Beauty Is In The Eye Of The Beholder’s Age, Gender, And Geography

Which of these search engine home pages do you find most visually appealing?:


Picture of Google Home page



Picture of home page is the search engine for South Korea. Google is the search engine for lots of other places. Whether you found the Google design more visually appealing or whether you found the Naver design more visually appealing has a lot to do with how old you are, whether you’re a woman or a man, and where you live.

Katharina Reinecke and Krzysztof Gajos researched different visual designs around the world, with men and women of different ages. Here’s what they found:

  • People over 40 preferred more colorful designs compared to younger people. This preference was even stronger among people over 50.
  • Across all ages, women preferred websites that were more colorful than men did.
  • Men preferred websites with a gray or white background and some saturated primary colors.
  • Women preferred color schemes with fewer contrasting colors.
  • People from Finland, Russia, and Poland liked websites without a lot of colors. People from Malaysia, Chile, and Macedonia preferred websites with a lot of color.
  • People from countries near each other tended to like the same amount of colors. For example, Northern European countries didn’t like a lot of colors.
  • People in English-speaking countries preferred more color than those in Northern European countries.


  • If your target audience is primarily men, consider a white or gray background with a contrasting color.
  • If your target audience is primarily women, consider using more color, but fewer contrasting colors.
  • When you’re designing for a specific geographical area, make sure you’re familiar with the color and visual design preferences for that region.
  • Test your visual design with your target audience.
  • When you’re designing for a geographic area that you’re unfamiliar with, be sure to have someone FROM that area working with you

Here’s the reference for the research:

Reinecke, Katharina, and Gajos Krzysztof. 2014. “Quantifying Visual Preferences around the World.” Proceedings of the 33rd Annual ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

This post is from my newest book: 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People.

Posted in Generational Differences, psychology, visual design Tagged with: , , ,

The Best Way To Process Big Data Is Unconsciously

picture of David Eagleman wearing his sensory vest

David Eagleman wearing the sensory vest

Jason is 20 years old and he’s deaf. He puts on a special vest that’s wired so that when it receives data, it sends pulses to his back.

The vest is connected to a tablet. When I say the word “book” into a microphone that feeds into the tablet, the tablet turns the word into a signal that is sent to the vest. Jason now feels a pattern on his back through his sense of touch. Initially, he can’t tell you what the word is. I keep saying words and he keeps feeling the patterns. Eventually, he’ll be able to tell me the words that he’s hearing. His brain learns to take the pattern and translate that into words.

The interesting thing is that this happens unconsciously. He doesn’t have to consciously work at learning the patterns.

This describes an actual project by David Eagleman, a neuroscientist from the Baylor College of Medicine.

Sensory Substitution — Eagleman calls it sensory substitution. Information comes into your body and brain from your eyes, ears, touch, and so on. But did you know that the brain is actually quite flexible and plastic in this regard? When data from the environment comes in, from any of the senses, the brain figures out the best way to analyze and interpret it. Sometimes you’re consciously aware of the data and its meaning, but most of the time your brain is analyzing data and using that data to make decisions, and you don’t even realize it.

Sensory Addition — Eagleman takes the idea of sensory substitution a step further, to sensory addition. He has people (without hearing impairments) put on the vest. He takes stock market data and uses the same program on the tablet to turn the stock market data into patterns, and sends those patterns to the vest. The people wearing the vest don’t know what the patterns are about. They don’t even know it has anything to do with the stock market. He then hands them another tablet where a screen periodically appears with a big red button and a big green button.

Eagleman tells them to press a button when the colors appear. At first they have no idea why they should press one button versus the other. They’re told to press a button anyway, and when they do, they get feedback about whether they’re wrong or right, even though they have no idea what they are wrong or right about. The buttons are actually buy and sell decisions (red is buy, green is sell) that are related to the data they’re receiving, but they don’t know that.

Eventually, however, their button presses go from random to being right all the time, even though they still don’t know anything consciously about the patterns. Eagleman is essentially sending big data to people’s bodies, and their brains interpret the data and make decisions from it—all unconsciously.

Engaging the unconcsious for big data — Big data refers to large data sets that are combed for predictive analytics. The idea is that if you can collect massive amounts of data, even disparate data, and analyze it for patterns, you can learn important information and make decisions based on that information. Data sets of Internet searches, Twitter messages, meteorology, and more are being collected and analyzed. But how do you convey the information in a way that makes sense? How can you get the human mind to see patterns in what at first seems like meaningless data? The conscious thought process is not very good at this task. The conscious mind can handle only a small subset of data at one time, but the unconscious is great at taking in large amounts of data and finding patterns. If you want to see the patterns in big data, you have to engage the unconscious.

