From interior furniture to packaging and from electronic devices to publishing, there is a trend in design where visual elements are shaped and inspired by the context and materials of a real natural environment. The so-called organic design has its roots in architecture and specifically the work of Frank L. Wright, who argued that form and function were one.
“[The organic approach] promotes harmony between human habitation and the natural world through design approaches so sympathetic and well integrated with its site that buildings, furnishings, and surroundings become part of a unified, interrelated composition”.1
At the core of the organic design there is not only a pervasive influence of natural surroundings but also a specific concern for the final user: if form follows function then objects are designed to be seen as truly respecful of the use they are suppose to satisfy. Also, a pure organic design promotes innovation: design forms should improve what was made in the past without rejecting its inspiration. This brings to the last principle: “the finished product as a unified whole, where every aspect of the design contributes to the final outcome”.2
With specific reference to web design, the organic approach consists in reproducing in a digital format the elements found on a natural environment, their shapes, colors and sometimes behaviours. We can try to distinguish an organic website by looking at some design elements:
If on one hand the organic approach has become a trend in web design, it can also add value in terms of functionality and innovation: the organic design can be used to improve the usability and the user experience with the website. This is particularly true when the goal is to promote a brand or sell a product.
As an example, e-commerce websites have the urgency to make products and services more appealing to the would-be buyer. Without surprise a popular selling strategy is to combine a beautiful, original layout with a relaxing, more intimate touch – a strategy adapted from the packaging industry. But there is a more hidden reason to explain why organic design matches very well with brand promotion.
By including portions of real life in a digital environment, products appear more natural and closer to the visitor since this reduces the gap between what it is familiar and what it is reproduced online. Either it is a vivid color on the background which resembles or imitate the nature or a real object used as a navigation icon, this can help making the user experience more personal. It also reminds us that websites are made by humans, though with the use of software.
“An increasing number of non-web media entertainment companies are using the web less as a place for frequently asked questions, and more as yet another way to brand their projects. In a sense, these branding web sites become like CD covers or movie trailers, just more interactive and thus more engaging.3
There are some design lessons that we can learn from the organic approach in order to make the online experience more familiar and engaging for the user.