Aesthetic passion

OK it’s not that I am what you may call “passionate” about this topic, but I have been embroiled in a research paper over the past couple of weeks with a friend of mine here at UBC. I find it quite interesting, and have written on it before, so I thought for our “free-for-all” post this week, I would share a little bit about what we have been up to here in Vancouver.

Essentially what we are doing is writing a literature review for a study that we are never going to complete. All grads at SLAIS have to complete a course in social research methods (yee haw, I know) and our term project is a literature review and research design for a “study” which we won’t do (because of time constraints, and the small fact that really this should be a thesis). The saving grace is that you can work with a partner. This may be a curse depending on who you know. I got lucky.

What we are studying is the visual aesthetic elements of blogs and how they affect users’ perception of the “purpose” of the blog. This entails researching not only the effects of aesthetic design elements on user perception, but also how those perceptions are influenced by the context of the interaction (i.e. reading a blog). Aesthetic elements of interface design are something I find very interesting, and was surprised to find that until fairly recently, around the year 2000, the study of interface design in the field of Human-Computer Interaction (HCI) had not included many subjective elements like aesthetics, and was instead focused mainly on the more objective design, such as usability (i.e. efficiency, measurable ease-of-use, etc.).

The other aspect of our research is a bit more related to this class, in that we have had to investigate a proper definition of blogs as a “genre” on the Web. Aside from that, we will endeavor to break that genre down into visual parts: a blogroll here, a heading there. This is really the forte of my partner, but it has been very interesting to try and classify such a broad area of the Web–blogs–into a single, visual entity. This is going to be a challenge moving forward as we set out to design a study that tackles these issues.

I find this topic particularly intriguing because I have always been interested in art and artists; that personal interest translates professionally into the world of visual information design and interaction. Likewise, I have an interest in the Web, and how people use it to accomplish so many varied tasks. Understanding what dictates someone’s perception of a certain blog is a very tricky thing to figure out, but we are hoping it comes down to visual design.

If you’re still reading, do you have any insights for us as we move forward in this endeavor? Can you identify what visually separates a personal blog different than a news blog? How about a Canadian blog from one based in Dubai? (All of those were weblog award winners, if you’re curious.) If anyone is super motivated, I can point you to about 8 million articles on the topic, most of which will be available through your local library database collection.

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4 thoughts on “Aesthetic passion

  1. This topic of Visual Aesthetics is very fascinating. In my mind, it translates into the programming that my almost-4 year old is drawn to on television. It seems that alot of research goes into what shapes, colors, and actions are attractive to toddlers. I’ve heard Sesame street dones tons of research testing out how toddlers react to different images. In the past month, my son has “graduated” from a channel called noggin, lots of animals,pastels, piano music programming to “superhero” programming found on other stations. I wonder why the change in his visual aesthetics. Why are large, loud, brightly colored, fast moving creatures much more appealing to him now?

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  2. Great subject Daniel. My personal 2 cents are as follows1. A personal blog has somehow more visual space to it, a news one is usually crowded.Even the examples you list, the news blog has columns that mimic a newspaper. A personal blog will be more spread out with may be iamges which are soothing. News blogs usually make me sit up , because I somehow sense they need more than a lesiurely attitude.2, A canadian or a west based blog will differ from middle eastern in terms of color selection.The blog you used as example(Dubai) is as you can see, very plain. One thing I notice about websites(can’t say surely about blogs) is that sites related to the middle eastern world almost always have their Arabic or farsi script somewhere.Maybe a blog will have the transliteration enabled for Arabic/Persian.

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  3. You write that you were surprised that Visual Aesthetics became a research focus only after 2000. One reason is that the “lower hanging fruit” had been researched and had become “crowded spaces” and this was a good area to expand into if one was interested to distinguish oneself as a researcher. A further, may be more important reason, “aesthetics” is a complex concept and thus more difficult to study in a quantitative way.In terms of the visual aesthetics of blogs, how important is it that ready-made design templates are easily available? Work is required to create a “unique look” and it is worthwhile investment if the blog plays an important role in the creator’s life: for how many blogs is this the case?In comparison to web pages, blogs represent a simplified design space since posts are presented in a linear fashion. So the aesthetic decisions center mainly on how typography and images are used to create a visual look. What would you consider blogs that reside on opposite sides of the spectrum of aesthetic decisions that can be made?

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  4. Great topic! How would you classify this blog? Does it have a more personal design, or did you choose a layout with the class project in mind? As for your questions:1. I think that news/corporate blogs tend to be sparsely designed, with a focus on content. The New York Times blogs (particularly “City Room”) are a good example. Personal blogs tend to reflect the personality of the author through more vibrant designs, photos and widgets. 2. I wonder how the difference in technology available would visually impact blogs from different countries. The Dubai blog seems to be from Blogspot, while the Canadian blog looks to be independently coded.

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