You may not realize this about yourself, but you are a highly trained,perceptual genius. Go ahead and pat yourself on the back. Since your earliestmoments of life, your brain forged advanced connections across a realmof cognitive processes, even without your awareness of this undertaking.Every sound, feeling, sight and beyond has been seamlessly integratedinto our understanding of daily experience, and provided the foundation foreach decision we make. Our sensation of the world around us provides theinformation to establish perception, enabling every person to experience asubjective reality through which we navigate our lives.The ScienceUpon opening your eyes on a warm summer morning, the first rays of sunlight (the stimulus)pass through your pupils and land on the back of your retina (sensory receptors). Once thesecells receive the stimulation, they fire signals (neural impulses) to the brain – in this case, the arearesponsible for visual information, the primary visual cortex (processing area). From this pointforward, higher areas of the brain can then receive activation, providing higher-level processingand feedback opportunities. This pathway extends to all of our sensory modalities, whetherauditory, olfactory, or tactile, and helps us understand the process that leads to cognition. Stimuliyield binary impulses that yield brain activation. Simple enough?Stimulusenergylight, sound,smell etc.Sensory receptorseyes, ears,nose, etc.Neural impulsesSENSATIONFig. 1. Pathway through which sensation becomes perception. iBrainvisual, auditory,olfactory areasPERCEPTION
VisualAs visual cues are the most influential for web and graphic design decisions, this sensorypathway is critical for understanding what we appreciate about “good design”. Every step ofthe mechanism contributes to the next, and throughout the visual process, we gain improvedinformation about what we are seeing. What begins as binary processing of a photon graduallyprogresses to include edges detection, boundaries completion, and surface filling.Step 3: Surface FilingStep 2: Boundary CompletionStep 1: Edge DetectionFig. 2. Visual identification hierarchy. iiRecognitionLater, we can start to actually recognize objects. At this point in the pathway, we require feedbackfrom other areas (like the inferotemporal cortex), because recognition requires memory ofprevious experience or extrapolation based upon similarity. Many models attempt to understandthis ability (see Biederman’s Geon theory of components or naïve template theory), but what ismost important is that we are able to identify visual stimuli as familiar. As the object achievesgreater recognition in the brain, the processing level rises and the level of cortical interactiongrows (note: the figure below is oversimplified, but beneficial in understanding the progression ofperception).Small dotsSimplefeaturesleading to recognition.iiLGNOrientation, disparity,some colorV1Color, basic 2D &3D shape, curvatureV4Complex featuresand objectsVTCFig. 3. Visual pathwayComplexshapes andobjects
ResponseWhen we see an object in front of us, a variety of cortical regions contribute to how we perceiveit after the visual cortices have helped provide the relevant data. The hippocampus consolidatesthe new sensory information. Areas like the prefrontal cortex and amygdala call upon previousexperience and extrapolation of similarity to guide our emotional response, offering semanticattributes to the object. Before we (think we) are fully cognizant of what we are looking at, ourbrain has made up its mind.Did you know? Some of our neurons may actually recognize objects even inisolation. In a study by Quiroga et al. (2005), scientists found a specific neuron in thehippocampus to fire signals ONLY when the subject was shown a picture of JenniferAniston. No combination of objects, people, or other stimuli could elicit the sameresponse. This finding prompted further investigation into the idea that we have cellsdevoted to single faces or objects.Implications for DesignOkay, enough with the science (for now), and onto design. If neuroscience is the study of thebrain and nervous system, then “intelligent design” utilizes the careful understanding of ourperception and implements devices that ultimately cause our brains to respond in a targetedmanner. Successful design does not merely reflect the immediate aesthetic of a piece, but alsoincludes the critical thinking and research components. The most prominent division, especiallyfor understanding the relationship between neuroscience and design, is the division betweensubconscious and conscious appreciation for composition.Did you know? Koinophilia is the evolutionary theory that postulates that humansprefer faces with minimal unusual features, meaning that the average face is likely themost attractive to you. However, a study from DeBruine et al. (2007) found increasedperceived attractiveness upon caricaturing highly attractive faces. Implications fordesign? We like the average, and also far from it just not the in-between.Visual AttentionHighly important in the conception of design is visual attention. Consider a “Where’s Waldo?”graphic in front of you. You have a target, Waldo, distractors, all other characters and features ofthe scene, and a set size, the number of items within your viewpoint. The game has entertainmentvalue because of its difficulty in isolating a seemingly profound object.In the majority of cases, intelligent design depends upon achieving the opposite effect.Through minimizing the distractors, and lessening the set size, the target of our design achievesgreater efficiency in visual search and salience in impact. How can we take advantage of thisunderstanding?
