How does Disney make things disappear? Why should you box in red? And what’s the link between beauty and your website? Our Executive Creative Director, James Ramsden, and Planning Director, John Clark, look at why – and how – neuroscience can supercharge the world of design.

Understanding how people decode the world and make decisions is essential to building successful brands – particularly in design. If you want to create brands that engage, cut through and success you need to understand how people decode the world and make decisions about brands – particularly at an intuitive level.

Thinking fast & slow

There are two systems of the brain: System 1 is automatic, fast and unconscious while System 2 is effortful, slow and controlled. System 1 is the Ferrari of thinking compared to System 2. The speed of System 1 is what makes for what feels like intuitive decision making.

Thinking about this in terms of design, research shows we can decode images without actively looking at them. So, even though we aren’t always engaging with visual images, we’re still processing them and getting meaning from them without even knowing it.

For example, people can tell within a tenth of a second whether something is natural or manmade, an indoor or outdoor scene. For design, this means that the best content will be poorly received and interpreted if we don’t pay attention to aesthetics in the overall design.

Visuals are the dominant language

System 1’s dominant language is visual. It takes in all the information from the senses but 90% of what it processes is in the visual realm. This is important for design. Colours hit the eye in very different ways – this is the reason why red and blue are difficult to see beside or on top of one another.

There are evolutionary contextual learnings to this, particularly with the colour red in the West. Research shows Olympic competitors are much more likely to win in combat sports if they’re wearing red than if they’re wearing blue, for example.

All of these rules add up to help us decode the world quickly, based not really on what’s there before us, but what we expect. We can use these things to trick the brain as James explains. The heuristics in our brain conspire to tell us what should be there rather than what exists.

Design heuristics

There are heuristics and rules of thumb that, if understood and leveraged, can give our brands the edge to succeed in the real world. There are three key rules:

1 – We learn by association. So, if you’re wanting to associate your brand with a particular idea, you can look to culture to see where those ideas start to show up and use this association.

2 – We are hard wired to humanity, all of us are naturally drawn to things that feel like they have human qualities. In the world of design, we can attribute certain characteristics or human values to brands.

3 – We assemble visual DNA. We don’t see the world as whole images but more as a collection of smaller images. We construct a whole image from component parts. Understanding visual DNA helps us understand and answer common questions including how similar or different should a subbrand be from a masterbrand or how to reposition a brand whilst still having it remain recognised.