In a sense, the world wide web is like the largest ever psychology experiment. A psychological marketplace where every day millions of designs, photos and images are uploaded, and tested against millions of behavioural reactions: clicks. The typical psychology or neuroscience experiment in universities is run on around 20 participants, and may take months or longer before it is published. In contrast, the web is working to a radically faster rhythm, running real-time tests, globally, 24/7. Metrics such as social media ‘trending’ lists measure the global psychological pulse, telling us what people are thinking, feeling and desiring around the world.
The web has flattened out the relationship between those who create images and those who view them. In the past, the images created by designers and artists were consumed in silence, whether by the gallery-goer or the magazine reader. Now the viewer talks back. Yet, as we will see later in the book, it is largely not the conscious mind of the user that is talking, it’s their non-conscious mind.
The web is also teaching us new things about the human mind. As an example, consider user-generated content. As recently as a couple of decades ago, few pundits predicted the volume of content that millions of people would enthusiastically post for free. Even experts like Bill Gates back in the mid-1990s imagined that the web would develop into something more akin to multichannel TV, with interactivity limited to things like viewers being able to click on a dress worn by a soap-opera actress so that they could order it themselves. The model was top-down: big organisations pumping out content for the masses to consume. Most experts did not foresee the idea that a whole encyclopaedia could be crowdsourced for free with the voluntary efforts of amateur enthusiasts. Now we take Wikipedia for granted. To a great extent we are now all graphical content creators. Even those without blogs or social media accounts may still be creating visual content in work presentations. Selecting shapes, images, clip-art and so on to illustrate their reports. Even aside from the web, digital tools have democratized design to an extent. At the time of writing, estimates suggest that more than half of all photos ever taken were taken within the last two years. Inexpensive smartphone apps allow people to apply filters and image manipulation effects that were recently the exclusive dominion of professional photographers and designers with access to expensive software.
Yet this efflorescence of creative activity has not diminished the role of the talented and trained designer. Their skills are probably more important than ever. Great design is becoming critical to business success.
Perhaps the main thing the web has taught us is how much people like images. The web is very visually driven and becoming more so. Research has repeatedly shown the beneficial impact of digital images. Articles with good images are more likely to be viewed. Social media posts with images are more likely to be shared. Indeed, social media networks that are based around imagery – such as Instagram and Pinterest – have seen explosive growth. Equally, images and photos are a vital part of Facebook and Twitter. We are visual creatures. We didn’t evolve to read, but we did to look at imagery. It is our most salient sense, and the one that takes up the largest real estate in the brain.
Hence we are adept image consumers. We decode them quickly and easily. They allow us to quickly absorb meaning. They allow us to grasp quickly the gist of a page or post, and guide our decisions to navigate deeper or away altogether.
This is an extract from Darren Bridger's Neuro Design published by Kogan Page