PreRamble: As a designer, writer and lover of beautiful things, I was drawn to the recent article by architect and author, Lance Hosey titled “Why We Love Beautiful Things.” In it, Hosey gives some interesting perspective on the art and science of good design, citing the influences of brain chemistry and primal wiring.
“Brain scan studies reveal that the sight of an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement. Instinctively, we reach out for attractive things; beauty literally moves us.”
It appears that we are also drawn to good design in the same way. Advances in the “science of design” indicate that color, form and pattern are all calibrated to appeal to human perception in specific ways …
Color. Exposure to certain colors can ellicit different responses. German researchers, for example, have discovered that viewing shades of green – the color of “food-bearing vegetation,” hence nourishment — can boost creativity and motivation.
“Workers with a view of the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those without, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee.” (If your office doesn’t look out on lush flora or fauna, consider a nice wall mural that incorporates green.)
Form. Turns out that the unique proportions of the “golden rectangle” (shown below) – the underlying structure for renown designs like the Parthenon, the Stradivarius violin and the original iPod — are preferred and commonly found in the shape of our books, television screens and credit cards.
“In 2009, a Duke University professor demonstrated that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle … it’s the ideal layout of a paragraph of text, the one most conducive to reading and retention. This simple shape speeds up our ability to perceive the world.”
Pattern. Fractals — seemingly irregular edges of geometric shapes — occur “virtually everywhere” in nature … along coastlines … in snowflakes … leaf veins, etc. Physicists have found that people prefer a specific mathematical density of fractals — “not too thick, not too sparse.”
“The theory is that this particular pattern echoes the shapes of trees, specifically the acacia found on the African savanna, the place stored in our genetic memory from the cradle of the human race.”
Hosey notes that the random splatter paintings of American artist, Jackson Pollock, conform to the optimal fractal density of about 1.3 on a scale of 1 to 2 from void to solid. Apparently, humans respond so dramatically to this pattern “that it can reduce stress levels by as much as 60 percent — just by being in our field of vision.”
The Take-Away: These are just a couple great examples of how art and science come together to inform and impact our human experience. Go ahead and impact your human experience with a multi-faceted, stress-relieving break right now –- behold the golden rectangle of optimal fractal density in the work of Jackson Pollock, above.
(Disclaimer: Ok — the Pollock isn’t quite a golden rectangle, but who am I to crop the work of LIFE Magazine 1949 designated “greatest living painter in the United States”? … If you look hard enough, you can find a few threads of green though.)