26 October 2005

To hold people's attention, think like a gardener

Do you communicate formally or informally?

When you give a talk, is it highly structured and laid out in formal blocks, like a city? Or is it an untamed wilderness; a confusing tangle of references?

What about your website?

How about your work environment? What does it communicate?

Rigid formality has its uses, and so does wilderness. But Mark Bernstein of Eastgate Systems, in a beautiful essay on hypertext, suggests that we take some lessons from the architecture and landscape design when we communicate.

To get and hold that most precious commodity, attention, he says, we need to design our communication as if it were a garden -- an experience that is thoughtfully designed and meant to be enjoyed. Bernstein has designed a delightful hypertext garden which I invite you to visit. It rewards lingering.

One of the beauties of a garden is that you can enter it at any point. Here are some of the topics you might find as you explore:

The virtue of irregularity
Artful combination of the regular and irregular; awakening interest and holding attention.

Shapes of space
Crafted and pruned; rhythms with natural pauses.

The promise of the unexpected
Fluid pathways with side trails; old things in new and unexpected contexts.

Gates and signposts
Assurance that the visitor is safe; an invitation to enjoy the designer's art.

Repetition signals the designer's intent; combined with variance in artful ways, it can delight.

Establishing order
Parks gain stability through monuments; they become formal frames and gateways to enjoyment.

Statuary and follies
Structure in unexpected places.

I hope I have whetted your appetite enough that you want to enter the garden.

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