The Aesthetics of Gardening
I recently started volunteering with Aeon as a property gardener. Aeon is an organization that provides high-quality affordable housing throughout the Twin Cities. Each of their properties has some sort of garden that needs tending throughout the summer - some small projects, others rather significant ones. The idea behind the property gardener is that you adopt a property and then care for the garden - plant, weed, water - the basics. The property that I've adopted is downtown St. Paul in Wacouta Commons Park. The park itself has several different spots where the local community plants gardens; the one I'm responsible for is pictured at left.
First impressions, and I don't blame you, might be:
- "It's small"
- "That's a garden?" or
- "It's on a street corner; who's going to notice it?"
And perhaps you're right. But before I throw in the towel and leave the pile of weeds well enough alone, let me argue that the aesthetics of an object or place strongly affect how people perceive it. Or to put it another way, I believe someone would rather live somewhere that looks out on a garden of flowers instead of a pile of weeds.
In a recent article on A List Apart, the author addresses this very topic and provides some reasoning behind the idea: aesthetics - how something looks will ultimately affect how and if people use it, understand it, and appreciate it. Entire books, in fact, have been written on the subject - not only does something have to work well, it should look nice as well. Concisely put, things that appeal to our senses establish a sense of trust, create a belief in their usefulness, and quite simply, make us feel good about them. We make use of what pleases our eye.
This idea of aesthetics was one of our motivating factors for redesigning MyLutherNet. The old version looked dated and had a cluttered interface that we felt strongly affected the usability of the system. We wondered what would happen if we cleaned things up and made it look fresher and more current.
And now, we're nearly one semester into the new design and I wonder if users feel any differently about MyLutherNet. Are they able to find things more easily; is it more user-friendly; do they accomplish tasks easier; has the new design changed general impressions of the system?
Have we, metaphorically speaking, pulled enough weeds to make room for some flowers?