such a smart approach.


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