Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Spatial Design Analysis

Graphic design and spatial design—any place that people inhabit and interact with—have lots of similar considerations. With graphic design the "visitor" interacts with their eyes. In spaces the visitor interacts with all of their senses. And in both cases things are revealed or hidden as time elapses.

Skateparks are a great example of this overlap. The factors that visitors use to identify, use and enjoy the design are aligned.

• Visual
The appearance of the space helps visitors understand its purpose. Most people will recognize a park by its defining characteristics; trees, lawns, paths, and benches. In packaging, the appearance of the product (if its purpose can be identified by its form or container), or its attributes, (flavor, quality, or goal), helps the "visitor" identify the object and consider further interaction.

• Time (Movement)
Design for motion graphics and space present other people interacting with the product or space to help express its purpose and values. When you approach a space filled with curving, concrete forms and see people riding skateboards around it you understand that the space is a skatepark. When you see someone using a car in a television spot you can infer certain qualities about the car and the type of person who might desire it by watching those interactions. Time and movement are important cues.

• Text
Signage for space is a clumsy way of expressing a space. If a rule appears on a sign, for example, it often feels like a technicality and lacks relevance or seems perfunctory. Restaurants no longer need to present "no smoking" signs near their entrances yet many still do...and they are routinely ignored by non-smoking patrons. The sign serves to clutter the space and obscure other qualities that should be dominant.

• Smell
The most under-capitalized of the senses, smell can be useful for marketing restaurants and bakeries but have few counterparts in graphic design. (Scratch-n-sniff gimmicks and perfume pages don't really count.)

• Sound
Sound requires time and can be difficult to employ in traditional graphic design situations. It shouldn't be ignored as a contextual factor. Products that are used in particularly noisy or quiet environments can be expressed through visual cues. A family boardgame is generally played in a quiet, intimate environment and the marketing of these products often depict people interacting, having fun together, and becoming closer friends. These images don't tend to be "loud." Energy drinks, on the other hand, are marketed for people who need to be prepared for an exciting situation...and are justifiably "loud" by comparison.

• Tactile
Our sense of touch is particularly critical in packaging. In magazine marketing it is said that the chances a store patron will purchase a publication increases dramatically if they pick it up to get a better look. (Naturally they cannot buy the magazine if they don't pick it up so it's a critical development in the conversion from shopper to buyer.) In spatial design, textures are used to delineate the space into smaller parcels.

I believe it's helpful for graphic designers to consider spatial environments in graphic terms, (and vice versa). There are design epiphanies just waiting to happen.