Fig 4. We are always lookingfor our “Waldos” in a sea ofdistractions. ivGraphic designWe believe that “less is more” and strong, arresting visuals help achieve robustness ofinfluence. We want to direct the viewers’ attention to specific features, and minimizeoutside distractors.Website developmentWe can utilize known visual search strategies to construct accessible content. As muchof our vision depends upon guided search, we employ rotes to standardize placement ofcontent, as with a header and footer, to ensure ease of use.Fig. 5. Comparing the clutter of Yahoo’s homepage with the successful Google style. vDespite comprising only 2% of the body’s mass, the brain consumes 20% of the energy producedduring the resting state. The implications for design are that we rely on selective attention tocreate our perceptions, and the quicker we can achieve a desired emotional reaction, the betterour design will succeed. Design needs to be salient and lack surrounding chaos.
Did you know? Consulting firm Added Value Cheskin performed a study to identify whyCB brandy company, which previously dominated in sales over E&J brandy, began losingmarket share despite similar price, marketing, and availability. Blind tests yielded fairlyequal preference for the drinks, informing the subject of the brand being consumedyielded greater preference for Christian Brothers, and seeing the bottle shape for eachin the background yielded preference for E&J. However, serving Christian Brothersbrandy in a E&J bottle produced the highest margin of preference. What happened? Theright bottle was a critical component of taste. Visual appeal impacts our other sensoryperceptions (sensation transference).Patterns and ShapesHuman beings maintain incredible abilities to form patterns, and as a result, we look for theserelationships in everything we see in order to propagate comprehension. First introduced in 1890by Christian von Ehrenfels, Gestalt psychology defines the principles by which the mind formsmeaningful perceptions of otherwise chaotic elements of the world. We can utilize negativespace, discontinued lines, and a variety of other fractured stimuli to create continuity. Designoften exploits this ability of ours, crafting logos and graphics that go beyond a binary structureand call upon higher levels of processing.Fig. 6-11. Examples of logos that use a combination of Gestalt rules (reification, multistability, and continuity,among others), to create memorable designs with negative space. vi vii vii ix x xiFor more information on Gestalt rules and the use in design, check out Michael Tuck’s article onthe subject for Six Revisions: “Gestalt Principles Applied in Design”.
ColorNormalized absorbanceLight enters our visual system as electromagnetic energy of different wavelengths, and our visualsystem converts this energy to what we perceive as color, a purely psychological phenomenon.Even at early ages of learning, we were taught about the primary colors, likely withoutunderstanding the rationale behind these options. Humans have four types of photoreceptors,three of which are cones, which absorb light at specific wavelengths, one each for red, green, andblue. Using the three primaries and applying von Helmholtz’s 1859 Trichromatic theory, any colorcan be matched from a combination of RGB. Here we make the transition from the initially limitedpalette, to the complexity of color ig. 12. Graph showing the wavelengths of color absorption of the three cones and one rod of the human eye. Theselines represent average absorption values across tested populations.xiiWhen choosing a color scheme for a project, designers consider a variety of factors, includingharmony, context, and symbology of their color choices. Pursuant to the design choices of abrand’s voice and message, the visual should adequately elicit the desired effect on the viewer.Across countries and cultures, many of the emotions we associate with specific colors are highlyconserved. Bright red can mean passion and excitement, yellow can mean cowardice and illness,or green can mean growth and nature.We can also look at what all of the competition uses, and choose instead to “own” a completelynew color, or assimilate to a similar design. Palette choices do not merely reflect the aestheticof a piece – equally important are the critical thinking and research that provide depth to design,and communicate the desired message. These decisions do not end at the color choices. Shapeof lines, depth of surfaces, interactions amongst objects; all features of the final product arecarefully implemented in generating the finished piece.
Fig. 13. Graphical representation of geographical origin, emotional, and color associated with each.xiiiA Case Study in Logo Development:Effective Student MarketingIn pursuant to our goal of intelligent design, we want every project we work on to be smartlyconceived, and not just aesthetically appealing. Successful and creative design depends whollyon critical thinking and research. To help our clients, Jackrabbit designers work to:1. Find the brand voice2. Define what makes them unique3. Establish core message of the brand4. Choose how best to visually communicate the message5. Determine audience and what motivates them6. Identify specific challenges, and define objectives to solve themThroughout this process, we ensure that the design is visually appealing and that every decisionhas a reason, based upon our research.Effective Student Marketing wanted to promote an image of trust, professionalism, andinnovation, among other defining characteristics. Jackrabbit worked with them to generate therelevant adjectives: smart, techie, creative, professional, innovative, trust, integrity. Furthermore,as a basis for our design, we needed to include some logistical criteria, like inclusion of the entirecompany name and the ability to have a single color version. Based on these characteristics, wegot to work.
