A biologist recently asked me about the science behind graphic design. How many studies have been done? Where is the evidence? What are the quantifiable reasons behind the choices you make? Isn't it subjective?...

Well, gosh darn, it isn't!

It may be true that certain choices don't have factual evidence to back them up. For example, you wouldn't put a flashing LCD billboard in downtown Whitehorse, a town of 23,000 people. Not because it wouldn't command attention. But because many people living in the North prefer the visually quiet landscape of the natural environment to the loud skyline of a city filled with marketing. There’s no study to back this up. We know it because we live here too.

There is, however, a heap of scientific data that does inform a designer’s choices. Here are a few examples to give you an idea of the scope of thinking that goes into intelligent design.

Colour has considerable impact on human emotions.

Associations that accompany a colour – its hue, lightness and chroma – give a rationale for choosing a strong and reliable blue in corporate business card or a somewhat garish colour combination for a campaign about germs. Here's an interesting site all about colour emotion

People focus their eye on things that stand out.

Visual Hierarchy is the order in which most people will see and identify objects. Designers use size, colour, contrast, texture, shape, position, and orientation to lead the audiences’ focus through the hierarchy of importance on every design.

Eyesight degrades with age.

Commonly known but pertinent when designing a book on Grizzly Bear management that will be used by elders in Canada's north.

 

I'm out of time for writing, but biologists, take note: If scientific theory is meant to be disproven, and designers are experimenting with forms of communication constantly, then I'd say the science behind design is alive and evolving…. and best of luck to the analysts keeping up with our new ideas!

 

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