A Sensory Room — Other scientists are also working on the idea. Jonathan Freeman, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Paul Verschure, a professor at the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, have created the eXperience Induction Machine (XIM). The XIM is a room with speakers, projectors, projection screens, pressure-sensitive floor tiles, infrared cameras, and a microphone. A person stands in the room and big data visualizations appear on the screen. Freeman and Verschure monitor the response of the person in the room through a headset. They can tell when the person is getting overloaded or tired, and then they can make the visuals simpler.

Go direct — When you work with big data, consider the idea of bypassing complex visual analysis and how to represent the data analytically. It’s probably better to feed the data directly to sense organs and let the brain do the analytics.

For more information — Here’s a great TED Talk by Dr. Eagleman

If you liked this article, check out my new book, which covers this topic and 99 others! It’s shipping any day now.


Posted in brain, decision-making, psychology, unconscious Tagged with: ,

People Read Only 60% Of An Online Article

readingonlineTony Haile (CEO of Chartbeat — a company that analyzes real-time web analytics) analyzed 2 billion online interactions, most of them from online articles and news sites, and found that 55 percent of the time people spend less than 15 seconds on a page, which means they’re not reading the news articles.

Hmmm, it likely took you 15 seconds to read the above paragraph, so maybe I’ve already lost you.

Clicking and/or sharing doesn’t equal reading — A lot of money has changed hands over pay-per-click and page views, both of which measure the success of online advertising by counting clicks. Haile says that’s the wrong measurement — Instead of clicks, we should concentrate on the amount of attention the audience gives, and whether they come back.

Another action that is traditionally sought after is sharing on social media. Can you assume that if people share an article, for example, on Facebook, or tweet about it, that they’ve read what they’re sharing?

The relationship between reading and sharing is weak —  Articles that are read all the way through aren’t necessarily shared. Articles that are shared have likely not been read past 60 percent.

According to Adrianne Jeffries, Buzzeed and Upworthy report that most tweets occur either at 25 percent through the article or at the end of the article, but not much in between those two extremes.

Takeaways (if you even got this far!):

  • Don’t assume people are reading the whole article.
  • Put your most important information before the 60 percent point of the article.
  • When you want people to share the article, remind them to do that about 25 percent of the way through the article and again at the end.
  • Don’t assume that if people shared the article that means they read all or even most of it.

For more information:

Haile, Tony. 2014. “What You Think You Know about the Web Is Wrong.” http://time. com/12933/what-you-think-you-know-about-the-web-is-wrong

Adrienne. 2014. “You’re Not Going to Read This.” http://www.theverge. com/2014/2/14/5411934/youre-not-going-to-read-this

If you liked this article (and if you actually read to the end!), you might want to check out my new book, which covers this topic and 99 others! It’s shipping any day now.


Lastly, It might be too late to ask this (more than 25% through the article!): If you liked this article, please share it with your network.


Posted in design, psychology, reading Tagged with: ,

5 Reasons We Make Poor Decisions

Woman standing in front of a blackboard with question marksI just read a great report from Eric Olive on how and why we make decisions, especially bad ones. Here’s a summary of the report and the trouble we can get ourselves into:

  1. People don’t like uncertainty. It makes us uncomfortable. So we tend to ignore important information and either make a bad decision or don’t make any decision at all.
  2. People tend to make decisions that are in line with what they already believe. We filter information and just don’t let in data that conflicts with our view of the world.
  3. People are overly optimistic about the future. Even though we have experience with things going wrong, or taking longer than we think they will, we tend to look to the future with rose-colored glasses.
  4. People are influenced by confidence. If someone is confident then we believe them. And if/when we are confident that’s when we take action.
  5. We think we can fool people but we often end up fooling ourselves. Eric gives an interesting example of how an executive in a corporation thought he could make it look like he was consulting his staff about some important decisions in the company, when he was really trying to manipulate the decision to go his way.

Most of our decision-making happens unconsciously, so it’s difficult to prevent these errors. Eric says your best strategy is to put some procedures in place while you are making decisions that force you from automatic mode (what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking) into deeper consideration mode (Kahneman’s System 2 thinking). Here are two examples of what you could do: 1) Enlist a skeptic to walk you through all the reasons why your plan is not realistic, or 2) Use the “pre-mortem” technique where you get your team together and imagine a scenario where you implemented the decision you are currently debating and it all goes terribly wrong. You ask the team to write out what made it go wrong.

It’s not easy to work around our unconscious mental processes! These tips from Eric just might work.

Eric goes into a lot more detail in his report. You can download it here:

What do you think? Do you make any of these decision mistakes? Have a team member or supervisor who does?

