Before there was a digital world that needed designing, all design existed as an analog discipline. Much of the foundational design thinking knowledge that created this generation’s most renowned digital experience designers comes from the early experiments in design for the physical world. Most of the concepts are the same — how can we not merely solve a problem, but to provide an enriching experience along with the solution? The use cases are often different, but ultimately, a shiny streamlined car and a smooth intuitive website are both pleasant packages to encapsulate an underlying motive.
Raymond Loewy was born in Paris in 1893 before moving to New York City and establishing himself as a fashion illustrator for Harper’s Bazaar and Vogue. Along his trajectory as the first — and arguably most prolific — industrial designer, he would go on to design locomotives, packaging for Lucky Strike and Coca-Cola, the Studebaker Starline Coupe, the Greyhound Bus, the modern Shell logo, Frigidaire appliances, and so many others.
Among the concepts that Loewy pioneered was that of streamlining, which he described as “beauty through function and simplification.” The most iconic pieces of mid-century industrial design — teardrop shapes, smooth edges, and rounded corners — can all be traced back to Loewy.
Despite pioneering the field of industrial design and often the only designer in the room, Loewy understood the intricate tension among product requirements, engineering feasibility, and adoption by new users. He knew that designers held the potential to push boundaries of aesthetics, innovation, and futurism, but that customers have a limited tolerance to the speed of these changes. Loewy referred to this concept as MAYA: Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.
The idea of MAYA seems to be lost in the modern design world. So much more often we are concerned about producing a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) rather than the most advanced. The MVP addresses the tension we face where we have product requirements but our design aspirations are limited by time, budget, and engineering constraints. MAYA addresses the tension we face when we remove those constraints and instead crash into the psychological limits of users. We would do well to hold on to both of these concepts with equal weight, placing MVP and MAYA as the minimum and maximum ends of our design spectra and aiming for that maximum as often as possible.