What makes a design "Timeless"?
by Era S, Senior UX Designer at NetBramha | Yoga Expert | Travel Bug
A timeless design is not isolated from its environment, but something that seamlessly merges with the surroundings and becomes a part of it. The time I experienced timelessness in design was during my travels to Sri Lanka.
Nestled within a cozy green pocket of nature was Bentota's Lunuganga Estate, the country home of the renowned Sri Lankan architect Geoffrey Bawa. Despite being more than 60 years old, it didn't project the essence of being from another time.
From Italian Renaissance gardens to English Landscaping to Japanese garden art, Geoffery Bawa's Lunuganga Estate broke the segregation between the indoors & outdoors, making it one of the best instances of designs that are instinctively sustainable.
Moving on to ubiquitous designs that have ingrained themselves in modern society's DNA - the Nike slash logo, the humble Vespa, the iconic Kodak camera design- much like the Lunuganga estate, these too gave stood the test of time, turning timeless in an "instant- everything" world.
An unfortunate repercussion of the Industrial Revolution is reduced product lifespan (& relevance), owing to lightning fast production. From noodles to fashion, everything now is fast & instant.
Abundance of cheaper products in a wide variety make consumers replace products without thought or guilt.
For a design to gain the coveted title of being "timeless", it needs to have 4 inherent characteristics.
How to weave in the element of timelessness in a digital world?
1. Relevance in appearance & function, aka, form follows function (& not vice versa)
2. Simple designs stick. Good design is obvious. Great design is transparent. For something to seamlessly blend with the ecosystem it must be powerful & excruciatingly simple.
3. Must provide a meaningful experience. Flash is transitory. Meaning & value are permanent.
4. Is not just HCD (human-centered design) but also ECD (environment-centered design). Timeless designs not only serve users, but tend to elevate the ecosystem & the environment they are a part of.
Going back to the example of Lunuganga Estate, what makes it robustly timeless is the fact that it is impossible to draw a line between nature & man-made design there.
As designers, our aim is to enhance the quality of mindful interactions between the users & the design. What exactly is meant by being "mindful"?
Mindfulness is the innate human ability to be fully aware & present of who we are & what we are doing. Its all the difference between "reacting" to an event and "responding" to it. To build more meaningful interactions the following tenets must be a part of your design:
- Awareness (of social. emotional, & physical states) - Does your design reinforce the idea of the user being aware of themselves? Or is it a part of the current bandwagon that diminish users' attention spans & keep them mindlessly hooked to the platform?
- Reflection - Are you reaching your audience in the right way? What is your emotional state at the moment connection? Are you in a reactive, responsive, or receptive state? How does the physical space influence the context of the interactions?
- Intentionality - Do the online & offline actions align with the user's core values & beliefs about about privacy, property, and meaningful, ethical engagement?
A simple exercise can help you determine whether or not a digital design is swaying you towards or away from mindfulness. Every time you pick up your phone or login to any website/app/portal etc. ask yourself these questions -
What did I want from this interaction? Information or to take an action?
What was around me? How was the weather? The physical space?
Did you notice yourself react to anything you saw on your phone/laptop?
How did my emotions make me feel during & after?
Did I get what I wanted?
Try this exercise for at least a day. This will open the vistas to a better understanding what truly constitutes as a meaningful interaction, a foundation stone of building timeless designs.
Creating timeless designs is both an art & a science.
It needs consistent efforts & continued implementation to get it right. As a designer, you must aim to turn more inward, more introspective, & more aware as a human being in order to see that translate into your work. With more awareness & intentionality can we escape the minute-to-win-it mentality & aim towards creating designs that stand the test of time.