January 9th, 2009

A few tenets of Metabolism, maybe one tenet of Essentialism

Rick Banister
In 1977 the Centre Georges Pompidou opened in Paris. The design of a museum had not previously been approached with such an inverted set of goals: accommodate the public first, then consider the art. The museum was an immediate success as a social institution, an inviting and unpretentious place to engage in art. The chilly distance between viewer and work had been removed conceptually, it seemed to lack all proverbial velvet ropes.

Its success derives from a fusion of its functions and aesthetics. You could say it's a naked museum, there is no façade, there are no stone columns, there are no imposing Rocky stairs. It is a seven-story metal matrix, wrapped in weaving colorful tubes that contain all the buildings life systems (electric, water, waste). That's where Metabolism comes in—approaching the museum, you get to see its guts. This novelty has a warming effect on visitors, a trip to the conceptual art museum feels more like a trip to the how-things-work museum, engaging curiosity.

So—here comes the segue—what an interesting approach to designing everything, show them how it works and they'll want to know more. People often call what we do here at P'unk Ave "minimalist," but I'm going to be nitpicky and call it "essentialist." And since that name sounds stodgy, I will not refer to it again. Minimalism implies reducing things until they avoid literal interpretation and take on poetic/interpretive meaning. "These three fluorescent lights represent the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, clearly." We would rather do design that invites curiosity, gets people exploring, and reduces all those pesky barriers to entry.

We rarely use "design elements" in the way museums have columns and stairs and two-thousand pound front doors. We like our buttons to be round so you feel obligated to click them. We try to make it damn clear where in the site you currently are. We have a "please touch" section in many of our sites where users get to contribute. Marketing sites have no excuse to be static these days and museums should stop shushing.

Above represents the entire /images folder of a site we recently completed. There are little more than icons, buttons, and arrows (and some rounded corners to keep things friendly). We feel it's possible to use very little, an essential amount perhaps, and still manage to create something friendly and useful.

The Centre Pompidou draws a crowd every day, coming for the art, coming to stare at the building. The public always feeling engaged in the experience, less a faceless part of the throng, that's what the Louvre is for.
Check out another article
January 8th, 2009
The Invention of Air
January 7th, 2009