Posted in decision-making, psychology Tagged with: ,

The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo

logo for Hillary campaign

Yesterday Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the US, and before 24 hours went by I had a media request to talk about why people were reacting so strongly (in a negative way) to her logo.

I’m in the middle of writing my next book (100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People) and I’ve just sent in the chapter on Visual Design which contains some new research on neuro-aesthetics — how our brain reacts to certain visual design elements.

Based on the research, here’s the brain science behind the vitriol:

People prefer objects with curves and you can even “see” the preference in brain scans. This field of study is called neuroaesthetics.

Moshe Bar (Director of the Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital) and his team used images of everyday and abstract objects to see if people have a preference for objects with curves. In one of their early studies Moshe Bar and Maital Neta (2006) showed 140 pairs of objects. Some were concrete objects such as watches or couches (the A objects in the picture below), some were abstract objects (the B objects) and some of the objects had both curves and edges. These last objects acted as baseline controls (the C objects).

pictures of curved and angular objectsPeople gave higher “liking” ratings for the objects that had curves. Bar and Neta’s theory was that the sharp and angled images would convey a sense of threat.

Ed Connor and Neeraja Balachander took this idea into a neuro imaging lab. They took an abstract shape similar to the shape on the left in the picture below and then made a series of similar but elongated shapes as shown in the rest of the picture below.

picture of rounded and elongated shapes

Not only did people prefer the softly rounded shape like the one on the left — there was more brain activity in the visual cortex with shapes that were more curved and more rounded.

We could talk about the problems with red and blue on top of each other, which produces chromostereopsis too. I’ve got another blog post about that.

But from a brain science point of view, the main reason Hillary’s logo is getting a lot of negative comments?: NO CURVES!

If you’re interested in the research I’ve got some references below, and check out 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People  the new book which will be out in October of 2015 and is available for pre-order!

What do you think? No curves? Chromostereopsis? Something else?


Bar, M., & Neta, M. (2006). Humans prefer curved visual objects. Psychological Science, 17(8), 645-648.

H. Leder, P.P.L. Tinio, and M. Bar (2011) Emotional valence modulates the preference for curved objects. Perception, 40, 649-655.

Paul J. Silvia and Christopher M. Barona, “Do People Prefer Curved Objects? Angularity, Expertise, and Aesthetic Preference”, Empirical Studies of the Arts 01/2009; 27(1):25-42.

Posted in beauty, brain, psychology, vision, visual design, voting Tagged with: , , ,

Digital Expectations Report From Razorfish

picture of cover of Razorfish ReportIf you haven’t checked out the new report by Razorfish: DIGITAL DOPAMINE: 2015 GLOBAL DIGITAL MARKETING REPORT, you may want to check it out sooner rather than later. And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it! (The report contains a one page interview I did with one of their staff — page 29). It’s an interesting report based on a survey of 1600 millennials and gen-exers from the US, UK, Brazil, and China, as well as some in-depth interviews.

Here are some of my favorite data points:

  • “56% of U.S. Millennials say their phone is their most valuable shopping tool in-store compared to just 28% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “59% of U.S. Millennials use their device to check prices while shopping compared to 41% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “Advertising is most effective when it is part of a value exchange. Consumers are now aware of how much their attention is worth to marketers, and they expect to be rewarded for it. They look to be compensated with loyalty programs, free content or useful tools that solve problems.’
  • “Over half of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. and 69% of consumers in China say they do anything they can to avoid seeing ads. What’s more,they’re actively availing themselves of technology to do so, with a majority of TV lovers using a DVR
    to skip through ads (U.S.—65%, U.K.—73%, China—81%).” Brazil is the outlier on this one: “Fifty-seven percent of Brazilian consumers endorse TV, radio and print ads as most influential,”
  • My favorite point is this one: “Seventy-six percent of people in the U.S., 72% in the U.K. and 73% in Brazil say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.” I have heard the same comments in my behavioral science research. And the reason has to do with the anticipatory centers of the brain. I wrote about this recently in my report “Why You Should Do Behavioral Science Research At Least Once This Year”.

The Razorfish report is comprehensive.  I think it’s worthy reading if you design or produce digital products, marketing or advertising.

And don’t forget to check out page 29!

What do you think? Does any of this data surprise you?


Posted in Generational Differences, psychology, research Tagged with: , , , ,

7 Success Factors For Getting Innovation Going In Your Organization

Do you have innovation initiatives where you work? There are seven critical factors you need in place in order for innovation to start, thrive, and stick. Here’s a short video on the seven factors:

The seven factors are:

1. OK to iterate — The culture has to be tolerant and accepting of trying something out, then adjusting it or withdrawing it and trying something else.

