Kathy Sierra had a thought-provoking post entitled “Does the US suck at design?” I don’t think the U.S. sucks at design, but I can’t figure out why U.S. design genius doesn’t shine through more often. It does seem that design is more important in some countries than others.
As one of several examples to help provide an answer the question, she compared the coloring and sizing of U.S. currency to that of currencies of other countries such as Switzerland. I’ve had friends from other countries who’ve come to live in the States and were thrown off by our currency. Not so much by the lack of aesthetics, but by the fact that a one dollar bill and a one hundred dollar bill are the same size and color and, therefore, not party-friendly. Our not-party-friendly homogenous looking bills caused misfortune in the form of lighter wallets for my friends when vision impairment set in after a few pints too many. While our standard design U.S. currency caused problems for my friends it was, however, a boon for cab drivers who were much obliged to receive a twenty for a five dollar fare. So, maybe that is good design. It works out well for someone.
But, enough about money. I have always appreciated things that have character and unique design. I have been fortunate enough to visit several countries on various continents and absorb the different aesthetics that each had to offer. The first time I went to Florence, Italy I was in awe of, no, maybe even jealous of, how stylish everyone was. It was an easy, casual elegance. Kathy Sierra cites the women of Barcelona as examples of fabulosity, where I would suggest the women of Florence, or most anywhere in Italy. Each store that I entered whether it sold sweaters, soaps or socks displayed its merchandise in such unusual ways, like each item was a piece of fine art. A sharp contrast to any big box retailer here where price and quantity are the name of the game.
I’ve also visited offbeat rural parts of Europe where open air farmers’ markets are a sight to behold. The colors, shapes and arrangements look too beautiful to disturb, much less take away and eat. A drive through the countryside is a showcase of simple old stone farmhouses, ancient aquaducts, castles and moats. Each structure possesses an indescribable beauty simply due to its age, the stories it could tell and its design.
I love the U.S., and there are many things that we do very well. But, I have often gazed upon our automobiles, sadly. Why are they so ugly? We used to be automotive visionaries with such a bright future. The McMansion craze of the last decade scares the begeezus out of me, too. They are big, and ugly and tacky, and look like they could eat a cul de sac full of tots for breakfast. We used to have promise in architecture, design and building. But, seriously, my long answer to a short question would be no, the U.S. does not suck at design, but there are other places in the world where design seems to be higher on the list of priorities. I think the next question to answer is “what is it that keeps great design from showing in everything the U.S. does?” Is good design hampered by practicality and bureaucracy? Are too many non-creatives in charge? Is it that super-sized is better than quality? Is the U.S. just too young to have developed its own style? Bueller? Bueller? Anyone?