This week, after reviewing a ton of portfolios, it struck me that the very best design work I've seen recently inspires calm, awe, and respect. Emotionally, my response to each piece of work was narrowly focused. I was feeling what the designer wanted me to feel.
The weaker design work, by contrast, caused a wider range of emotions. Since many of the pieces that I saw weren't cogent design, I would see what the designer was trying to do. The effect of the work was all over the map. Hence the above chart, which inverts the Richter Scale.
In an earthquake, as you zip up the Richter scale the magnitude (and destruction) increases exponentially. When reviewing portfolios, it's the opposite. Really great design work that makes an impact on society has an exponential, focused effect, but instead of leveling cities, it simplifies decisions and inspires emotions (including envy). Weaker design, on the other hand, destabilizes the populace and becomes another layer of visual clutter.