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This chapter is from the book

A New Perspective on Design

Psycho-Aesthetics arose as a formal practice out of the study of designs that were lauded for their beauty but failed in the market. Careful analyses reveal a simple and profound truth:

  • "It's not how you feel about the design, it's how it makes you feel about yourself."

This counterintuitive idea has major implications for how companies approach their study of consumers and the innovation process. Few consumers buy purely on the basis of need. In the developed world, a majority of purchases are driven by a need for entertainment and self-actualization. But even for the four billion people in the world who remain poor, aspirations play a pivotal role in their consumption decisions—note the size and growth of the cell phone industry in emerging markets.

When we look at design success across industries, it's clear that the relationship between what catches our attention and what eventually wins our hearts can be mysterious and complex. Consider some of the brands in different categories that are consistently given top ratings from consumers—from airlines (Jet Blue, Southwest), cars (BMW, Honda, Toyota), and food (Costco, Trader Joe's, and Wegman's), to Internet businesses (Amazon, eBay, and Google).1 There isn't a pattern to the functionality, aesthetics, or price points in their offerings. But there is a consistency to their quality and the unique and consistent experience they provide—in short, in the way that they tend to the well being of their consumers.

Of course, there is no shortage of alternatives for the specific products and services that the top brands provide. It is the way they respond to the emotional needs of consumers that sets them apart. The ultimate goal of design is not merely making things that people enjoy or creating awareness of the company. When design creates feelings of empowerment, people are eager to share their experience with others. This cycle is essential to generating demand virally and building brand loyalty.

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