What Makes Something Aesthetically Pleasing?

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what-makes-something-aesthetically-pleasing

Whether you’re decorating your home, wondering what clothing items look best together, or wanting to develop a better appreciation for the arts and design. Brushing up on your aesthetic abilities can be a great way to hone in on your style and bring more enjoyment to your life.

However, sometimes we aren’t sure of our style, or how to evaluate what we like and what we don’t. Why is this?

At one point or another, we’ve all wondered why we find some things attractive and other things tacky. Or why we sometimes just don’t like something, but can’t quite pinpoint why. Whether we are aware of it or not, we are always using our aesthetic judgement to evaluate the world. 

Aesthetics provide the language used to express our experience of beauty and enjoyment. The term aesthetically pleasing can be used to refer to anything in the world around us that we sense as being beautiful or enjoyable; including what we see, hear, touch, taste, and smell. We experience aesthetics using all our senses.

Aesthetics not only help us explore and understand the world via our senses, as I discuss in this article, they actually play a role in our happiness. Studies have shown that having positive aesthetic experiences affects us emotionally resulting in feelings of calm, appreciation and joy.

All the more reason to brush up and improve our aesthetic sensibilities!

In this article I’ll provide a brief aesthetics overview and then we’ll dive into some of the principles commonly used in design to make objects more visually aesthetically pleasing. Let’s go.

Brief History of Aesthetic Appreciation

Throughout history philosophers have debated the nature of aesthetics and what makes something aesthetically pleasing. During the 18th century beauty was judged by a measure of taste. You were believed to have taste if you had the innate ability to experience the immediate beauty of something without having to think about or study it. It was sensed immediately.

Taste was commonly perceived as something you were either born with or not.

The more modern interpretation we know today started developing in the 19th century where aesthetics became more generally understood to be the formal qualities of something such as its color, proportion, rhythm, etc. While there are some people who would argue that we still have no definitive answer today, there are some general ideas that have stood the test of time.

The “Golden Mean” or “Golden Ratio” is one such concept commonly found in nature and throughout art history. The golden mean is said to exist when a line is divided into two parts and the longer of the two parts divided by the smaller part is the same as the sum of the two parts. It is believed to be the ratio of harmony and beauty. 

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Golden ratio in nature, the nautilus shell.

What is Aesthetic Design?

Artists and designers have been attempting to make their creations aesthetically pleasing for centuries. However, more recently social psychologists have shown via studies that people perceive aesthetically pleasing objects as easier to use and better quality overall. This is referred to as the “halo effect”.

What does this mean for us as consumers? Designers are now more than ever keenly aware that aesthetics are a 4D experience. Meaning, they appeal not just to sight, but to all our senses. They also know that beautiful objects are perceived to be more valuable and more functional, even if this is not always true. The perception still holds.

Take our smartphones for example, when comparing two phones there may be nothing inherently different about them from a component standpoint, but one may be considerably more expensive because it has a prettier design and a simpler user interface.

Aesthetics extend beyond the realm of art into our daily lives. Designers know that we as consumers we are no longer expecting just basic functionality when we make a purchase. We are looking to buy beautiful objects that stimulate our senses and evoke positive emotions. 

We are also becoming the designers of our lives by developing our own unique personal style which we seek to express in our homes, dress and lifestyle.

Aesthetics Through Our Senses

Now let’s take a closer look at how aesthetics engage our senses to gain a better understanding of the qualities perceived by each of the five senses. Learning these qualities improves your design sensibilities which makes you a better critic. It also helps you gain a better understanding of your personal taste and provides a method of evaluating what you like and don’t like.

With all five senses, the experience is made more aesthetically pleasing when the qualities are combined in a way that creates harmony, balance, and interest.

Vision

For most people, vision is the most dominant sense and is the one that we typically think of first when it comes to aesthetics. We are naturally drawn to looking at and admiring beautiful things. Whether we are taken with the color, shape or an interesting pattern, our eyes are captivated by what we see.

In visual aesthetics the following principles are used to create beauty: balance, emphasis, rhythm, proportion, pattern, unity and contrast. Along with the visual elements: color, line, shape, value, texture.

Hearing

Our ears allow us to perceive an even deeper sense of aesthetics. For instance we can hear the sound an object makes or the melody in a song. Sound aesthetics can be enjoyed on their own or combined with other senses to create immersive experiences.

Sound aesthetics use the following elements to create enjoyment for our ears: loudness, pitch, beat, repetition, melody, pattern, noise.

Touch

Our sense of touch also plays a key element in aesthetics. How many times have you evaluated a piece of clothing or other physical object based on how it feels to touch? Skin is our largest organ and we interact with everything in our environment via touch in countless ways on a daily basis.

Important elements of touch aesthetics include: texture, shape, weight, softness, temperature, vibration, sharpness.

Smell

Our sense of smell can alert us to dangers like smoke, but it can also alert us to dinner or to the beautiful aroma of flowers. Like sound, it takes our aesthetic experience to a higher level.

Some common aesthetic qualities of smell include: sweet, fruity, fragrant, pungent, chemical, woody, minty.

Taste

When it comes to food, our sense of taste is arguably the most important aesthetic sense but vision, smell, touch and even sound can all play and important part. Eating is definitely a 4D experience of the senses.

Aesthetic qualities of taste include: umami, sweetness, sourness, bitterness, texture, pungency.

Examples of Aesthetics

Now that you have a better understanding of the qualities used in aesthetics across all our senses. Let’s explore some examples of visual aesthetics you can use in your decor, wardrobe planning and any area you wish to develop your personal style. 

Balance

Balance creates stability and sense of equilibrium and is usually achieved through symmetry, asymmetry and radial symmetry.

Color Symmetry

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Symmetry in Fashion

Color Symmetry

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Symmetry in Decor

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Color Asymmetry

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Asymmetry in Fashion

asymmetry-in-clothing

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Asymmetry in Decor

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Radial Color Symmetry

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Radial Symmetry in Fashion

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Radial Symmetry in Decor

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Emphasis (focal point)

Emphasis create a focal point or area of interest that commands attention over other elements.

Color Emphasis

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Emphasis in Fashion

emphasis-focal-point-in-clothing

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Emphasis in Decor

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Rhythm (movement)

Rhythm is used to create a sense of action. Often used to draw your eye in a certain direction or give the feeling of movement.

Color Rhythm

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Rhythm in Fashion

rhythm-in-clothing

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Rhythm in Decor

rhythm-in-decor

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Proportion (scale)

Proportion plays with the relationship of scale and other elements to create interest.

Color Proportion

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Proportion in Fashion

proportion-in-clothing

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Proportion in Decor

proportion-in-decor

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Pattern (repetition)

Pattern and repetition are used to create visual tempo and beat. Patterns can be organic and free flowing or geometric.

Color Pattern

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Pattern in Fashion

pattern-in-clothing

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Pattern in Decor

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Unity (harmony)

Unity and harmony is achieved when elements are combined in a way that accents their similarities. Can be created through color and other elements that compliment each other.

Color Unity

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Unity in Fashion

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Unity in Decor

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Contrast

Contrast plays with diversity, bold differences of color, negative/positive space, and juxtaposition.

Color Contrast (low to none)

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(credit Pinterest)

Contrast in Fashion

contrast-in-clothing

(credit Pinterest)

Contrast in Decor

contrast-in-decor

(credit Pinterest)

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Jodie Locklear
Jodie is a former art teacher turned Graphic/UX Designer and QA Manager. She's applied her knowledge of visual design and software testing on many projects over the years, ranging from small businesses to large well known brands and organizations. In her spare time, she enjoys reading, blogging, and travel. View About Page

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