I saw a William Morris adage somewhere that read:
Have nothing in your home that you do know know to be useful or believe to be beautiful
... or feel to be utisful, as the case may be. The fact that it was crossstitched on an ugly wall-hanging or hard useless pillow was irony, not in any way lessening the lesson.
Utility can be glossed sometimes as functionalist beauty. A mechanical object, a garlic press, a bicycle, a typewriter, is satisfying not only in the impression it makes on your visual sense, but in the kinetic interplay of its working parts. Perhaps it is designed to work well with the body, even when you are focused on the task at hand your body thanks you.
a certain ineffable grace of design.
Elegance. Simplify. Simplify. Simplify. Gadgetry and gewgaws are not usually utisful. A cast iron pot is utisful. It is almost turned into a religion in those new magazines of "Simple Living" - full of full-color photos of handicrafts that can make your life more stylish, more earthy, more authentic. These magazines are not utisful. They are flash, decoy. But they speak to something that itches in the back of the homeowner's mind, juggling a cell phone, food processor, remote control, Christmas wish list. Burdened by overcomplexity.
I always wanted to be the one to whip the cream for strawberries. The manual egg-beater charmed me. It was a lesson in physics - force moves this way and then that, through gears. A little effort changes the form of some substance. It is magic different than little lights on a screen; magic of being able to influence the world directly.
Neo-functionalist beauty can be characterized as the proportion between total effort and utility. This isn't a sensory beauty, nothing that you would photograph and hang on your wall, but a cognitive beauty, one that programmers should recognize. It's not just the question of whether something is useful, functional, but whether what it does is worth the doing. It brings ethics into the selection of methods (for things you wouldn't imagine were ethical questions). It is through the question of neo-functionalist beauty that cars lose to bicycles, large corporations to workmanship, automated houses to traditional ones.
It's just a word, a made-up word. It's a shorter word than many manufactured ones, and it may not actually be utisful in itself because of the effort it would take to explain it to those who don't get it immediately. But any word can be the entry into ethics, into how one should live. Should we put up with ugliness in our lives, just because it is what there is? Need we get the newest and most feature-laden, or should we luxuriate in the simplicity of the clothesline, the sharp knife, the skateboard, the candle
illuminating with a light that has lit scenes for thousands of years?
What do the things we use say about us? How are we reflected in our surroundings?
not complex; not infolded or entangled; uncombined; not compounded; not blended with something else; not complicated; plain; unadorned; not given to artifice, stratagem, or duplicity; undesigning; sincere; true; unaffected; unconstrained; natural; inartificial; straightforward.