Client: “This is not entirely what I’m looking for, I’m looking for something a bit more . . .”
Designer: “Modern? Timeless? Playful?”
This has become somewhat of a running gag among designers. In my experience, a running gag can be a sign of dogmatic thinking. Since part of my job is to question everything, I had to give this some more thought.
First, on the word sexy. Collins dictionary says:
You can describe people and things as sexy if you think they are sexually exciting or sexually attractive.
The key word being things. Unless the editors of Collins are referring to objectophilia, I believe we have been granted permission to call anything sexy. Especially if we find it exciting or attractive on both a physical and an emotional level.
But why do designers cringe when they hear the word sexy in a design context? Maybe it is because a functional, modernist design aesthetic has become the holy grail of good design1. Much of the design discourse of the past decennia was about removing embellishments. And perhaps our understanding of the word sexy has become too superficial. So superficial that we have forgotten its meaning reaches beyond those embellishments.
Sexy does not mean just physically attractive. Sexy is about attitude and content as much as it is about visual appearance. Even when we were designing this website we had a thorough discussion about whether to include a webfont. Why not pick Helvetica and be done with it? From a functional point of view, it would be an adequate solution. Not very attractive though.
It is okay to try to create an attractive interface that can suck a user into a state of productive, enjoyable flow. Just like dating a person you find sexy is satisfying, so can using an interface you find sexy be satisfying. But sexy is a living definition. To remain sexy, you have to deliver what you promise. An attractive design that is hard to handle will become a pain in the ass before you know it. And you will feel betrayed because it lured you in with deceitful aesthetics.
Sexy design is extremely hard. It is about striking the right balance in the entire design package. Useful and beautiful. From the moment you first see something, to the moment you have been using it for a while. A design can be sexy and we should embrace that.