I worked with a graphic designer to produce an ad recently (copywriting being one of the “other projects as assigned” that keeps my working life exciting). When I asked her for a design that felt “organic,” she replied, “I don’t know what that word means in this context.”
She could tell I meant something, but she wasn’t sure what. I loved that instead of sneaking off to the dictionary, she asked me about it. Talking about what words mean is a fun part of my job. Webster’s New World College Dictionary sits at my elbow because I consult its wisdom daily.
But when it comes to what words mean in conversation, the dictionary provides only so much insight. The rest is all about context, isn’t it? Webster’s defines “organic,” but that wouldn’t tell her much about what I meant by the word, in terms of a design for this ad. So I thought her question was not only interesting and self-aware, but aptly phrased. Context is key.
By “organic,” I intended to imply a color scheme found in nature; more specifically, the greens and browns of a forest rather than the hot hues of a flower garden. I had in mind nature’s organized disorder, where patterns can be subtle and complicated. I also meant curves rather than straight lines. I see the manmade environment as linear, whereas the natural environment comprises sinuous, curvaceous elements. Even a tree trunk has subtle bends. Branches break up the trunk’s linearity, and leaves soften the edges. Also, that tree trunk and those branches and leaves are all connected.
So when I suggested the ad should feel “organic,” I meant quite a few things. It would rely on a palette of greens and browns, there would be curves and a sense of softness, and the elements of the ad (headline, text, call to action, photo, logo) would relate to one another via subtle patterns and connections.
If we’d gone to the dictionary to agree on the definition, our ad would have been “made up of systematically related parts; organized,” which conveys a little of what I was thinking, but only a little. It may have had “the characteristics of living organisms,” though I’m not sure how. That’s all the help Webster’s would have given us.
Looking at how much richer than Webster’s my definition of “organic” is, I see this is a word I like, one with positive connotations. I can’t think if anything negative I identify with “organic.” It’s also interesting that much of what I meant by “organic” is included in the dictionary’s definition of “natural.”
Look it up.