Looking Good: The Psychology of Good Design

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Does your product concept look good?  Well, it should.  Looks matter. Vision is our dominant sense, and how a product looks will drive trial, adoption, sales and profitability.  Products that look good sell more, to more people, more often and for more margin.

This means that concept development should be designed with design in mind. But what, exactly, does ‘looking good’ mean?

Here’s a quick primer on the psychology of looking good from a concept development perspective (building on the seminal University of Cambridge research paper “Seeing things: consumer response to the visual domain in product design” by Nathan Crilly, James Moultrie, and PJ Clarkson).

  • To cut to the chase of the psychology of good design, good design is not only about creating something that works (functional value) and that is attractive with visual appeal (aesthetic value), but it is also about creating something that has symbolic value – it communicates something positive about the user and itself
  • Broadly, there are two types of symbolic value; visually communicating something positive about the product (semiotic value), and visually communicating something positive about the user (display value)
  • Whilst semiotics focuses on the symbolic role of products in communicating something positive about themselves, psychology of display value focuses on the symbolic role of products in visually communicating something positive about their owners or users through conspicuous consumption
  • Like a peacock tail, we use products to conspicuously display our own worth – to others and ourselves – through a process of symbolic association, i.e. by using products as symbols to communicate our positive personal characteristics (self-expressive symbolism) and elevated social status (categorical symbolism)
  • Overall this visual process of symbolic association is what psychologists call ‘impression management‘ – how we (seek to) impress others through self-presentation – and it’s important because vision is our most dominant sense
  • So to enhance display value, brands need to do two things
    • First, understand what status means in their particular target market – and the symbols used to signal status
    • Second, understand what each of the five universal OCEAN personality traits mean in this market – and the symbols that communicate them (and then choose one trait for brand personality)
      • OPENNESS Inventive/curious vs. consistent/cautious (Mini vs. Buick?)
      • CONSCIENTIOUSNESS Careful/dependable vs. easy-going/careless (Honda vs. Jeep?)
      • EXTRAVERSION Outgoing/energetic vs. quiet/calm (BMW vs. Lexus?)
      • AGREEABLENESS Friendly/cooperative vs. formal/driven (Acura vs. Mercedes?)
      • NEUROTICISM Sensitive/nervous vs. secure/confident (Volvo vs. Porsche?)

Image – fantastic design for a nightclub Gin from Puigdemont Roca


Paul Marsden

All stories by: Paul Marsden

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