Disconnect – Words vs. Images

I was able to make an interesting observation last week at a meeting with board members for a new library project I’m working on. When asked to describe in words their vision for the library and then to vote on some visual images, there seemed to be a disconnect between their mouths and their eyes.

We did a couple of exercises to “capture their vision.” The first activity was based on key words and phrases that would describe what they wanted to see for the library. They then voted for their top priorities for the project and we identified what they say to be there top seven priorities of the new library. The second activity was a visual survey in which we showed them about 60 images of different architectural approaches and they ranked them from “Strongly Like” to “Strongly Dislike.”

One of their top words was “Vibrant.” Yet, when we showed them an image of MUSAC in Leon, Spain, that has a vibrantly colored glass curtain wall, only two of the ten committee members liked it. One thought was that perhaps they preferred the vibrant aspect to be on the interior. While, yes, they did score some of the vibrant interior schemes high; they equally scored many of the more muted schemes high as well.

On the flip side of that, eight of the ten members liked the Fred and Mary Smith Razorback Golf Center in Johnson, Ark. When they were asked why they liked it, they said, “It has a presence on the site.” When we looked back at the key words and phrases, though, no one voted for “Presence.” The same happened for “Connection to Nature,” which got no votes, but was the reason why nine of the committee members liked the Hercules Branch Library in Hercules, Calif.

This is just one of those things that occurs in our profession. While people like words like “vibrant,” and it sounds exciting, they tend to be much more reserved when it actually comes to seeing a design.