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Friday, January 31, 2014

How our eyes process signs and advertising

psychology of signs
The brain's ability to process visual cues makes signs marketable
By Louise Williams

Human beings have an amazing ability to process information in a number of ways. Our brains can understand information in the form of sound, smell, touch, and sight.

One of the most essential functions of our information system is processing visual information. This visual information processing is quite complex.

Converting light in to meaning

It begins with our eyes. Through various mechanisms in our eyes, we are given an impression of how the world before us looks. Although this impression comes into our system originally inverted, our brain has an amazing ability to flip this image so that we can understand it. Once our eyes have collected sufficient information about the world, this data is converted into something which our brain can understand. Our retina is responsible for converting the light pattern which comes into our eye into neurological signals.

Converting light in to meaningful data for the brain is not unique to human beings. Most mammals have a similar system to what was just described. However, what humans can do with this information is much more extensive than what is known about other animals. Exactly what happens in the human brain once this information is conveyed is unclear. There are many different theories about what occurs, but despite the lack of clarity about what occurs, it is clear that humans can and do process visual information at amazing rates.

This ability to take light patterns and convert them into meaningful brain signals is essential to the success of signs. By understanding some of the psychology behind our visual processing system, you can better understand how and why signs are effective.

Committing to memory

When a sign is located at or near the business it is advertising, the visual processing system sends signals to the brain, which may be stored in memory. When we see the sign, we also collect information about the location we saw the sign in. Seeing a specific sign at a specific location can cause us to create a memory of the event. Even if we do not interact with the particular business the same day we create this memory, signs can help us identify where a particular store is located when we are searching for that information at a later time. This ability to connect a sign to a business and then commit them both to memory is very valuable in helping customers come into the store.

Selective processing

One interesting fact about our visual processing system is that it is selective. Every day we are inundated with various visual data. The only way our systems do not overload with converting this data into brain signals is through a process of selection. We do not take in every piece of data which is presented to us, but rather select which parts to remember and which to forget.

This is an important element of successful signage. This is one of the main reasons you don’t want your sign to have way too much information including text and a bunch of different colors. Too much and psychologically human beings drown it out. Too little information and we may not notice it enough to form a memory. You need the right balance of information to effectively reach your audience.

Visual cues

Another element of our visual processing system is our ability to remember previous visual cues. If we are frequently exposed to a particular design, then we are more likely to recognize and associate a particular sensation or event to that design. In terms of signs, this means that consistency is valuable. Using the same basic sign design, perhaps with alterations of scale when needed, will encourage us to form the desired memory. We’ve all had that experience of going into some store somewhere and buying that thing. One of the reasons we don’t remember the details of that store is because the lack of memorable signage. You don’t want to go overboard and turn your business into something which looks like a sign store, but you do want to make your design visible and consistently echo it when appropriate.

Modern psychology has divided individuals into different types of learners. These three types are audio, kinesthetic, and visual. Kinesthetic learners are those who learn by touching. The least amount of people fall into this category. The auditory learners take in information best from hearing or saying it aloud. This accounts for a large number of individuals. The largest category are the visual learners, who take in information the best through seeing. This is great news for those with signs because you are tapping into the most common way for individuals to learn new information. With the right sign, you can be teaching them exactly where and how to access your business.    

The study of signage and their emotional and overall psychological impact on the human brain is how IS Installations develops the best signage around. 


About the author: Louise Williams is an expert at breaking down their complicated process to help us better understand how and why certain signs look the way they do.

Image license: Billy Hicks, GFDL, CC BY-2.5