Let’s take a look at ESM’s current logo, the chosen option amongst our presented selection.Every facet of the design is meaningful. The shapes and colors of the graphic portray brandheritage, connecting the previous identity to the new design. The marketing reach of ESM’svoice can be seen in the cylinder illusion, with the overlapping shapes also establishing theconnections the company fosters with its own clients. Key qualities of the brand, like partnership,integration, and transparency all come to fruition. On first glance, the logo may not appearremarkable, but the intention of the design and the emotional response of the viewer is far moreexceptional, even if we are not fully cognizant of its effect.Overlapping shapes represent common ground— making qualityCONNECTIONS between students and schoolsInteraction of shapes represents PARTNERSHIPS and theINTEGRATED approachTRANSPARENCY of methods and resultsStacked formatusing a clean &modern font givesequal emphasis andlegibility to the fullnameIllusion of acylinder represents the amplifyingREACH of voicethrough smartmarketingColors and circles have brandheritage in old logoConclusionGood design is smartly conceived. What we view as previously successful and creative piecesreflect what our brains like to see. We want simple but striking images. Bite-sized contentappeals to our attentional efficiency, and doesn’t overwhelm our senses. Aesthetic appeal, albeitwell-situated in our cognition, is not sufficient to guarantee intelligent design. Our lower levels ofprocessing are blunt and activate upon the familiar and pleasant, but through critical thinking intothe intricacies of design, we better access the higher areas of processing. The more we integratemeaning and emotional characteristics into our design, the better we can achieve lasting effectson our audience.
Source List1. Attwell, D., Buchan, A. M., Charpak, S., Lauritzen, M., MacVicar, B. A., & Newman, E. A. (2010). Glial andneuronal control of brain blood flow. Nature, 468(7321), 232–243. doi:10.1038/nature096132. DeBruine L.M., Jones B.C., Unger L., Little A.C. & Feinberg D.R. (2007). Dissociating averageness andattractiveness: Attractive faces are not always average. Journal of Experimental Psychology: HumanPerception and Performance, 33(6): 1420-1430. doi: 10.1037/0096-1522.214.171.1240 [abstract»»]3. Gladwell, Malcolm. (2005) Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. New York : Little, Brown andCo., 2005. Print.4. Koeslag, J.H. (1990). Koinophilia groups sexual creatures into species, promotes stasis, and stabilizes socialbehaviour. J. theor. Biol. 144, 15–355. Quiroga, R. et al. (2005). Invariant visual representation by single neurons in the human brain. Nature 435(7045): 1102–1107. doi:10.1038/nature03687.6. Riddoch, M., & Humphreys, G. (2001). Object Recognition. In B. Rapp (Ed.), Handbook of CognitiveNeuropsychology. Hove: Psychology Press.7. Wolfe, J.M., Kluender, K.R., Levi, D.M. (2012). Sensation & Perception. Sunderland, MA: SinauerAssociates, Inc.Wolfe, J.M., Kluender, K.R., Levi, D.M., et al. (2012). Sensation & Perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.i(Ibid, 2012)iiBaars, Bernard J.; & Gage, Nicole M. (eds.) (2007), Cognition, Brain, and Consciousness: Introduction to Cognitive Neuroscience(Amsterdam: Elsevier), Fig. 6.10iiiNorth, Paul. Nobody Ever Asks ‘How’s Waldo?. New Yorker 7 Feb 2011: n. pag. Print.ivHong, Sockyung. Yahoo vs. Google Home Page Design Evolution. Digital image. Flickr. Yahoo, 5 Nov 2007. Web. 2 Jun 2015.vHayes, Josh. Williamson Pottery. 2011. LogoGala. Web. 10 Jun 2015.viTice. Plain Paper. 2010. Logopond. Web. 10 June 2015.viiCarrillo, Rodolfo. Paint the City. 2009. Logopond. Web. 10 June 2015.viiiHeisler, Sean. Blue Dog Properties. 2009. Logopond. Web. 10 June 2015.ixDiatrope Institute. Diatrope Institute logo. 2002. Diatrope Institute. Web. 10 June 2015.xj-CAZ. Negative. 2009. Logopond. Web. 10 June 2015.xiWolfe, J.M., Kluender, K.R., Levi, D.M., et al. (2012). Sensation & Perception. Sunderland, MA: Sinauer Associates, Inc.xiixiiiMcCandless, David. Colours In Culture. 2009. Informationisbeautiful.net. Web. 10 June 2015.
Okay, enough with the science (for now), and onto design. If neuroscience is the study of the brain and nervous system, then “intelligent design” utilizes the careful understanding of our