Psychology and design go hand in hand.

3 Weird Tales of Psychology and Design

The relationship between psychology and design flows both ways, and there are tons of papers to show for it. Researchers and product developers continue to explore the practical applications of haptics, and the field of neuromarketing continues to build momentum. There have been some pretty weird findings throughout their combined history however, but these three in particular show the funnier side of the human mind.


1. Baker-Miller Pink

Button color is one of the first things that digital marketers like to A/B test. Like all elements worth testing, its hypothesized benefits seem only marginal, yet its actual effects are often surprising. Quite simply, color matters. But skeptics might be interested in learning how anyone came to analyze their effects in the first place.


Baker-Miller Pink hasn’t ever been a Pantone Color of the Year, but it does hold a special distinction: it’s also known as Drunk-Tank Pink. For design nerds, it’s RGB values are R:255, G:145, B:175, but it’s a peculiar kind of pink that was found in 1978 to have “a marked effect on lowering the heart rate, pulse and respiration as compared to other colors.” A test conducted the following year at a correctional facility in Washington state found that inmates placed in cells painted Baker-Miller Pink were less hostile or erratic after just 15 minutes. Since then, research has been kind of spotty, but researchers from Johns Hopkins University also found that Baker-Miller Pink is kind of an appetite suppressant. At least there’s that.


2. The Major Influence of Imagery

In a 2008 study, researchers from Colorado State University and the University of California found that scientific articles (specifically those about neuroscience) were judged as more scientific and more credible if they used images of the brain — even when compared to studies that used other visual tools, like bar graphs and topographic maps of brain activity (which don’t really look like brains). This was still true even if the articles in question had errors in their scientific reasoning. The researchers pointed out however that they had a specific set of conditions: there’s an intuitive connection between the mind and brain, and cognition science doesn’t usually rely on representations of physical systems. In short, adding an MRI of a brain won’t make any random blog post more convincing, but the correct imagery can definitely help.


3. Gruen Transfer

The Gruen transfer is legendary among architects, merchandisers and psychologists. The “transfer”, named after Viennese architect Victor Gruen, is the moment that customers stop shopping for a particular item and start shopping in general. In the 1930s, Mr. Gruen’s architectural specialty was the shopping mall, and he figured that good, usable store design could make shoppers more enthusiastic, which would lead to better sales. Like most renowned architects, he placed a primacy on livability, keeping people above all other factors in his approach to planning. But as the concept of the shopping mall evolved over next few decades, their environments were manipulated more and more to encourage as much spending as possible. These architectural influences can be found in floorplans that expose customers to as many stores as possible, those long stretches without stairs or escalators, and even the greenery that helps cultivate a feeling of security. Gruen rejected these new designs as bastardizations of his vision, but the effect still bears his name.


Psychology and design play a huge part in how we, as people, interact with the world. Want learn more about it? Take a look at our blog — we’re discussing everything from creative blocks to mobile marketing.

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