Psychology’s influence on marketing and user interactions

Modern marketing material and user interface designs leverage decades of study on human sensation and perception. From the refinement of color choices to be more visually pleasing, to relational object design so every fresh pair of eyes can correctly perceive the intentions of the creator. These visual cues have seemingly advanced rapidly in recent years; this is in part due to technological advances and in part due to the understanding of how every day interactions can be improved by the findings of psychological studies.

My current favorite marketing play on the senses is McDonalds. Their play on human perception is annoying if you’re Starbucks, clever if you’re McDonalds, and well…indefinable as a consumer. The trick that McDonalds is using is to use visual cues that are perceivable as a Starbucks advertisement (if you put a green logo on those brown banner ads there would be no question about who was selling coffee). The play is interesting and we certainly wouldn’t have ads like this if it weren’t for all those psychologists discovering how we perceive colors, print, designs, and of course illusions….

As a consumer, you notice the normal colors that you would see coming from your third place, your standard coffee shop, and you wonder, ”What does my coffee shop have to tell me on this ad?”. As you commit to seeing what they are going to tell you, your eyes focus on the white lettering where you quickly see a line that is targeted directly at the recent annoyance that you had with your coffee shop…the price! Now your mind wonders, where else would I go that would offer a similar environment to my coffee shop (after all the color scheme and steaming cup of coffee is the same)? Where would I go that would offer the same tasty coffee at a cheaper price? Are they around here? Oh there it is in the corner, hidden away from sight, hmm….McDonalds? Well it is free coffee today….Why not?

As for user interface design, well that is changing much slower than marketing materials. However, simple things like making controls for settings analogous to old standard controls that used to exist on mechanical machines (like radios). This makes the interaction much easier for the end user who, upon seeing a round dial on a musical device can easily make the analogy that if they turn or somehow spin the dial, the volume will go up, or the “channel” will change. These are simple principles that are based on how we, in or civilized society, have learned to perceive objects. If we were born in a less civilized country this concept would be foreign to us and the perception that the iPod has a dial on the front would not be made. As we move closer to a global economy and share more culture, designs that are based on the psychology of perception will continue to gain more traction. Humans in any society will be able to make those analogies and it will get no longer be just the civilized world. Of course until that happens….interface and interaction designers continue to have a HUGE market to leverage and decades of research to base it on so they won’t slow down anytime soon.

The next time you’re thinking about how to customize the feeling that you give to people either as a marketing ploy or to make your offering easier to use, a long deep look at the research that has taken place over the last couple of decades about simple perceptions, sensations, and sociological influences would probably be in order….or at least finding someone who has :)

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One Response to “Psychology’s influence on marketing and user interactions”

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