Beauty and the Brain: Neuroesthetics and Web Design

Imagine your favorite painting. Think about the details, colors, lighting and texture.  Allow yourself to experience the emotions this work of art evokes within you.  Did you know when we look at beautiful art the brain is stimulated and we feel a sense of reward? This feeling of reward encourages us to further enjoy what we’re viewing. This is good news for anyone who wants to be remembered on the web.  If your business has a truly interesting web site (artistic) then those who stop to view your site will do more than stop and view it – they will savor and favor it. Real art gets the world’s attention.   Let’s take a look at what it is which makes one design artistic and another one simply layout.

Specifically, what is it about art that interests the brain?

A legitimate artist knows how to intelligently use contrast, closure, continuance, and symmetry. The brain savors contrast which is changes in light, shadow, and color, preferring contrast over a homogeneous look. Contrast focuses our attention. The brain is also rewarded by the clever use of closure. In using closure the artist subtly leaves out portions of the design so the brain gets to complete it.  Closure allows the viewer to further imagine and immerse himself in the design.  Continuance, another important brain pleasing art strategy, directs the eye, leading the viewer on a journey of appreciation. Lastly, balance both symmetrical and asymmetrical (asymmetrical being the most interesting to the brain) is a required component of stunning art. Asymmetrical balance can be achieved through contrasting larger objects with several smaller ones as well as the careful use of shadow/darkness/richness and light.

Brain rewarding web design is art.

Yes, the restaurant web site design shown above is beautiful and yes, it pleases and interests every viewer.  Can you see the exquisite contrast, closure, continuance, and balance in it?  Oz2 Art Director Rick Brady shares the methods behind his talent, “When you look at the LaCucina site you perceive a depth in your mind that isn’t really there. Closure is subliminal – there’s arching, a stucco wall, beyond that there is the sense of the restaurant itself.  Everything is created in planes. The image which projects the view back into the restaurant is in the background, with a very soft focus and next is the first layer of interaction. The cards and bottles are active buttons which are seemingly on a shelf in the middle ground. The main buttons are in the foreground.”

“Darkness and light as well as soft focus give this piece depth and vibrancy. The colors I used – ochers and golds – have been long associated with stimulating hunger.  I even used textures which are present in the restaurant itself.  I think the success of La Cucina’s web site is everyone who visits the site says there is a feel for the restaurant right there on the web.”  Brady also offers the following suggestion: “The last thing anyone should do when designing for a restaurant is regurgitate a web 2.0 layout with glossy buttons and standard modules/columns. We’re trying to generate interest and hold attention here. Brain rewarding, interest generating web design requires art.”

Art vs. Layout > Art wins!

Above, one can see the obvious difference between layout and art. The “before” site, on the left, exemplifies a homogenous look.  Oz2 Art Director Rick Brady explains, “When you look at the “before” example the first thing that stands out is the yellow machinery at the bottom. The logo is lost in the design. Everything is lost in this. It’s muddy, dull, uninviting, and a perfect example of what doesn’t work in web or print. Uninspiring.”

Take a look at the “after” visual.  Stambaugh Metal’s new web site features stunning contrast and continuance using color variation behind the logo with a subtle spotlight effect and horizontal lines leading the eye first to the logo and then downward to the navigation buttons.  Shape, color, and light create a unique balance.   Brady explains, “Stambaugh Metal came to us because their logo, print materials, and web site weren’t cutting it.  I started with the redesign of their logo, finding a look they could use flexibly within their different areas of business. From the beginning one can see their new logo conveys that they deal with metals.  The blues, blacks, golds, and silver are masculine. Metal plate is used in the background and all of these features were carried into all of their materials including their brochure, signs, and business cards. Businesses need to convey an experience to the viewer in order to stop them in their tracks and evoke a feeling. This is not accomplished by slapping a logo across the banner of a site. Even more interesting, Stambaugh Metal’s new look creates a feeling of pride in the employees themselves.”

Follow your gut.

Today, the internet is the premiere place to market your business to the world. What an opportunity! Handing this amazing opportunity to touch the minds and hearts of your client base to someone who only understands layout is wasteful and foolish.   Remember, if you hire a “designer” who follows a layout standard, then layout is what you will get.  Instead, follow your gut because every brain is stimulated and rewarded by art. Look at what you will get. Do you feel rewarded?  If you have an award winning artist, like Oz2’s Rick Brady by your side, you have the opportunity to offer a powerful, memorable digital experience, one that rewards the viewer and inspires her appreciation and loyalty.

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About Catherine Lockey

Catherine Lockey @oz2designs | oz 2 designs LLC

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18 Responses to Beauty and the Brain: Neuroesthetics and Web Design

  1. Rob Loughran April 20, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Great stuff. I forwarded it to my daughter at UCSD who is studying graphics and web design.

  2. Dan Wise April 21, 2010 at 7:24 am #

    I whole-heartedly agree. Art Rules! I try to incorporate artistic composition in my Garden Designs. Perhaps my self-designed web site could use some improvement.

  3. Catherine Lockey April 21, 2010 at 10:40 am #

    Thanks for visiting and for your comment Dan. I figured you’d have an eye for art!

  4. Abhijeet April 22, 2010 at 1:47 am #

    Your thoughts here weave a strong fabric between Art and Layout. This is a real eye-opener for many upcoming new-media designers across globe. Many thanks for this enlightening and in-depth insight on design fraternity.

  5. Catarina Alexon August 28, 2010 at 10:04 am #

    Agree with you. People leave a dull looking website. When you are selling your services/products you really have to stand out. However, in my opinion you still have to keep it simple. If it’s to messy people will leave because of that.

  6. Darwin Web Design September 9, 2010 at 11:35 am #

    Interesting post. Being creative and artistic is a great way to attain a design that will stand among the rest. People love to see beautiful and new things. Having a unique and beautiful design can attract visitors to stay longer to your site.

    Thanks,

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