2. The A-Ha! moment — You can’t just teach people an innovation process. They have to have an a-ha moment where they “get it”. You’ve got to engineer training and situations so people have that a-ha moment.

3. Autonomy — People need to have some control over what they innovate and how they do it. You can’t micromanage innovation.

4. Constraints — Although people need some autonomy, they also need some constraints. Research shows that people are MORE creative if they have some constraints they are working within.

5. Top-Down and Bottom-Up — You need both the top and the “in the trenches” people to buy in to innovation. If the push to innovate is coming from top management only, it won’t thrive and stick; likewise if innovation comes from the trenches, but doesn’t have support from above.

6. Trust — Being innovative is being vulnerable. If your corporate culture is one of mis-trust it will be hard to get innovation going.

7. Use innovation to plan the innovation — If you are charged with getting innovation going, start by using innovation techniques and processes to figure out your implementation plan.


What do you think? Have you found these factors to be important in your innovation plans?

Posted in innovation Tagged with:

Growing User Experience In Your Organization

If you are interested in growing the user experience group or capabilities in your organization, then you might want to watch this webinar recording. Jeff Horvath and I discuss five success factors to pay attention to when/if you want to grow UX. The video is an hour long, so get a cup of coffee or tea and settle in!:

Here are the five points for Growing UX that we discuss:

1. It’s a process, not a product

2. It takes great leadership

3. Be flexible

4. Be resourceful

5. It’s a culture thing

What are your challenges and successes you’ve had in growing UX capabilities in your organization?

You might also want to check out our report on skills that every UX professional needs:

Button that links to the Top 10 Skills Report

Posted in user experience, video Tagged with: ,

Creative Market’s 10 Must-Read UX Books

I was thrilled to see that 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People made Creative Market’s  “10 Must-Read UX Books”.

Top of Creative market's blog post

Picture of book at Creative Market post


Check out the book on Amazon if you aren’t familiar with it. Here’s the link to Amazon: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. And you may want to go to Creative Market’s list and see how many of the 10 books you’ve read.



Posted in book, psychology, user experience Tagged with: , ,

What Would Make An Animated Character Appear “Creepy”?

Realistic animated character that looks creepy.Have you ever stopped to think about animated characters? With the capabilities of graphics these days it’s possible for an animated character to look just like a real person. And then there are still cartoon characters created that look nothing like real people. Have you ever experienced an animated character that “creeped” you out?

Animators have to make constant decisions about how realistic a character should be, and what that even means. Research shows that there is a point where animated characters are not “cute” anymore, and actually can become “creepy”. This point is called the “uncanny valley”.

This semester at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, I worked with a student on an independent study project about the uncanny valley. This blog post is a guest post by the student, Kierstan Leaf, who describes the research study she did this semester:

The Uncanny Valley is the idea that as things, particularly robots and animated characters, become more realistic they eventually hit a point where we determine them to be creepy and nonhuman. This is due to the small inconsistencies that we see within the characters, for example, the skin texture or reflection in the eyes may seem a bit off.  We unconsciously notice these things because these are attributes that we observe daily in our interactions with people.

The Uncanny Valley theory originated from Masahiro Mori, while working with robotics in 1970. He compared the relationship between robots and their “degree of human likeness” (see the references below). Mori noticed that when robots become more lifelike they began to be viewed as being creepy. On the other hand when the robots did not have much human likeness, such as a robot in a factory, the creepy level was very low, if non-existent. 

For this study on the uncanny valley I took images from movies, cartoons, and television shows. I used images that ranged from “less realistic” (in other words, not human-like) to “more realistic”. These images were shown to 58 people to rate on a scale from 1 to 10 where “normal” was at one end and “creepy” at the other. I hypothesized that as the images become more realistic they would be considered creepier. Here’s a short video that summarizes the research shows the images I used, and the results of the study.



The hypothesis was correct. The more realistic the images were, the more creepy people rated them.

So what does this mean for decisions about animations in design? If  you would like your viewer to fall in love with your character nearly instantaneously, then perhaps you should stick with more cartoonish designs.  If you want your user to be scared of a monster or evil villain, you can push the line of realism and tip your viewer over to the creepy side. Knowing these unconscious reactions exist, you can apply them to your projects.


Mori, Masahiro. The Uncanny Valley. Trans. Karl F. MacDorman and Norri Kageki. IEEE Spectrum, 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>. 

Karl F. MacDorman. Exploring the Uncanny Valley. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <>.

What do you think? What do you think makes animated characters cross into the “creepy” realm?

If you have questions for Kierstan you can reach her at

Posted in emotions, psychology, research, video Tagged with: , ,

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