I recently heard some advice on how to write a good story by an author friend of mine. He said that his best work has a combination of beauty, meaning and purpose. But what did he really mean by these terms? Simply put, beauty is a sense of pleasure, an uplifting moment of joy. It is feeling. Whereas, meaning is that which tickles the intellect. It is thinking. Purpose may be construed as the spirit of the story and the voice of it’s intentions. It is being.
Architecture is like music manifest in space. There have been similar, general, analogous comparisons between different arts over the years and so I will throw one more into the ring. Product design is like writing, a story manifest in an object. Just like my friend, the best designed products have all three key ingredients, beauty, meaning and purpose.
Let me share an example, my Bialetti stove-top espresso maker, the Moka Express. It was designed in 1933 out of the product workshop of Alfonso Bialetti in Crusinallo, Italy. This was one of his breakthrough products along his quest to provide market ready goods to Italian customers. So what makes the Moka Express fit my criteria for quality design? First off, the beauty – it’s chiseled, octagonal, aluminum frame is handsome and evinces durability and strength. Yet it’s handle is smooth and shapely, like the curves of a person, anthropomorphic. This is no accident, for the handle is where you caress the product while serving your coffee. But how does it work? This is the part that makes the curious of us need to know. This machine, and similar ones, make coffee by some basic laws of nature. The water sealed in the lower chamber boils to such a high point that it transforms into steam, which creates intense pressure within the boiling chamber, forcing the steam up through the funnel and coffee grounds. The gaseous water quickly absorbs the flavor and character of the coffee grounds, transforming back again into a liquid, as the coffee you are about to enjoy. And that, ladies and gentlemen is entirely the purpose. In this product there is no extraneous equipment. It is not about style or status. It is a product that allows you to make espresso at home without the expense and bother of a large barista machine. That is the story of the Bialetti, and like any good story, it reads well.
Joseph Eberle is the Industrial Designer for the Imagemme Packaging Design.