The Visual Cortex And Design

Logo for HumanTech podcastDid you know that here is a part of the visual cortex that is sensitive just to a tilted line? Or that some people see millions more colors than the rest of us do? On this episode of Human Tech we talk about the strange and interesting science of vision and how it affects visual design.


HumanTech is a podcast at the intersection of humans, brain science, and technology. Your hosts Guthrie and Dr. Susan Weinschenk explore how behavioral and brain science affects our technologies and how technologies affect our brains.

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The Next 100 Things You Need To Know About People: #103 — 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 Naver.com home page

 

 

Naver.com 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.

Takeaways

  • 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.

The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo

logo for Hillary campaign
hillaryclinton.com

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?

References:

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.

Red Or Blue?: Research On Screen Color That May Surprise You

a red square and a blue squareHow does color affect our behavior when we are doing things online? Does it make a difference what the color background is? Does it depend on what we are reading or doing? Can you affect people’s decisions and behavior by changing the background color of a particular page or screen?

Research by Ravi Mehta and Rui Juliet Zhu from the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia looks at these questions. In a fairly comprehensive set of different studies Mehta and Zhu found some interesting color effects. I describe the six studies below (but if you can’t wait for the punchline skip down to the “take-aways” section).

STUDY 1

In the first study people were first given anagrams to solve. Some of the anagrams used “avoidance” words, for example ‘prevent’, some of the words were “approach” words, for example ‘adventure’, and some were “neutral”, for example, ‘computer’.  Sometimes the words were on a red background and sometimes on a blue background. People solved the avoidance words faster when they were on a red background (compared to blue or neutral) and they solved the approach words faster when they were on a blue background (compared to red or neutral).

The second task in this study had people read brand descriptions and then rate each brand on a scale from 1 to 7. Some of the brand descriptions had a message of a negative outcome you would want to avoid – for example a toothpaste that would prevent cavities. Others had messages of approach – for example a toothpaste that whitens your teeth. When the brands were on a blue background people preferred brands that were described with the approach or positive description. When the brands were on a red background people preferred the brands that had avoidance messages.

STUDY 2

In the second study people were given a “detailed” task — memorizing words. They were given 36 words to memorize in 2 minutes. Then they were asked to recall the words 20 minutes later. For some people the background screen was red, others blue and others neutral. People who did the task with the red screen remembered more words correctly than people with the blue or neutral background. People with the blue background would remember as many words as red, but several of the remembered words were actually false (i.e., they were not in the set of words originally memorized).

In the second part of study 2 people completed a “creative” task – they were asked to come up with as many creative uses for a brick as they could in 1 minute. A panel of judges rated how creative the list was. Some of the people worked on a red screen, others blue, and others neutral. The color didn’t affect how many ideas people came up with, but people working with a blue screen had more creative solutions than those in the red or neutral.

STUDY 3

In Study 3 people were asked to read sets of names or addresses which were either identical or were slightly different. It was a proofreading task. The participants had to decide whether one name and address matched another. Some people did the task on a blue screen, others on red and others on a neutral color. The participants were also asked afterwards whether they were focusing on avoiding mistakes or going quickly. People working with a red screen were more accurate on the task than people working on a blue or neutral screen. People working on a red screen also were more likely to report that they were trying to avoid mistakes.

STUDY 4

In Study 4 people were given a sheet of paper with drawings of different parts. They were asked to use any five parts and use them to design a toy that someone age 5 to 11 would play with. The parts were printed in either red or blue. Judges (using black and white copies of the design) then rated the designs based on originality and novelty (creativity) vs. practicality and appropriateness (attention to detail). Red toys were judged to be more practical and appropriate than blue. Blue toys were judged to be more original and novel.

STUDY 5

In study 5 people were shown ads for a camera on a computer screen. The ad was presented with a background color of either red or blue. In some versions of the ad there were pictures that showed product details of the camera, for example the lens. Other versions included visuals that were not about the camera, for example, a road sign,  or a map, which would use creative thinking to connect the camera to a road trip. Participants rated the ads for their appeal and effectiveness. When the screen was red people rated the ad more highly when it included the specific product detail visuals. When the screen was blue then people rated the ad more favorably when the visuals were more conceptual.

STUDY 6

In study 6 people were given tasks in black font on a white background screen. They were told that one of the tasks required detailed and careful processing of information and that another would require creative, imaginative and “out of the box” thinking. They were asked to select which color, red or blue, they thought would enhance their performance on each task. People picked blue for BOTH tasks, i.e., they believed that blue would enhance their performance no matter what the task.

Here are my take-aways from this research:

  • If you are using a negative or fear message it will be more impactful if you use the color red. If you are using a positive message then use blue.
  • If you want people to do a detail-oriented task use a red background. If you want them to be creative use a blue background.
  • If you are highlighting detailed features of a product your message will be more persuasive if you use a red background. If you are highlighting concepts of how to use the product then the message will be more persuasive with a blue background.
  • People prefer blue backgrounds over red, even though red might make them get a task done more quickly. They are not aware of the effects that the colors are having.

IMPORTANT NOTE: These studies were all done in North America. There are cultural effects of color, so these results may NOT hold in different parts of the world.

What do you think? Are you willing to use red?

And if you like to read the research:

Ravi Mehta and Rui (Juliet) ZhuBlue or Red? Exploring the Effect of Color on Cognitive Task Performances. Sauder School of Business, University of British Columbia, 2053 Main Mall, Vancouver, BC V6T 1Z2, Canada. www.sciencexpress.org / 5 February 2009 / Page 1 / 10.1126/science.1169144

 

 

100 Things You Should Know About People: #28 — Things that are close together seem to belong together

Do you want a quick and easy way to make any web page easier to use and more intuitive? If you want people to realize that two things “belong” together, then put them near each other (close proximity), and put other things a little further away. Sounds simple, right?  Many usability and user experience principles are complicated and may take significant time and energy to accomplish. This is one of the easier ones!

Let’s take a look at some web sites for examples:

In the image below of the Crutchfield page, there is a gray arrow that ends up being very close to the text on the left that says, “connect with a true audiovideo specialist”. Because that arrow is so close to the text (and actually appears to “point” to the text), the text and pictures “belong” together and become connected (as they should).

picture of Crutchfield web site

At the Global Giving website, the amount of space between text and pictures that are supposed to “go together” is about the same as the amount of space between items. This makes it less clear what text goes with what picture.

Picture of Global Giving website

In the MSNBC website the spacing between headers and photos are all even. It is not clear at a glance what headline goes with what photo.

Picture of MSNBC website

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #28 — Things that are close together seem to belong together”

Book Review of Visual Language for Designers

Here is a Quick Review of a new book, Visual Language for Designers by Connie Malamed. First the video and then the text summary:

When I first looked at this book I said “Wow!”. It’s a large book, hardcover, with thick paper and beautiful illustrations, as it should be, since it’s a book on visual design. But looking deeper, the reason that I like this book so much is that it covers the topic of visual design from a psychologist’s point of view, and let’s face it, I’m a pscyhologist and I see everything from a psychologist’s point of view! Continue reading “Book Review of Visual Language for Designers”