Rhythm is a dancer

Or let’s brainstorm poetically

I was looking for an ideation tool, a trigger to find new ways of drawing lots of stuff, quickly, iteratively or to push the boundary of usual barnstorming just an inch. Reverse brainstorming and similar techniques were all tried out, and I was just looking for a tool to trigger variety (of thoughts) without spending enormous amounts of time. A smart and quirky framework, a method, a thought — anything that helps us fight “I have had a look online and there are lots of websites that do it” kind of way.

And this is where it hit me.
Drawing, in its main aspects, is largely rhythmical.
What is a composition on paper if not switching between volumes / types of objects (light / dark / large / small) in an attempt to create visual rhythm and impact? What else has a very clear rhythmic structure? Poetry does.

So why not base our sketching exercise on metic feet?
Let’s see how far we get, and what results could it bring us.

Exploring metrical feet

Most of us know these from school lessons of poetry - I remembered just about 6 out of 12 (and had a lot of fun getting back into it now and filling my own knowledge gaps).
There’s nothing too complicated: it’s mainly about a combination of stressed / unstressed syllables within a word / phrase which, in turn, creates a recognisable rhythm within a verse.

2 syllable metrical feet

  1. IAMB an unstressed syllable followed by a stressed syllable
    (as in “The
    way a crow
    down on me…” — Dust of Snow by Robert Frost)
  2. TROCHEE (CHOREE) a stressed syllable followed by an unstressed one
    (as in “
    Tyger! Tyger! burning bright
    In the forests of the night…” — The Tyger by William Blake)
  3. SPONDEE two stressed syllables
    (as in “By the shore of Gitche Gumee,
    By the shining
    Big–Sea–Water…” — The Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow)
  4. PYRRHUS two unaccented, short syllables
    (as in “When the blood creeps and the nerves prick…” — In Memoriam by Alfred Tennyson)

3 syllable metrical feet

  1. TRIBRACH three unstressed syllables (rarely appears in English poetry)
  2. DACTYL a stressed syllable followed by two unstressed syllables
  3. ANTIBACCHIUS two stressed syllables followed by an unstressed syllable
  4. CRETIC stressed syllable, unstressed syllable, stressed syllable
  5. MOLOSSUS three long syllables (rarely appears in English poetry as it is too easily interpreted as two feet)
  6. AMPHIBRACH a stressed syllable surrounded by two unstressed syllables
  7. BACCHIUS one unstressed syllable followed by two stressed ones
  8. ANAPEST two unstressed syllables followed by one stressed syllable

…In case you were too lazy to read all the detail of metric feet above, here’s a diagram for you (Large circle = stressed syllable, small circle = unstressed syllable).

Now, how do we apply this to the UX ideation process?
Imagine a page template. Let’s play.

Real-life examples

source: http://cuberto.com/projects/

One example I can think of where I saw a fairly unusual, yet very justified and impactful site geometry was these guys. Pretty sure they haven’t used this method, but it would be a perfect example of Cretic (stressed-unstressed-stressed).

source: http://www.buildinamsterdam.com/cases

Or these guys here, with their sleek triptych which smoothly transitions into a side scroll, good example of what we were referring to as Molossus (all three stressed syllables).

The possibilities are endless here. We can apply it to content — think varying strength of messaging — to data analysis and intensity — to almost any aspect of the experience. This method reminds me of a fashion design technique: when you move a stencil of the garment over different images, textures or even objects, creating random yet structured patterns which you can later apply to the actual garment. Magic may happen as a result of mathematical action.

I’ve tried this out during our brainstorming activities and it has led to interesting results so far. Would love to get your thoughts on it!

@alex_andr_a is an Experience Design Director, a bit of a book nerd, a metaphor addict and a good wine lover. Identifying intelligent thoughts and thinking them again, as prescribed by Goethe.