While I’ve been in the software business for over 25 years, and specifically in the Internet business since 1995, but I have a confession to make: Both my undergraduate and graduate degrees are in Landscape Architecture. What does Landscape architecture have to do with website design and user interfaces?

As it turns out, quite a bit. One works with land and plant materials, the other works with graphics and words. But both use the concepts of user experience and aesthetics to create the desired result. In other words, site design, whether it be a physical building site or a website, is a creative skill and uses basic principals that are common to any design profession.

What is interesting is that today, both web designers and landscape architects use computers to create their designs, in large part because of the pioneering efforts of myself and my colleagues at Landcadd. Our efforts to bring computer aided design to the profession resulted in a program that became a world-wide industry standard that is still being used today. This is a testament to good design.

In 1896, American architect Louis Sullivan coined the phrase, “form follows function”. This has become the basic principal of design. While this principal is primarily associated with modern architecture and industrial design, it applies equally well to websites and software interfaces. The principle is that the shape of an object should be primarily based upon its intended function or purpose.

The functionality of a website is not much different than a building site. We need to design a user experience that is easy to navigate, providing circulation to the major features and controlling the user experience. We need to engineer the site to make sure that nothing breaks when we are using it. The layout of related features should be in close proximity to each other. Overgrown landscapes or cluttered websites simply don’t work as well as simple ones.

“Form follows function – that has been misunderstood. Form and function should be one, joined in a spiritual union.” Frank Lloyd Wright (1867-1959)

The form of the design allows a designer to utilize color, balance, proportion, and other visual factors to create the attractiveness or aesthetics of the site. Some website designers begin with these tools thinking that “artsy-craftsy” is the end-all. But like landscape architectural design, these factors should be an extension of the functionality of the site. All of these things working in unison with each other create a good design. And as IBM’s Thomas Watson Jr said, “good design is good business”.