This post describes briefly the third of four response modes, which I use as
a model in evaluating, studying, designing and guiding aesthetic
compositions. The text is taken from notes and excerpts from my "Ennobling
Points" and again I hope the assemblage here does not contain too many breaks
in flow to make the points reasonably clear. Two previous posts described
Intrinsic Symbols and Cultured Symbols. This one is an introduction to
The third way we respond to our visual environment is through a human
sensorial reaction process I term as "Bio-Kinetics". This is the most
difficult of the four processes to explain. One of the reasons is that its
effects are the least perceptible consciously, particularly by the untrained
eye, yet the effects of those actual influences are equal to or greater than
all of the other three response modes.
There are other paradoxical characteristics of Bio-Kinetics as well. It
usually is the most heavily used design tool by artists, designers and
architects, yet its actual working methods are rarely discussed, quantified
and perhaps understood. Often, the basis of its influences are passed off as
opinion or fluffy aesthetic justifications, yet its foundation is instead
objective and essentially medical in nature. Also, access to the Bio-Kinetic
library of tools, like those used in the initial stages of music composition,
art and design, is usually through intuitive "flow" rather than through
rational steps of reasoning. Yet the workings of this influencing process
can be synthesized into working parts, like musical scales and notes, to
foster study and evaluation to help understand its nature.
There are two key benefits in understanding bio-kinetics: First, an
understanding of the science of bio-kinetics can help those on the team of
facility design, development and management to better participate, cooperate
and guide the creation, support and maintenance of the reactions and
influences which the facility (or environment) is charged to generate. And,
with some discernment of the other three response modes, we can better
differentiate between a poor design and a successful one - on paper (on
screen) and ahead of constructing the facility.
As a term, Bio-Kinetics is created to illustrate both a process and a complex
visual digestive system supporting human responses through biological
reactions (bio) to movement (kinetics). Some derivation notes from the
American Heritage Dictionary may be helpful. Bio, as meaning Life, Living
organism, (Greek bios, life) is used to signify influences upon our being,
our life biologically. Kinetic (Greek kinetikos, as moving and kinein, to
move) of, relating to, or produced by motion is used to signify the "engine"
in this response process, movement. Bio, may also imply Bi as two, (defined
also a variant of bio), bi as occurring twice, (Latin bis, twice) Under the
category of perception
humans do in a sense, see twice, once as it appears,
as we are influenced (such as in an optical illusion). Bi also
infers two, as two eyes
the use of which enables us to perceive depth. This
is the general basis behind this response process; bi, bio and kinetics.
Bio-Kinetics is the process of connecting eye-movement, and/or one's own body
movement (kinetics) through space, with internal responses (bio). It is
separate from symbolic perception. It becomes or follows the motions of
sight and converts the "ride" into a treasure of visual experiences and
meaning. The continuous optical flight path of the observers eyes is
kinetic, navigating by involuntary instinct, guided by form, light, color,
texture and other elements which influence sight, from one visual receptive
point to the next, from one column to the next, from the direction of one
wall "looking at" another. And, on and on...until the design sequence
concludes as planned, or falls apart. This is the inherent melody of
aesthetics. How we react to that adventure is the bio connection.
Bio-Kinetics is a very profound ingredient in the visual experience. When
our body is also in motion, such as when following a circular walk around a
tree, as mentioned earlier in our walk in the park, our own motion, with that
of our eyes, is also bio-kinetic.
A simple example of bio-kinetics in action may be demonstrated through the
selection and perception of fonts. Here is a simple example. Imagine two
instances of the letter "T" on your computer screen (or on paper). Set the
font size at 36 or larger, so that you can easily see the design of the
individual letters. Select and type the first letter T, on the left of the
screen, as a simple non-serif T, like a simply vertical rectangle (bar) with
a horizontal rectangle across the top. No fancy serifs on the endings. This
font style would be similar to Arial, or Helvetica. No frills, just simple
Now, select a second font example, on the right side of your screen, as other
"T", but this time, select one with serifs on both ends of the cross bar at
the top, and on the bottom of the vertical member. It's a fancier "T", much
like Times New Roman, or Bookman, or Century Schoolbook.
Now consider: Which "T" is easier to read?
There have been many objective studies done on this subject. Reading speeds
and comprehension levels using different fonts have been measured. This is
important to publishers and advertisers, because advertisements and
publications which are difficult to read, reduce their income. Good fonts,
to publishers and advertisers are fonts which we can perceive easily and thus
quickly. And, the answer to this question, the distinction of which general
font designs succeed here, does not vary among educational levels, or income
groups, or opinions. It is simply an objective fact.
If you guessed that the serif fonts are easier to read, such as Times New
Roman, etc., you are correct. Even though the other font is simpler in form,
it is harder to read. If you wish verification of this, pick up any number
of books on the art and science of font design, and you will see
documentation and confirmation of this well known fact in the publishing
world. Serif fonts are perceived more quickly and clearly than non serif
fonts. Now, two important questions for us. Why? And, what might this have
to do with bio-kinetics and facility design?
Close your eyes for a moment and determine (by feeling) the shape of your
computer monitor, or your desk. Go ahead and try it, then open your eyes.
Remember how you rubbed your fingers across the edges several times, feeling
its most extreme change in surfaces? Do it again to verify this. What you
did was searching with your fingers to determine change. Remember how much
time you spent on those edges in comparison with the time along the surfaces?
Understanding the edges is important in perception. We do the same with our
eyes. We spend more time on the edges. A serif is a purposeful
"over-design" of an edge to exaggerate that there is a change in direction,
or surface plane. Serifs help us to spend less time on the edges, because it
confirms quickly that there is a definite change here. Thus we can proceed
faster. And read faster. A serif is a bio-kinetic font edge tool.
Relating this to architecture, consider the edges of forms, cornices, roofs,
plazas, etc. Often the mistake is made in equating the use of serifs with
symbolic representations of the capitals on columns. Yet, the exact reverse
is true. Capitals instead are bio-kinetic expressions of "how a column ought
to end" just like they are on fonts, bell towers, fence posts and many many
other architectural elements. The visual "need" for such "help at the edges"
is timeless and will never change unless our vision characteristics change
substantially. The specific design within that bio-kinetic blob on the edges,
along the eye's travel path, is where symbols often come into play. Two good
examples, of course are Greek and Roman column orders. The symbols are
decorations of the edges. The design need here, which is satisfied by
capitals, is bio-kinetic.
You can see this in action. Look for bio-kinetic influences in your
environments and how we perceive elements of buildings and the landscape.
Are your perceptions essentially bio-kinetic, or symbolic? Both? Consider
particularly unpleasant views. Are they bio-kinetically uncomfortable? Does
the eye's path remain in concert along the way
to an appropriate resting
place (for a brief moment)? Or instead does the path fall apart, leaving
your eyes wandering? Notice particularly bothersome areas, as your eye
movement paints the volume of spaces, or skips from element to element,
pausing at edges, and then is guided to move on, to a planned next point.
What's happening to your eye movement there? Does it sing? Or is it more
like a cellular phone, out of range? Then, visit a building or place you
adore. What happens here?
C.P.Highfill © 8/1/99