The science of why we love beautiful things

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

There are some designs that are so interesting, our brain makes us instinctively reach out to touch them. This melding of science and design reminds me of an article I read about how Angelina Jolie's (obvious) beauty is also scientifically proven to be appealing to humans--something about the distance between her eyes and symmetry in her features. 

If you're interested in the science of design, the New York Times published a post in their Grey Matter column called "Why We Love Beautiful Things" by Lance Hosey, chief sustainability officer of the architecture firm, RTKL. 

The article covers fractals, and if you've explored them at all, you'll realize that nature buffs and mathematicians alike can agree on the primal power of repetitive and seemingly perfect shapes and patterns. I worked with a designer who created a logo based on fractals, and it was an incredible success.

I'd venture to guess that one of the most common causes of burnout in creative fields is the lack of objectivity. That's why it's critical that writers, designers, and their advocates collect this type of scientific ammo that can be used to guide discussions about creative work toward a more objective solution.

Also, what you might consider instinct is actually the product of years of study and analysis. So if you find a solution to a problem in minutes, that doesn't prove that the creative process requires less time, it means your constant study of your craft helped you get to a solution sooner. You did the time, you simply got a head start.

Also, you might want to paint some rooms green! 

And how does that make you feel?

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

It should be at the top of your bulleted list. The bolded sentence in your brief. The "key takeaway" from your kick off meeting. The one thing the brand team agrees on:

Design should make you feel something.

There have been a lot of debates lately over what design should actually do (or be rewarded for doing). Of course, Steve Jobs' life and recent death reminded us all of the importance of giving design a seat in the boardroom. (And kinda late to the game Pepsi just added a Chief Design Officer to their staff, saying, "We firmly believe design and design thinking is a significant vector of innovation and therefore growth.") Pentagram's Paula Scher recently declared her disdain for Justified, AIGA's awards competition that rewards measured results instead of purely recognizing design (or using words like "beauty, creativity, surprise, innovation, and inspiration" in the description of the award).

I volunteer with several different non-profits, and we need design help from time to time. I am currently helping one of these groups revise their logo to better reflect who they are now, versus the logo they adopted during their origins as a sort of start-up. When you work with groups like this, it's important to remember that no one is getting paid, time is money and brand is something you have to beg, borrow or steal to make happen. I want to make sure the designer is treated as well (or better) as he would be at his day job. And I want to make sure the group's members understand the design process. So I tell them that a logo can't do everything. It can't answer most marketing questions. It can't describe the mission statement. It can only make people feel something. It can also provide a bit of meaning through context or concept.

Feeling vs. thinking

This post is very focused evoking emotion and feeling something. I also value strategy, collaboration and results. It's just that if you start off with cardboard, you have to add A LOT of sauce to make it edible. What is the point of design (and writing) if not to make you feel something? It is more fun to feel.

If I feel it, I will react. If I think too much about it, I might not.

I want to see more of this and this and this. Even this. (And this, which is the theme song for this blog post and is also almost NSFW, BTW. D'Angelo sure can make you feel something.)


Ask why. Then ask again. And again. And again.

Posted on by Laura Hamlyn

Here. Let me give you my business card.


It tells you where I work. My title. My email and phone number. And you get a feel for my taste in design. You'll also find out whether I sweat the details.

For something I almost didn't go to the trouble to create, my business card has made a crazy amount of difference in my life. The picture of it, above, received more likes and comments on Facebook than some of my amazing photos of Paris/Bruges/Amsterdam. People who know me and see it say it suits my personality. People who don't know me comment on the "hey," colors and design as if they've never seen anything like it.

This was a small effort on my part. And it made a world of difference.

So why do we let things like business card design slide? Why don't we seize these opportunities to have fun, create and connect?

Compliance vs. asking why

I tend to fight the power. It's not that I don't follow the rules, I just can't easily settle. And really, do any of us truly want to take things at face value? We tend to fight the relevant battles, let the others slide, and move on. Business card design is a battle easily lost.

If you've ever taken a DISC assessment, you know what the "C" stands for. It's compliance, and I scored in the negatives in this category. (Those with a high C score go into the military or a related field.)

It's not that I want to be disruptive. It's that I naturally want to know why before I do anything. (That natural curiosity must translate as being non-compliant to the DISC assessment experts.) So, why share this personal information that could influence my next manager to thing twice before hiring me? To find out why creative opportunities are seized or missed.  

What if we let it slide? Will we regret not having a cool card? Or not having one at all? Why does it matter? What does a business card really say about us anyway? When I became a freelance/contract writer, I realized I didn't have a business card for the first time since grad school. So many of them are uninspiring anyway. What's the point?

The question meaning makers ask is "Why?" Then they ask it again and again until they find out what matters.

So channel your inner four-year-old and ask why with me:

I don't have a business card. Why?

I usually get them when I work for someone else. Why?

Hm. I really never thought of it this way. Why?

Because I'm so used to waiting to be issued one. Now I don't have to take whatever comes to me. I should make my own. Why?

Because, for the first time in my life, I can.

Okay, maybe the conversation didn't go this way, exactly. But the point is, in every way possible, if you want to find out why something really matters, ask why. And keep asking until you get to a point where you make a realization you've never made, or see a path that wan't on your map yesterday.

In every way possible, if you want to find out why something really matters, ask why.

And do you see how you could substitute a product brief for a business card in the above example? If someone gives you a task, or a half-baked marketing plan, start asking why.

I love my card. Why? It makes me laugh. Why? It tells you who I am without trying too hard. (Etc.)

P.S. Scout's honor: This was published way after I wrote my "why" post.

P.P.S. So was this.