Paul Graham wrote about why he thinks America is wealthy and ugly. And, while it pains me to say it, he is basically correct. We Americans are very good at generating wealth and very bad at having good taste. This is of course a broad generality, there are plenty of Americans with good taste and others with no ability to generate wealth.
Some American companies have embraced good design and designers and made them part of the company’s identity. Graham identifes Apple for their fantastic work on the iPod and other products. They make products that work well, but that also make products that are tasteful and that emphasize good design in every detail. Target is another company that has embraced good design and made it part of their corporate identity. They have commercials that simply celebrate design and Target spends a great deal of effort bringing the work of famous designers into homes at a reasonable price.
I suppose if I could get one point across to a non-designer it would be that good design isn’t too expensive, bad design is. Well designed products are easy to use, pleasant to look at, and will lead to a competitive advantage. Bad design will place your product at a disadvantage in the marketplace. Good design is the marriage of form and function into a well crafted product. We can all recognize when a product lets us down in one of those two areas. A product that with a poorly crafted form fails to motivate us to use it and a product with poor functionality lets us down when we try to use it. Either way the end result is unpleasant for the consumer and that unpleasantness leads to a dislike of the product and the company that inflicted it upon us.
Despite our mothers’ advice we almost always judge a book by its cover as well as its contents. An investment in good design and designers will pay off in the marketplace and is simply good business. There is no reason that American companies need to contribute to the “ugly American” stereotype. Just as Europeans can be fat, Americans can be stylish.