Virginia Postrel is the author of The Substance of Style and The Future and Its Enemies. She also writes the “Economic Scene” column for the New York Times and maintains the Dynamist blog. In her presentation at SXSW Interactive, Postrel discussed the importance of aesthetics, how design comes into play, the role of expertise, and why people respond the way they do to aesthetically pleasing people, places, and things.

Quote from a partial presentation transcript:

We’re experiencing a rise in the value of aesthetics. I don’t mean the philosophy of art. I mean communicating through the senses. Aesthetics is not narrative. It’s pre-rational. Not irrational, pre-rational. As a designer, if you try to create aesthetic affects, you will go through some cognitive process. Ellen Dissanayake, author of Homo Aestheticus looked at art as making something special — “emotionally gratifying and more than strictly necessary.”

Well, I agree on the pre-rational part. What I don’t agree on the conclusion that the value of aesthetics is fundamentally a gate to meaningful consumerism.

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