Thursday, March 10, 2011

Order and Chaos

One of the objectives of good design is to create something aesthetically appealing.  Aesthetic appeal does not necessarily mean beauty in the traditional sense---so appeal could be awkward, or even "ugly," if it strikes the right chord and your audience likes the result.  That said, there is an element of beauty to every great design, even when "ugly" is the purpose.
Purpose, premise, and story are intuitive (but not necessarily automatic) parts of the appeal equation, because most people can sense when a story is interesting, or when a premise is new, or when a personality resonates with them.  But what about all these seemingly arbitrary rules about the visual relationships of lines, shapes, and colors?  Are these universal rules or something that is a product of our art culture?
My answer (and this is a working hypothesis so feel free to chime in) is that while the current trends in visual design aren't universal, the thing driving those trends is.  The universally appealing law underlying the use of design principles is the age-old conflict between order and chaos.

Order versus chaos is a fundamental struggle of the universe.  Creation struggles against entropy, explosive stars struggle against gravity, life struggles against plague and famine.  Convection, which life on earth depends on, is the byproduct of systems seeking stasis, but the result is incredibly chaotic.

Original file here
Order and chaos are also a fundamental human struggle.  We seek stasis in our lives, but then we're not happy for long once we achieve it.  This is one of the major forces driving industry, war, and politics---people, societies, and countries endlessly striving against each other either in the attempt to reach a sense of security or to sate their dissatisfaction with the security that they enjoy.

I believe this is what makes great designs appeal to something deep inside us.  When something is too ordered it becomes boring, but when it's too chaotic it's overwhelming.  This struggle is such an integral part of life that when a design balances this struggle in a way that parallels what we experience in nature, it can resonate with us in the same way that a great story can.

The idea of order vs. chaos has a huge variety and depth of application in design and painting, so that's what I'm going to talk about in the next series of posts.


  1. It's amazing how everything is connected and related like this. There's so much to consider. Can't wait for the next post!

  2. wow, your right, this is a cool subject

  3. Anonymous6:41 PM

    Everything moves towards an increase in entropy.

    What is truly mind boggling is how we keep things from being in constant choas.

  4. Very interesting initiave to speak about key theories in beauty and design. I'm waiting for the next

  5. Very timely post! I'm working on a big design project at the moment, so thank you.

    I think you can be even more specific when measuring what makes an appealing design (as I'm sure you will be in your next post). A drawing of the human figure that shows an understanding of its structure will almost always be appealing to a human, for example.

  6. Contrast is the spice of life! Very cool and complex topic. Thanks for illuminating us. Im interested in hearing more.

  7. People think that balance is static. Of, course, it's not. Balance fairly hums with potential energy and chance. Every moment, things tip one way and have to be dragged back, only to tip the other way. They say that underlying the chaos of physics is another order, on at once so large and so tiny that we, going from our human experience of physics, can't possibly "understand" (does that mean we can't predict things?).

    The word "interest" suggests that things in motion or evolution or transit catch our eyes and make us think. There is, I think, never true stasis. I do enjoy patterns, and I like them to underlie the surface changes. And I like the ground to stand still. But everything around us and in us is dynamic. Perhaps, then, we should find peace more interesting - or perhaps paintings and stories of peace are just like balance - interesting because we know they won't last.

  8. Can't wait to read more!

  9. I just watched a great Korean movie last night called, "The Good, The Bad, and the Weird". One of the characters in the movie, about 2/3rds the way through ("The Good" character), says that life is always about the chase; everyone is chasing something but once you attain it, you will be chased by something, and then you will begin to chase something else in reaction to that.

    Order and chaos, viewed another way! :)

  10. Love it! I can't wait to read more!

  11. Anonymous1:34 PM

    Want to read more.


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