Everything in its right place

I'm dramatically influenced by the arrangement of my environment. I have a pretty high threshold for disorder, but there is a point that I snap, and then the piles of paper or books have to at least be pushed over to some kind of subconscious grid in order for me to feel calm. I only grew aware of this neurosis in the last couple of years and it's actually been a asset because it's a "lever" I pull to give myself some sanity when things are hectic.

I've wondered if this is simply a trait of a visual designer. That maybe we are good at what we do simply because we are compelled to bring balance to what we see— our skills are honed because we have this subconscious, heightened sensitivity. Jane Fulton Suri and I explored these sensibilities in an article for Rotman last year and now science is helping me understand it more fully.

I've been collecting articles about how our bodies and senses are inextricably connected. For example there is a study that found artificial sweeteners may confuse our body's metabolism because we taste sugar; sweetness is a signal to the brain to start metabolizing and if it's not actually there the body begins doing things it shouldn't. There has also been a great deal of research into how our facial expressions cue our our own empathy. When we respond to someone with a smile we feel happy. If we see their sadness, and we respond with a furrowed brow, we then share their concern. People with Botox treatments have difficulty with empathy because their facial muscles can't move properly to spur concern.

Yesterday my wife sent me an article about embodied cognition. Scientists at Yale are learning how objects influence our interactions and emotions. For example, people with warm drinks are judged to be more caring than people with cold drinks, or holding a heavy clipboard causes a worker to take his job more seriously than if holding a light clipboard.

I think there is plenty of evidence that our craft and, perhaps our neurosis, has more to do with things than meets the eye. Personally, this is a challenge to become more articulate about the physical and sensual properties we bake into our designs. We are queuing instinctual, emotional responses through our creations in addition to order, clarity and function. It's putting everything in its right place visually, physically and emotionally.