To get good understanding of why the appearance of communications matters so much, I’ve got to preface post #2 in this Simple, Beautiful, Remarkable series with a little biology and history lesson courtesy of Shane Hipps and his book Flickering Pixels.
This is Your Brain on Images
You probably already know the human brain has two hemispheres. The left hemisphere is responsible for reason, logic, and language. The right hemisphere handles more artistic tasks like processing images and music.
After the invention of the printing press, the written word became our primary medium for learning and communication. Processing text is a left-brain activity, and Western civilization became a very left-brain dominated culture with a lot of emphasis on logic and science. As a result, we have a long history of thinking of communication as primarily a logical transfer of information.
That began to change, though, with the invention of the photograph. That change with the introduction of TV. Image processing is a right-brain activity, and so as images have become a more prevalent in our communication, we’ve been training our brains to engage the right side more and more.
The tipping point came in the 80s and 90s with the introduction of cable TV and the Internet, and today we use our right-brain more than our left-brain in processing communication.
The Aesthetics of Communication
Why the history lesson? Why does this matter?
Fifty years ago our big left-brains were content with a newspaper containing 100% text. But today our big right-brains dominate message processing. The first impression we get of a website, email, or church newsletter is not what it says but what it looks like. And because the right side of the brain which is processing the appearance of the message is closely tied to emotions, we “feel” a communication before we know what it says. That feeling sets the tone for the entire message.
Take a look the message below. What does it communicate to you?
My first impression is warm and friendly, but then as I read the text I think, “Whaaa???” I feel a weird tension as my right brain and left brain tell me two different things. The more I think about it the more the tensions grows, until I can feel it physically.
Let’s try another one…
This time my first impression is negative. Then as I read the text once again I’m confused because my right brain and my left brain are telling me two different things. I’m sorry, but I’m just not feeling the love from the lyrics.
One last example…
What kind of church do you think this is, modern or traditional? The words are trying to communicate modern, but the image says traditional. The impression you get is probably a good indication of which side of your brain is doing most of the processing of the message.
Design Speaks Louder Than Words
While the examples above demonstrate the importance making the design of your communications consistent with the language of your communications, it’s much bigger than that. They demonstrate that for most people design speaks louder than words.
- Different colors communicate different emotions.
- The images in your designs show what you value.
- Busy, cluttered designs cause people to feel tension while simple designs with generous amounts of white space are like a breath of fresh air.
- When a recipient connects with the design of your communications, they feel like you understand them. The opposite is true as well.
As a left-brain engineer who was probably locked in an office writing software the day God was handing out artistic abilities, I’ve been slow to grasp these principles. I still probably undervalue the importance of design. That’s why we’re making it a big point of emphasis in 2011.
- What did the example messages communicate to you? Did you feel a tension?
- How important do you think the design of a communication is to the message being communicated?