Have you ever wondered how some magicians can read the minds of an audience at a magic show? Make them do something they don’t want to or get them to always choose a random object out of a bag and be 100% accurate? This may look like a magic trick, but these tricks are performed in a way where the performer is always correct. Years of understanding human psychological behaviour can be used to reprogram our minds. Some of these tricks are present in advertising, where graphic design is used to increase customer engagement and entice people to buy their product or services. Are they really designed like this on purpose? Or is it merely a coincidence?
Here we will be exploring at some of the ways where this is presented in design and media and how everyone can be aware of it.
Subliminal messaging is something you take in subconsciously. It is designed to change the way of thinking without the consumer realising it. They are usually hidden well enough for a normal person to not realise it, but it can become a tool to change the thoughts of someone else. On the topic of design I will be looking for the more visual side of subliminal messages.
There has supposedly been some leaks of how the media uses subliminal messages. These reveal the subtleties in design, whereby the viewer would take a glance at an image and change how they think and feel. Normally, these are made to seduce the viewer into feeling the need to buy a product, or to make them feel good about themselves by looking at it. For those who are susceptible, this can make companies a lot more money in the long run as opposed to advertising it normally — so they say.
Having a closer look at the lettuce, we can make out a hidden ‘dollar’ bill sitting above the chicken burger. With this in mind, people who are susceptible to subliminal messaging are inclined to think that they should spend more money on some delicious chicken burgers.
(Images from ‘The Lion King’ and lionking.org)
Some say that there are many hidden subliminal messages in Disney movies. As in the above example, at one point in ‘The Lion King’, Simba is against a night sky with moving clouds. You could make the cloud shapes out as the word ‘SEX’. On the other hand, the special effects team who worked on ‘The Lion King’ claims that the words were in fact ‘SFX’ for ‘special effects’.
As wild as these claims are, it’s for you to decide whether you want to believe it or not.
Logos are a way to identify a company brand. The simpler the better, since they are a lot easier to remember. There are many ways to design a logo but the most common ones are an iconic symbol that represents the brand. But if we look closely at what’s out there, clever logo designs usually try to combine what their company’s business is about, with a pinch of extra secret. Let’s see how some of these ways are implemented.
This is probably one of the more common techniques to incorporate an extra hidden meaning in logo design. Using negative space can be a way to create multiple perspectives in one image. With enough analysing from the viewer, they can discover something more than just the standard logo. This is usually designed on purpose from the designer which can create mystery and interest.
Another method of implementing a hidden meaning is to break up your design into groups where they each have a different contrast. This way, the viewer can distinguish multiple elements and piece them together with a brand new meaning. One example is the Baskin Robbins logo; where the colour blue focuses on the whole name, and the pink reveals a number ‘31’. This is a callback to how many ice cream flavours their company do, and if you discover what it means, the design becomes more interesting.
This is similar to using the negative space in design, but it’s more like an inkblot test where you can make out more than one thing on the same image. For example, the number ‘5’ can also be represented as a letter ‘S’ in a design or a silhouette of a building can stand like a tall letter ‘I’. In the ‘Le Tour de France’ example above, there is a hidden cyclist embedded as this also shows the idea of what their brand is all about: bicycle races.
A good user interface usually gets you to where you want to be with minimal fuss. Especially present on the web, there are many bad user interface designs that hinder the user experience. What some websites do is purposely mix both of these principles of design and have it so it’s easy to sign up and become a member on their website, but then it becomes extremely difficult to get out of.
The signup page is presented with the popup a bright yellow button, inviting the user making the process easy and painless. But the problem is when you try and close your account, they make the process unnecessarily complicated. Giving someone a mundane task will eventually bore them. With that in mind, a lot of people give up closing their account leaving their membership still active.
Bad UX is also present in video games, more prominently on free to play mobile apps. For example, mobile games with a lives system where you are given the option to ‘try again’, ‘buy lives’ or ‘watch an advert’. These buttons are placed in a way where your finger naturally goes towards the unintended position; resulting in playing an unwanted ad or bringing you to the purchase store.
(Image from www.flickr.com/photos/piratechickan)
This tactic is also seen with many third-party websites with online ads. There may have been times where you needed to download something displaying several download button options, and then a popup ad will be in the way of that button. Then the user will accidentally click onto the unwanted web page which in turn will cause them to have a horrible time. To avoid these scenarios try to look out for alternative websites with a secure lock icon next to their website address. This means the files that are hosted on these websites can be trusted and downloaded safely.
Subliminal messaging exists out there and it’s something most of us aren’t aware of. Maybe you’ll start noticing the subtleties in other medias from now. Also try to look out for logos that have these hidden messages, watch out for bad user interface online and in games. Keep an eye out.
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