Ask the grumpies: How do aesthetics influence the things you buy?

Steph asks:

When do aesthetics influence the things that you buy, and for which things does functionality matter more? I’m currently overthinking this question in terms of buying a car, and also had a related debate about computers with a couple of art majors a few years ago.

#1 is really a Form Follows Function devotee.  And yet, that aesthetic can still be beautiful.  I tend to narrow down to the best object, and then choose aesthetics after.

Grumpy Nation:  How much do you care about aesthetics?  Where does beauty fit into your purchasing equations?

6 Responses to “Ask the grumpies: How do aesthetics influence the things you buy?”

  1. First Gen American Says:

    It just so happens we are struggling with the same thing. We are looking to replace our beloved Honda Element which they stopped making in 2011 (ours is an 08). The three closest things to it In terms of cargo space are a minivan, an older model Land Rover or something like a delivery van like the Ford transit connect. If the Land Rover or Ford had Honda reliability at a similar price point, it would have been a done deal. The minivan is my youngest’s dream car but no one else wants one. So we are in a holding pattern. Car buying stinks and frankly there is not enough differentiation in models within and between brands. I’ve test driven a dozen cars and they are all the same and all missing the few things I want. (Trunk with a lot of headroom so you can roll your bikes in) That’s why the bronco and new hummer are already sold out. People are hungry for something different. Hopefully the success of those launches will spur some innovation and lead to less cut and pasting.

    It may be different for a household where both adults aren’t engineers. I work with product designers all day and everything out there, even the mundane is designed with a purpose. Sometimes it’s aesthetics but sometimes it’s cost or ease of manufacturing or assembly.

    We are at the point for most things where we can afford to do both form and function but never at the cost of reliability. For example, we didn’t pimp out our kitchen with a Viking stove because they are repair prone but we did pay 3x more for wide plank wood floors for our old house. (Could have done pine for a lot cheaper but did birch because it looked better and was harder)

    Car buying is tough and expensive. Don’t beat yourself up about it. I keep thinking maybe we buy a 5-7 year old minivan so it’s not as big a time or money commitment and see how it goes.

  2. Alice Says:

    I think it’s more about picking a point within a range, when there’s a mix of aesthetic and functional options out there. And possibly also about how important the function is in terms of why you’re even owning the item to begin with. If it’s an item that needs to work, it has to work well enough– there is no point in owning a beautiful-looking French press if it filters the beans so poorly that you never use it. We have one like that and are continuing to use the less-beautiful one it was meant to replace–despite the top of the in-use one being broken. A broken top is better than coffee with bean fragments in it.

    That said, there’s also no point in owning something that’s so ugly or so beautiful that the aesthetics prevent you from using it. We have, or have had, some things like that at both ends of the spectrum. There are some inherited decorative things from my grandmother currently living on a shelf despite the fact that they could be used, mainly because we really don’t like them, yet don’t feel ok about getting rid of them, either. There’s also a car that my husband got rid of years ago because he realized that he was so worried about keeping it “perfect” that he couldn’t enjoy driving it. He loved the aesthetics so much that the aesthetics got in the way of the function.

    Cars and computers… for me, cars and computers are about function first, because they’re things I need to have work a certain way every time I need them. I cannot have a car that looks lovely but does terribly in snow or doesn’t fit a carseat; I cannot have a computer that looks pretty but has a bad keyboard or is slow. I want them to meet a baseline of aesthetics, but it’s a pretty achievable baseline.

  3. omdg Says:

    I will, of course, say that I choose function over form. For instance, I chose a Subaru Forester because functionally it works well for my family and drives well in the snow. However it would be dishonest of me to say that the way it looks doesn’t matter. If it was a heinously ugly car, I’d probably look elsewhere.

    For computers, I pick function over form any day of the week.

  4. Bev Says:

    Function first–but given a choice of similarly functional items, I’ll go the extra mile to get the one that looks good, especially if it’s something I’m going to spend a lot time with (like a car). I’ve always been sensitive to aesthetics and I even remember when I was in about fifth grade and thought the house we were living in was so ugly that it made me sick to my stomach to look at it and I was ashamed to invite friends over (and then years later I went back and looked at it and it was really not so bad). I’ve just been told that I’m going to be teaching in a hideously ugly classroom next semester (if we are still face-to-face next semester, which who knows?), and I’m going to have to put up with it because at the moment no one’s winning any Aesthetic Harassment lawsuits, and because at this point an ugly classroom is better than no classroom at all.

  5. mnitabach Says:

    I bought a Dell XPS 13 laptop bcs it is much more gorgeous than functionally equivalent ThinkPad that looks like a prototype.

  6. Debbie M Says:

    I’d say in general, I lean toward the functional, but with different specifics, my reality swings wildly.

    With cars and computers, I want them reliable, I want my repair guy to enjoy working on them, and I want them to do what I want them to do. In my car I want low mileage/pollution, but also my boyfriend needs to feel comfortable driving it (long distances instead of his gas guzzler), so it has to be big enough for him to fit and have working A/C. I’ll sacrifice newness for economy. And then I just hope it’s pretty (I’m so happy my current car is navy blue and was sad that my last car was brown).

    With food, it’s form first (taste) and then function (nutrition).

    With clothing, I try to have it all (flattering *and* washable). And in fact with anything where I already have enough, I’ll only get a replacement if it’s both functional and beautiful. And if I’m not sure how well built the new thing is, I might keep the old thing around a while just in case. I do try to research function before buying, especially on expensive purchases.

    With friendships, it’s part function, part convenience, and part inaccurate first impressions/habit. Oops, this is about things we buy.

    Some things are just decorative. Pierced ears are not functional; they just let me carry around sparkly things. (Which, admittedly, are hypoallergenic.)

    And sometimes things with better form are more motivating than things that work just as well but aren’t pretty. Like some people want to exercise more when they have cute exercise outfits.


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