The other day I read a question that struck me. It was basically about beautiful irrelevance. “Why do we need to create something useful? Can't we just stop trying this and just put something beautiful out there?” From the way it was asked I can almost feel what it means. We have probably all asked ourselves something similar in one moment or another. And it is unlikely that we have come to a final answer that doesn't consider what exactly we're trying to do. This question deserves to be discussed in a wide circle of people as there will be many opinions. And it is interesting to see what everyone thinks about it.
I can only share my own opinion here, but I fear that it won't be perfect. If you are ready for this, then go on. Please, find some time to share yours in the comment area too.
We can create beautiful things that don't have to be useful. Many things that exist today are beautiful, but not very useful. This is art. Art fulfills a personal goal as an expression of our own personality, creativity or unique perspective. Art is impressive, inspirational, sometimes even life-changing. It shows us that we can and that we can more and better. It helps us find ourselves during the moment of action, it helps us reinvent ourselves and redefine what we are. Art gives us the impulse to go forward in hard moments, and since such moments are part of our lives, it is well needed. Art can get us moving. Discussing usefulness of art is pointless, because it's inherently useful enough for what it does with our personality. Art doesn't need to be directed at the masses; it can be an act of love to a single person. It doesn't feel right to measure the usefulness of love. Art can be beautifully irrelevant.
When we start to think of usefulness, we enter the area of design and engineering. There is nothing wrong with this too, but it goes beyond the self and our immediate needs/wants. It's a form of self-sacrifice, which makes it more valuable. We are trying to solve other people's problems, not just amuse them. When we do something, we always view it from their perspective. Usefulness is defined on their side and we need to involve them in order to understand what this means. Design relies on a specific domain knowledge and by improving our understanding of a problem we have, we are able to help other people better (in their own context). Usefulness is the main goal of design and it's not correct to call something design unless it is of use to others. Design is about relevance, one that isn't necessarily beautiful. It can extend art by making it more useful, but this is often hard to achieve.
In our work we can combine art and design to use their best advantages, while compensating for their disadvantages. If we're not living a life of highest service, we're likely misusing our potential. Seeking to design and not just create art can help us derive more satisfaction from the closer contact with the people around us. Designers are made happy by the people they make happy.