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The Beauty of Beauty: Aesthetics' Power in Design

Lance Hosey, author of The Shape of Green, wrote an article for in which he reflected on the idea that technology's design could potentially reduce its manufacturing waste. According to Hosey, most people fail to consider how many materials and how much energy are wasted in the constant production of new technology. They will often succumb to marketing campaigns and replace their "old" (but still-functioning) items with the latest and greatest gadgets.
Every year, Americans get rid of more than 300 million computers and electronics — and recycle almost none. Ultimately, recycling doesn’t completely solve the environmental problem, anyway. When a computer is recovered, typically only the basic materials are salvaged, while the precious metals in the energy-intensive circuitry are destroyed. So the challenge has less to do with the efficiency of production than it does with the frequency of it — not how we produce things, but how many things we produce, and how often. If you’re the average person, every year-and-a-half you replace your phone, and during your life you will have owned three dozen. The market encourages us to buy lots of stuff but replace it almost immediately, because the economy thrives on how much we buy, not on how much we use or enjoy the things we buy.
Hosey identified the factor that makes the difference between keeping and discarding an item: aesthetics. The more beautiful someone finds a piece of technology, the more likely he or she is to hang on to it:
Manufacturers and marketers spend a lot of money trying to understand why we buy things, but they rarely investigate why we keep them. However, over the past couple of decades, a growing body of scientific research has revealed a universal, biological basis for visual preferences that often transcend individual and cultural differences. To some degree, all of us are drawn consistently to certain shapes, patterns, and colors. We don’t love something because it’s non-toxic and biodegradable. We love it because it moves the head and the heart. If design doesn’t inspire, it’s destined to be discarded. A more attractive design discourages us from abandoning it: If we want it, we won’t waste it.
Read the whole article on to learn more.