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design manipulation, part 1: priming

Design is an additional incentive, the purpose of which is to influence our behavior when interacting with an object. In fact, this is manipulation. And like any manipulation, design contains certain algorithms that work with our needs and pains. If even deeper — with our unconscious. Let's start looking at the types of cognitive attitudes of our brain with which we can make our projects more effective.

How we make decisions

There is such a phrase "It should work on an unconscious level." If you want to learn how to make products that people will use automatically, then it's time to get acquainted with heuristics. This is a science that studies how you and I make decisions when a choice is needed. And such situations in our life happen all the time. We choose a series for the evening, choose a place of work, which yogurt to buy, how to start a presentation, where to spend a vacation, etc. The data obtained through heuristics helps marketers from all over the world influence your decisions in stores, at conferences, at interviews, in extreme situations. But we will analyze their application not in marketing, but in design, because there is much less such information on this topic on the Internet. Let's consider the first type of cognitive attitudes — priming.


The first thing you need to know about any unconscious behavior model is good and useful for our body. Namely, by acting automatically in different situations, our brain strives to conserve energy for the full functioning of our body. If we started seriously considering all the risks and opportunities of choosing between soft and ultra-soft toilet paper, there would simply be no time for really pleasant and important things. Therefore, we calmly invite cognitive attitudes into our lives, but we learn to use them.

So, priming. If you are familiar with the effect of a horror movie, when everything becomes more frightening after it, you are under priming. The reality remains the same, but not for you. Priming is the brain's installation to make current decisions based on previously received information. And these decisions are usually unconscious. It turns out that according to priming, we can prepare a person /client/ audience for the right decision by providing appropriate information or creating an appropriate atmosphere. We will not consider how schemes are created for the placement of products in the "Pyaterochka" so that you buy not only bread, but also sausage. This is a niche of marketers and CX specialists. Let's figure out how priming can help designers.

How to use it in design development

Step 1: Synchronize with the viewer/client according to the information received earlier.

The first thing to fix: we do the design for the customer and for his clients. It is important to us what information these people receive before interacting with our design. Secondly, we will break down all types of data received into categories in order to study them structurally in the process of work. These are the categories:

a) The environment in which the viewer/client lives and develops.

Designers often face customer preferences that defy logic. And she is. Just look at these preferences as information previously received by the customer, obtained under the influence of culture, traditions and trends. Based on it, he builds his expectations, which means he will unconsciously use it when making decisions. We cannot influence this, due to the short duration of the projects, but it is possible to understand the context of the viewer through expanding the horizons: develop knowledge about culture, traditions and trends.

b) Previous experience with designers.

The most obvious previous information that will influence the client's further decisions is the experience of working with designers. We can reduce the impact of this kind of priming. It is important for us to learn in detail about the previous experience. The main goal is to understand where you are stronger. After that, we demonstrate our design development system. If it is very similar to the previous ones, then we add something personal: for example, we show the logo at the stage of sketches or we offer not two variants of a business card and a folder, but three. Our task is to become a new reference point for the client.

c) Customer's view of the design.

Often a high level of scrutiny on the part of the client can help you speak the same language. But here it is important to take into account that designers and non-designers look at the same visual from different points of view. Therefore, the client's watchfulness still leads him to unconscious decisions, although it greatly narrows their spectrum. TK "do like apple" still does not give an understanding of exactly how to do it. We can reduce the impact of viewing by collecting our database of references and discussing them with the client. An interesting nuance is that your work on the project begins here, which means that other types of priming should already be taken into account.

d) Features of the industry.

The client cooks in his industry, and therefore has certain expectations in design regarding it. This is the design of competitors, trends, and the desire to be understandable to partners — all this must be taken into account in your work. Its target audience also has expectations about the industry, because the market forms an idea of design and causes stable associations with the desired product. The packaging of smartphones today is always minimalistic, and if you make it in the style of graphite, the brand may be perceived incorrectly. We can influence this type of priming through the presentation of our own research of the industry: it is important to replace the established stereotypes with real fresh facts. And the end user needs to be prepared for all sorts of experiments with capsule launches, but this is marketing, not design.

d) The attitude of the owner to his brand.

Any business owner can tell the story of its creation. But it is important how (!) he will do it. As if this is a routine for him, as an incredible idea or as a headache? We want people who are burning with their work, but this does not always happen. For some, design is a tool for solving problems, for others it is a formality to meet the expectations of the audience. This is neither good nor bad, but the attitude of the client's team to their product will create many unconscious decisions at the design stage. We cannot reduce their influence, but it is very easy to meet expectations. Include in your brief questions related to the history of the brand, how the idea of this particular product came about, what place it occupies among other businesses, what prospects for development.

e) The environment in which the product is sold.

Here we are talking about specific formats for selling products and what the end customer sees during the purchase. A black yogurt package on the shelf among the white ones or a large horizontal banner among the small vertical ones on the website. Let's distinguish two moments that affect the perception:

what surrounds our design at the moment of contact with it:how many colors, what shapes are around, what kind of content is next in meaning, etc.

what the viewer sees before contacting the design:what is the way in the store to the yogurt area, what materials in the magazine to our advertising, etc.

In the case of the design of materials for the service sector, we learn about the arrangement of offices, the format of mailings, etc. If the brochure on bank deposits merges in color with the information rack in which it lies, then you don't want to reach for it on an unconscious level.

w) What was the design before.

There are two possible options. First, there was no design, then there are no expectations based on past preferences. The second is that there was a design, then there are also unconscious expectations being built about it. We can influence this type of priming by finding out the attitude of the client's team to the previous option. Beeline was initially strongly associated with the image of a bee, and in the first rebranding, the operator wanted to keep this association, but at the same time stand in the same visual row with other operators. And in the current version of the logo, the brand has made minimal changes, which tells us about the client's trust in the past sign.

All these layers of information form the unconscious decisions of customers and the audience when evaluating design and choosing products.

Step 2: We use priming in the design.

Let's determine that our design consists of 7 elements:

  • — forms
  • — colors
  • — composition
  • — images
  • — fonts
  • — textures
  • — materials

These are our instruments of influence. All of them are perceived by a person on an unconscious level. All we need is to formulate which/which of the primes are we going to close, and do it with these 7 elements. Let's analyze it on a real case.

The concept of opening a Mark Formelle store in St. Petersburg.

Immersion in the project and communication with the client revealed the following introductory:

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