Poetry in utility: BD85’s design for viction:ary’s New Utilitarian explores the beauty of function
“After collecting projects from different contributors,” Hong Kong-based studio BD85’s Founder Ben Lee tells us, “we discovered that a perfect grid and composition triggers utilitarian visual design,” contextualising their design of viction:ary’s book, New Utilitarian. Featuring 25 leading creatives worldwide, the book showcases the best pragmatic, systematic approaches to design; and graphically responds directly to its subject matter, as epitomised by its stripped-back, rational cover. “We intentionally avoided any unnecessary features on the cover,” Lee explains, “to maintain the original impact of the information,” culminating in a timeless, gridded monochromatic tableau that firmly sets the publication’s tone.
“As we adjusted the mood and tone of our book,” he recalls, “we aimed to find a typeface that balances both a timeless appeal and a contemporary approach,” opting for Monotype’s Helvetica Now to achieve their desired look. “While Helvetica is undoubtedly a timeless typeface,” Lee continues, “we also love its simplicity and aesthetic,” leading them to its modern reimagining. “We decided to choose Helvetica Now as it appears in the contemporary world,” he adds, aligning with the book’s intentions and, notably, rooting itself in BD85’s thoughts on utilitarian design generally. Asked to define what makes design utilitarian, Lee explains, “in my opinion, utilitarian design prioritises the practicality and functionality of a product over its decorative elements.”
“The interesting thing is that utilitarian design is passively influenced by aesthetic quality,” he notes, “and it takes a perfect balance between art and function,” raising its widely acknowledged role in product design – with terms like “durability, affordability, and sustainability” so widely known. “I wonder how utilitarian design would look like in the world of visual communication or graphic design,” Lee wonders, “where we don’t have a physical object to explain how to utilise the design,” a curiosity that led to New Utiliatirian’s creation.
“I believe utilitarian design in visual communication is characterised by simplicity, minimalism, a contemporary style,” he summarises, focusing on the user’s needs. “The design should be easy to understand, and elaborate timeless condition,” Lee concludes, “and should not include any unnecessary features or elements that do not serve a practical purpose.”