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On concinnity & other fundamental attributes.

"Design is not just about looks. If a product outperforms the competition by fulfilling its purposes best or demonstrates better quality, it does so by virtue of superior design. If it delivers more value than the rest by costing less in the bargain, this also follows from superior design."

That quote is from Watches Tell More Than Time: Product Design, Information, and the Quest for Elegance by Del Coates (McGraw-Hill; $29.95). Coates, a professor of design at San lose State, not only has a background in the auto industry (to which he continues to consult, numbering GM, Nissan, and Peterbilt among the companies he's done work with), but also deep familiarity with the industrial design practices of other industries. Which is to say that he has a fairly comprehensive background that is certainly vital in writing a book about design. And his experience is matched by his understanding.

Watches Tell More Than Time is about design for more than just designers. Coates is wide-ranging in what is covered. For example, he writes, "the ideal product design process rests on a stool supported by three equally stout legs--practicality (engineering), ergonomics (convenience, safety, comfort), and aesthetics (beauty)--that provide steady, balanced support. Shorten one of these crucial legs--or remove it--and you set the product for a fall." That said, however, he goes on to explain that there is actually a hierarchy among the three (which, one might note, would mean that not all of the legs are the same length). So, which is the element that Coates argues is primary?

* Practicality

* Ergonomics

* Aesthetics

The answer, you may be startled to learn, is the second one, ergonomics. Surprisingly, aesthetics comes in third (at least for those who are interested in "building brand equity and brand loyalty-which is pretty much what industrial designers ought to be interested in doing). Coates says of the importance of ergonomics: "In the end, no one decides whether to buy a product, or which product to buy, until it looks and feels right-no matter how thoroughly she has consulted friends and consumer magazines." (Dr trade magazines, for that matter.)

According to Coates, one of the characteristics of a design--be it of a minivan or a wristwatch--that is pleasing to people is concinnity (pronounced kun-SIN-iti). it has nothing to do with sin, which is excess. Rather, it is about similarity and balance. According to Coates, "A design with little objective concinnity almost surely will fail aesthetically. I have seldom seen a product that could not be improved with more objective concinnity. But, then, I am an industrial designer."

While discussions of concinnity (there are both objective and subjective variants) may be rough sledding for non-designers, and while some of the discussions of psychological affect may be a bit much for even designers, this book is a valuable text for all who care about excellence in design--and that should include all who have anything to do with getting vehicles on the road.
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Title Annotation:Watches Tell More Than Time: Product Design, Information, and the Quest for Elegance
Author:Vasilash, Gary S.
Publication:Automotive Design & Production
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Feb 1, 2003
Words:492
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