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Pattern and complexity : psychophysical needs as determinants in the visual environment Dempsey, Nadine M.


This paper reports on a study carried out to explore some aspects of the relation of behavior to the physical context. It attempts to investigate the possibilities of psychophysical needs as determinants in evaluating and structuring the visual environment. For purposes of this study, signs in the context of the city were selected as specific elements of the visual environment which would be analyzed in terms of the research. Advertising, information, and identification signs were examined in terms of their function as design elements within the total visual image of the city, and as they could relate to perceptual and aesthetic processes. The intent of this paper was to establish a practical basis for a new approach to the structure of sign control in urban areas. The initial step was to outline the various theories relating to perception, to describe the perceptual process as it is generally understood, and to examine some of the complex variables which are operative in the processes of perception. Both physical and psychological factors combine in intricate relationships of inherent needs and capabilities as well effects of learning and experience. In addition, the relationship between aesthetics, or the formal elements of art, and basic psychophysical needs for pattern and complexity in visual stimuli were investigated. Material from the areas of psychology, biology, and design was explored in an attempt to bridge some of the many gaps which now exist between behavioral sciences, art and the planning of the visual environment. Finally, a proposed structure for a sign control by-law was developed which would provide a more comprehensive design basis than that which presently exists, and which in adoption, would be more consistent with the needs described in the processes of perception and aesthetic satisfaction. As a result of this study, it was concluded that within any given culture, broad similarities occur in the related processes of perception and aesthetic satisfaction. These two processes have both physical and cultural components, and learning and motivation seem to play large roles, as do the innate factors. The search for stimulus variability and complexity seems to be a basic incentive in human behavior. There is also evidence of an optimal perceptual rate within homogeneous cultures. Further research in order to develop adequate methodology to test optimal perceptual responses and level of satisfaction of the visual environment is essential. However, these psychophysical processes provide a more realistic and comprehensive basis for the evaluation of the environment. Development of a design framework which will allow the maxim of complexity and variability to occur within a total pattern is a more desirable and effective approach toward the visual environment than that which now exists.

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