Quantifying Design Aesthetics – My TEDxUND talk

A few years ago I started watching TED talks over the internet, mostly during lunch time.  The talks’ topics that I watched were mostly design, engineering, and art related.  When I learned that The University of Notre Dame was going to hold a TEDx event I applied to be a speaker, to share my research with the TEDx community.  After the selection process, I was one of the 19 speakers chosen!

The email read:

“We were very impressed with your ideas and your passion, and as such, we are officially inviting you to perform at TEDxUND 2014, to be held on January 21st, 2014, at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center…”

Then the preparation process started.  I had to explain my research in 12 minutes!  I’m just going to comment that once I understood that the purpose of the TEDx talks is to share ideas, it enabled me to focus only on the essential information needed. The organizers were very supportive giving speakers the tools needed to present on stage, which help me gain the confidence to stand in front of the TEDx audience.  The talk was streamed real-time and last week a recording of the presentation was posted on the TEDx Talks YouTube channel.  Here is my presentation:

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kABcNKa7Dk0

After the talk, I had a good time talking to people and answering questions.  The most common question was: Where was the “beauty” number of each wheel rim? For each of the wheel rims I only presented three quantified Gestalt principles but there were more. Nevertheless, they weren’t shown for simplicity; remember the goal was to share an idea, not to present years of research in 12 minutes.  To summarize the “beauty” number is a unit vector and its dimensions are equal to the number of quantified Gestalt principles.  With that said, if you really want a scalar number, then is just a matter of taking the Euclidean norm of the vector.

The second comment was regarding the complexity of the wheel rims and now looking at the video it seems like I passed these slides quickly so here you can see the two examples of wheel rims with similar complexity that were not shown in the youtube video (at 8:26).

Wheel rims with similar complexity

Wheel rims with similar complexity.

People didn’t ask me about the equations to quantify the Gestalt principles. I don’t know if it was because they were shown briefly; this was on purpose as time was limited.  I think that here it is appropriate to share that slide.

Summary Slide of Gestalt Principles Equations

This is just a summary and more information regarding the equations can be found at my webpage.

Lastly, I want to thank all the people from the University of Notre Dame that helped me prepare for the talk.  Also, I want to thank everyone from academia, industry and friends that have guided me through this research journey questioning, challenging and inspiring myself to do good research.

When we solve problems together, we don’t only solve them, we also create new knowledge together…

Casa Batlló Design

This house has over a hundred years, it is located in Passeig de Gràcia Avenue in Barcelona, Spain.  Antoni Gaudí and Josep Maria Jujol restored it.  Representing an organic style, it has oval windows in the front and as you enter, the lines of the staircase have a distinct natural course.

By means of evolution, nature has “optimize” its creation; for example bones are lightweight and strong, they are narrower at the center where forces only act in tension or compression and wider at the ends were they are subject to moments.

In nature, form and function combine in one. As I toured the house I observed that the organic shapes were not only visually appealing but also functional.  Nature, as the central theme, was spread all across the house. From the second floor and up, the window frames had vents that resembled the gills of a fish.

The tour guide explained that these vents were all over the house and that the ventilation of every room was “connected” to the adjacent rooms by these gills/vents.  Aside from recreating the respiratory system of a fish, it was actually recreating the respiratory system of the house.

Barcelona experiences very warm summers and cold winters, and closing or opening these gills, depending on the season, helped to maintain a good temperature.  Remember that at that time HVAC units were not around.

If you looked up from one of the first floor interior patios you would see that the windows were all of the same size and that the color of the wall was the same from top to bottom.  Then, as you went upstairs (that were on the side of the patio) you noticed that the size of the windows changed from floor to floor.  The lowest floor had bigger windows because it needed more sun, and as you went up the windows were smaller. You can ask, why the windows looked the same dimension? Cleverly, the frames of the windows were bigger thus creating the perception, from the first floor, that all were of the same size.  Suddenly, you noticed that the intensity in the color of the wall was changing between floors. The color took into account the gradient (the change in the amount) of sunlight to create the visual effect that the whole wall was of the same blue color.

I don’t have to mention that all these details and others impressed me, like the roof that had a room where you could line dry clothes even when raining, chimneys that were just part of a piece of art that involved recycled materials, and much more.

During my stay I visited other houses designed by Gaudí.  They shared the same design principles.  Obviously nature was his inspiration, but did he follow any method?  Most of these houses were built without blueprints.  What was his ultimate goal; make a functional or beautiful house, or both?  How is it that this house design is functional but at the same time aesthetic pleasing and environmental friendly?

Today, many products and artifacts lack of that blend that fuse aesthetics and functionality.  What is really the motivation behind product design today?

Note: First posted in personal web page August 3, 2010