Cognitive Psychology and the Beauty Premium


In a brief submitted to support Apple in its multi-million dollar Supreme Court patent battle against Samsung, 111 of the most renowned designers and theorists including industrial designer Dieter Rams, fashion designers Calvin Klein and Paul Smith, typography idol Paula Scher, and architect Norman Foster explain the value of design to tech.

The document is a brief review of the effects of mechanization on daily life from an historical perspective, the emotional power of design, and much more—with examples from the automobile and consumer products industries.

Form is strongly associated with function:

“Design is particularly important for consumer products with complex technology. Cognitive science proves that a product’s visual design has powerful effects on the human mind and decision making processes, and eventually comes to signify to the consumer the underlying function, origin, and overall user experience of that product. Sight is overwhelmingly our strongest sense.

In addition, the human brain recalls memories and emotions attached to visual stimuli for far longer than text or words. Because the brain does not separate the physical appearance of an object from its functions, a consumer’s subsequent exposure, experience, or knowledge of a product are cognitively mapped onto the product’s visual design such that the look of the product comes to represent the underlying features, functions, and total user experience.

This is especially true in the market for complex technological products. Counterintuitively, when a single product performs numerous complex functions, and when parity in functionality is assumed across manufacturers, product design becomes more important, not less. By stealing designs, manufacturers steal not only the visual design of the product, but the underlying functional attributes attached to the design of the product, the mental model that the consumer has constructed to understand the product, and the brand itself and all associated attributes developed at great expense in the marketplace.”

We like beautiful objects, they touch our hearts — for their “self-enhancement” qualities, and eliciting an “instantaneous approach,” we think they are superior to others.

In Blinding Beauty: How Unexpected Product Attractiveness Can Overpower Negative Information Hanna Kim, Andreas Eisingerich, and Gratiana Pol (2011) say:

On a cognitive dimension, beautiful products hold the promise of making us more attractive and socially desirable through possession.


On a motivational level, beautiful products elicit an immediate and powerful approach desire that manifests itself in a craving for sensory proximity. Not surprisingly, museums try to address this issue by asking viewers not to touch the displayed art.

There is such a thing as the beauty premium.


[amicus curiae via Quartz]