Friday, July 13, 2007

Being a Bower Bird

I’ve been in my apartment for almost a year now and I’ve just gotten to look the way I want.Art is hung on the walls, my books are arranged, my bed has coordinating colored sheets.The whole place acts as unified design in color, texture and form.During this aesthetic cultivation it struck me how visual humans are as an animal.I simply could not feel comfortable in a place that did visually “vibe” with me.

Lest we dismiss this observation as me being a snotty art-kid, consider what visual beings we are.The argument has been made that vision is the human’s primary sense – go without it for a day and that will be painfully clear.But we are also tremendously swayed psychologically by our vision, and specifically by design.

In nature there’s an animal called the Bower Bird.Part of their courting ritual is collecting items from the forest and arranging them in what can be described as a display area.The curious things about these items is that they’re typically a specific color (blue for instance) and their arrangement is purposeful in that if you were to pick up a Bower Bird’s blue flower and move it, the Bower Bird would pick it up and put it back in the spot it had originally intended it to occupy.The purpose of all this is not for fun – it’s to entice a female Bower Bird to come visit.It’s the animal world equivalent of designing for psychology.

So that brings me to the point of this blog – we can not deny, and indeed must embrace, the function of design as it pertains to psychologically influencing those who visit our website.Amazing though it may be, the design of your site will win a visitor over before they ever read your copy.You may have the best functioning website ever created, technically perfect to a T with the greatest database backing it up, but if it does not psychologically speak to your user no one will ever click “Join”.

A good designer will know how to draw your visitor in and get them to engage.Whether your goal is get members, build donations, or develop a community knowledge base your designer is the one who can reel those people in though their mastery of color, form, and intimacy with your mission. So take your time in the Design Phase. Ask your designer questions. And try not to balk when they ask for your past marketing (I know it's ugly, but it's part of your organization's design history) and understand that when we say "You really shouldn't put that big green box in the middle of your website, it will throw the balance of the whole design off" we're not being princesses about our design - we're just being good Bower Birds.
(originally posted 08/17/07 at

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

A little Kraut with your typeface?

One of the persistent diseases afflicting my brain has been "are you an art kid, or a scientist?" The seeming dichodomy of these two identities - the creative, eccentric artist and the logical, process-oriented, anal-rentive scientist has gotten me into a lot of trouble including and most especially the pursuit of competency in web design. In an environment ruled by code and pixels you might hesitate to imagine a weirdo who spent her time in art school decoupaging everything and covered in charcoal would find fufillment - BUT you need only look toward twentieth-century German and Austrian art and design to make sense of the madness.

Last weekend, accompanied by my favorite partner in crime, I visited the Neue Galerie in New York City. I fell in love with this museum purely by accident - I was lured into its book store by an entire wall populated with the work of Egon Schiele - and returned to visit the exhibits more thoroughly. The second floor hosts the works of decorative artists (Josef Hoffman, Koloman Moser and Dagobert Peche), architects (Jospeh Urban, Otto Wagner) and is peppered by the fine art of Gustav Klimt, Egon Schiele and Oskar Kokoschka to name a few. The third floor indulges the various movements of the early twentieth-century including the Blaue Reiter, The Bruke, the Bauhaus, the Neue Sachlichkeit and the applied arts from both Werkbund and Bauhaus.

If you are at all familiar with these works the relationship between this period of design aesthetic and web design is obvious. You need only glance over a list of typefaces to see the influence - Palatino and Optima by Hermann Zapf, Univers and Frutiger by Paul Rand, for instance. And we can credit Paul Rand and Josef Muller-Brockmann for the Bauhaus inspired minimalistic posters, logos and advertising.

So here's to the German and Austrian artists of the twentieth-century for making me feel better about fitting pixels in grids, obeying the golden rectangle, and getting a little weird! Please pass the 'kraut.
(originally posted 1/12/07 at