Are you under the influence?

Posted by Hullabaloo

I was just reading an article about how the car door has been musically engineered over the years to always produce that satisfying ‘clunk’ sound whenever we close it. Organically, that noise would not occur with the modern built car, a much more tinny and unsatisfying ‘clink’ in its place. But, the designers realise that this sound is a very important marketing and sales tool. Without it, the car would instantly become less desirable to potential consumers. This got me thinking, the psychology of design effects us in all sorts of situations, often on a daily basis and in ways which we are almost never really even aware of.

As human beings, we are inherently influenced by different types of ‘cue’, and whether that be visual, acoustic of physiological, they can all be quite effectively utilised to influence our behaviour and even our emotions.

For example, when shoppers are exposed to background music, the tempo of the music directly influences the speed at which they shop. Fast paced, up beat music results in a shopper who is more speedy and less likely to stop to investigate any one item for any length of time. Slower and more relaxed music tends to have the opposite effect; people take their time and feel no rush to leave or move on around the store.

I employ a similar tactic in my vlogs – sometimes I will include a ‘plinky plonky’ tune in the background to try and add colour to my whimsy. (I choose to believe I have a whimsical nature… I don’t care what you say!). The tune has quirky qualities yet also has sufficient tempo to keep the video moving, an effort to minimise boredom. (Whether it’s enough to combat 5 minutes of drivvel is another question).

This idea is also applicable to print design. Bright colours and contrasting ideas bringing a sense of movement and speed will help to energise viewers to make that decision to purchase, while ambient, muted colours with a snapshot static view of a precise moment, lets associated thoughts remain with the viewer for longer, allowing time for the message to ‘sink in’ and perhaps result in their donation to the charity or to change their attitude about slowing down when driving.

In addition to these ‘cues’ there is another, more complex idea involved. In essence these types of emotive advertising campaigns cause something that is called ‘Cognitive Dissonance.’ Basically what it means, is that our actions or thoughts are conflicting and because of that, we feel uneasy.

For example, an advertisement depicting an emotion provoking scene relating to a starving child in Africa stirs negative emotions in ourselves, as we feel bad abut the thousands of poverty stricken children suffering in Africa, however our actions do not relieve this upset, by not contributing to the relief effort. Thus in order to relieve this cognitive dissonance, one might choose to donate some money to the charity. The individual then feels less conflicted because their actions co-inside with their emotions – they feel its wrong that people are in poverty, so they donated some money to help a little bit with efforts to change it. In a slightly different direction, the dramatic movie poster makes you excited about the movie, but your action of not going to watch it causes cognitive dissonance, therefore you arrange a trip to the cinema.

There are other reasons that designers should be aware of cognitive dissonance to be able to capitalise on it (but I’ve realised now that I might be here all day writing about it and that perhaps another subject dedicated blog post is in order). Many good designers naturally employ techniques to wield this influence without really knowing any of the theory behind it.

But it’s interesting (at least to me) to understand the cognitive influence that you potentially have on your audience.

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