The Magical Mix of Art and Science

2017 is the tenth anniversary of the launch of the iPhone, described by Steve Jobs as a “magical device” and which has since become one of the definitive devices of Western civilisation. The iPhone may be a wonder of technology, but it is also a work of art, both in its physical appearance, and the intuitive brilliance of its user interface. It is the two combined that make it magical.

The world is powered by science, but shaped by art. From hi-tech products like smartphones, to disruptors like e-cigarettes, and even the packaged goods we eat and drink, scientific principles have been transformed by art into products, and brands, which consumers desire.

Today, I’m attending the Packaging & Converting Forum (PACE) in Amsterdam. It’s impossible to spend time here without understanding the relentless impact that science has upon packaging, with countless suppliers all competing to create containers that are smarter, more user friendly, and use less of the Earth’s resources. However, I can’t help but wonder how much of this effort is actually directed towards real consumer / shopper issues. On a day when UK consumers are being told to sniff their milk instead of relying on Best Before Dates, one wonders if we really need a heat sensitive ink to change colour to know if a can of lager is cold enough to drink? It is interesting that this event is almost entirely attended by scientists and technologists, with little evidence of the dark arts of brand management or consumer research.

At Visuality, we’ve been mixing art and science for nearly 20 years, bringing together evidence- based insights into cognition and behaviour, rigorous research techniques like eye tracking, and old fashioned creative flair. Colours and shapes are the building blocks of great design, but they are also fundamental to how shoppers navigate a busy store or a crowded shelf, and are able to recognise categories, and brands, in a fraction of a second. If designers use colour and shape intelligently, they can drive both visibility and desire.

A great example of mixing art and science is our work with Rob, our tame magician (who’s also a psychologist). As a fully paid up member of the Magic Circle, Rob’s well versed in the art of misdirection; as a cognitive psychologist, he can explain the science that lies behind the artistry. I’m sure we won’t get in trouble with the Magic Circle for saying this (if a frog answers the phone next time you call, you’ll know I was wrong), but it’s all down to the eyes. The real trick is to make the audience look elsewhere. The same principle applies in brand recognition – if your brand doesn’t catch their eyes first, you won’t get them under your spell.

If you want to be found, you have to know where they’re looking – and what they’re looking for.

That’s why, at Visuality, we blend the art of looking great with the science of being selected. The results can be magical.

Image from PACE Europe