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The Industrial Aesthetics Charter and « Useful beauty »

Article paru dans la revue Design Issues, vol. XXII, Number 1, Winter 2006.

Under the presidency of Jacques Viénot, a commission composed of members of l’Institut d’Esthétique industrielle, – architects, stylists, philosophers – published in 1952 (revues 7 and 8 of Esthétique industrielle) what was the first code of ethics which aimed to codify the practices within a new profession in France.

Esthétique industrielle 2, cover page, 1951.

The laws of the Charter are essentially based on the thesis of the philosopher Paul Souriau. In his book La Beauté rationnelle (1904), he supported the rationalistic tradition of a “reasonable aesthetics”, which would orient “our tastes towards real beauty”. His chapter on “the beauty of organisation” (1) stems from the fascination that many leading thinkers of the 19th century had for the functional perfection of living organisms. One passage in this chapter leads directly to the “Law of Unity and of Composition” in the Charter (2):

In order to appreciate the physiological beauty of living beings, one must have a knowledge of the interplay of the internal organs, how they reciprocally depend upon each other, how they carry out their essential functions.

The « Law of Evolution and Relativity » and the « Law of Style » relate to The Life of Forms (3) by the art historian Henri Focillon to whom Jacques Viénot often referred.

The notion of “implied art” proposed by the philosopher Étienne Souriau (4) (son of Paul Souriau and member of the commission which instigated the Charter), had been the subject of discussion within the Institut. Jacques Viénot supported this notion in order to clearly outline the domain in relation to the fields of applied and decorative arts.  However, the engineer, François Le Lyonnais, regretted that this debate tended to relegate “decor” to the domain of applied arts in a derogatory manner. Within the applied arts, decor could also be “implied”, that is, not be “tacked on” after. What then is the difference between applied art and implied art?

We have mentioned these debates in order to stress the fact that the Laws of the Charter were, in the mind of the Charter’s founders, a basis for reflection. In an article addressed to an Italian journalist from the journal Civilta delle macchiniste (5), Jacques Viénot declared he was ready to go even further. He brought up the question of the human and social aspects which had already pre-occupied his team, and requested an international collaboration.

The laws of the Charter which were to guide the conception of products and industrial environments seem to us, and are, from another epoch. What is worth noting, however, is the concern for professional ethics which serve the wider community. The tenth Law, “the Law of Hierarchy or of Finality”, raises an ever-valid question: what industrial production “helps mankind to progress”?

The 13 Laws of the Industrial Aesthetics Charter

Industrial Aesthetics is the science of beauty in the domain of industrial production. Its domain is that of work places and work atmospheres, means of production and products.

1° Law of economy : the cost efficiency of means and of materials (minimum cost price), as long as this does not detract from the product’s functional value or quality, is a determining factor of useful beauty.

2° Law of aptitude : to the product’s use and functional value: only those products which are perfectly adapted to their function (and recognised as technically viable) can be considered to possess industrial beauty. Functional aesthetics implies intimate harmony between function and appearance.

3° Law of unity and of composition : to form a harmonious ensemble, the different parts constituting a useful whole must respectively be conceived in relation to one another and in relation to the whole.

4° Law of harmony between appearance and use: in a work complying with the laws of industrial aesthetics, there is never conflict, but always harmony between the aesthetic satisfaction felt by an objective admirer and the practical satisfaction felt by a user of the work.

All industrial production generates beauty.

5° Law of style : the study of the aesthetic characteristics of a work or of an industrial product must take into consideration the normal period of time to which it must be adapted.

A useful piece of work can only claim to have lasting beauty if it has been conceived without the influence of fashion.

From the aesthetic characteristics of useful works comes a style which expresses their epoch.

6° Law of evolution and relativity: industrial aesthetics is not definitive: it is perpetually evolving.

The beauty of a useful work is a function of the technological advancements used in its creation.

All new techniques require a maturation period before reaching their peak of balanced and typical aesthetic expression.

7° Law of taste : industrial aesthetics is expressed through structure, form, balance of proportions, the line of the work. The choice of materials, presentation details, colours, relate more to taste which must be complementary in keeping with the Law of Economy.

8° Law of satisfaction : the attributes imparting beauty to a work must express themselves in a way that calls upon all our senses: not only sight but also hearing, touch, smell and taste.

9° Law of movement :  machines which are intended for movement (by air, sea, road, rail) find in that movement the essential characteristics of their aesthetics. Further to the Law of aptitude to function and the Law of harmony between appearance and use, we now add the factor of the work’s behaviour within its element (ground, water, air) which will dominate the other judgement factors.

10° Law of hierarchy and finality :  industrial aesthetics cannot fail to take into consideration the finality (final use) of industrially produced works.

A moral hierarchy is naturally established. Those industrial products whose essential objectives contain a noble character and which are destined to help mankind progress or which impact positively on social structures will have a favourable bias. On the other hand, products whose objective is the destruction of humanity will not have the right to claim unreserved admiration.

11° Commercial Law : industrial aesthetics finds its main application on the commercial market-place. The law of highest possible demand from buyers must not diminish the value of the laws defining industrial aesthetics.

Sales will not be considered a criterium for aesthetic value. When being considered, sales will bear witness to the equality between the creator and the buyer, regardless of price.

12° Law of integrity : industrial aesthetics implies integrity and sincerity in the choice of subject and materials.

An industrial piece of work cannot be considered beautiful if it contains any element of deceit or cheating.

Nevertheless all coverings and accessories necessary to the functioning of the work are legitimate as long as they express the object’s essential function and do not serve to cover up materials or parts which compromise the use or value of the object.

13° Law of implied arts :  industrial aesthetics involves an input of artistic thought encompassed in the structure of the work.

Far from the more or less arbitrary or artificial decor of applied arts, the arts involved in industrial aesthetics can be considered distinctly implied in the model to be produced forming an osmosis with the technique.

Notes :

1 – Paul Souriau,  La Beauté rationnelle, Paris, éd. Félix Alcan, Bibliothèque de philosophie contemporaine, 1904, 375-393. See also chapter « La Beauté du Mouvement », 395-405, regarding Law number 9.

2 – La Beauté rationnelle, op.cit., 389.

3 –  Henri Focillon, Vie des formes, Paris, PUF, 1970 (1ère édition 1943).

4 – « Passé, Présent, Avenir du problème de l’esthétique industrielle », 1-27, Esthétique industrielle, Presses universitaires de France (Paris, 1952).

5 – Esthétique industrielle, no 38, janv.fév. 1959, Article published after the death of Jacques Viénot in January 1959.

2 réponses à “The Industrial Aesthetics Charter and « Useful beauty »

  1. Eu gostaria de agradecer aos responsáveis por publicarem esta matéria. Penso que este texto é fundamental para todos aqueles que querem diferenciar os objetos e os objetivos entre desenhadores industriais e desenhistas artistas ou debuxantes técnicos. Sucesso e saúde para todos. Sugiro que os franceses voltem a assumir a posição de liderança pedagógica, em termos de educação criativa e projetual e com respeito ao ensino de Desenho industrial, para o projeto de produto.

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