As humans, the design that surrounds us influences our thoughts and subsequently our behavior. Understanding this relationship between the environment and our mind is essential. Our brains are not only hard-wired to interpret certain spatial characteristics in specific ways, but they also play a role in how we make decisions based on those interpretations. All in all, design is a type of “food for thought” where designed surroundings impact not only how a person perceives the world, but also how they interact within it.
Processing Architecture with Our Brains
We interpret design through our minds, which plays a role in influencing our thoughts and subsequent behavior. Design impacts our creativity, focus, health, attention, mood, and social ability. Design also plays a significant role in our brains, not just as we perceive space; but also as we engage in interactions, behaviors, and thoughts.
The ceiling of a room, for example, affects how people process information. A lower ceiling within a room promotes greater attention to detail by its occupants while higher ceilings encourage abstract and creative thinking. Different objectives within the design call for varying ceiling heights.
Using Experimental Psychology
The recent slowdown in consumer spending particularly affected the retail sector. However, this most competitive and dynamic of sectors are fighting back with some innovative design strategies at the cutting-edge of experimental psychology. In just a few decades, this sector has changed beyond all recognition. Driven by fierce competition, experimental psychology has been at the forefront of new marketing concepts, such as brand management and customer loyalty.
In a period of economic uncertainty, retailers are adopting another weapon – the manipulation of the consumers’ minds. It’s a developing science, but one that retailers are increasingly relying on because what matters is converting browsers into paying customers. Parting consumers from their money has never been more critical. However, this science varies between men and women. For example, 65% of men who take a pair of jeans into a changing room to try them on will buy them, while only 25% of women will make the purchase. A women shopping with a man will spend less time in a store than shopping by herself or with a child.
The concept, as retailers know, is to first entice a shopper inside the store and to then encourage them to linger. The longer they remain, the more they are likely to buy. That’s why supermarkets stock the most popular staple items like bread and milk at the back of the stores – forcing customers to walk further and pass other products on the way. It works: research suggests that over 50% of supermarket purchases are bought on impulse.
However, modern research-based and observational techniques have gone much further in trying to understand how we shop. For example, we walk around shops in the same way as we drive a car. If we drive on the right side of the road, we tend to keep to the right when walking down sidewalks or supermarket aisles. The British and Australians, conversely, tend to turn left when entering a store. It’s a branch of scientific observation called environmental psychology, and its proponents claim it will revolutionize the design of shops and public areas.
In an airport, experimental psychology dictates that travelers walking to their gates should find fast-food outlets on their left and gift shops on their right. The mind game being played is, if a traveler is hungry, he or she is willing to cross a lane of pedestrian traffic to buy something to eat. However, they’ll rarely do so to make an impulse gift purchase.
Some retailers who have bought into this new psychology have taken it to extremes. Samsung, for example, has experimented with what it calls coercive atmospherics in its flagship store in Manhattan – pumping in the smell of honeydew lemon and continuously but subtly changing the lighting scheme to create a tropical and relaxed atmosphere.
Sophisticated manipulation does raise ethical issues but, as an overall strategy, it’s no more than retailers have been doing to consumers for many years – appealing indirectly to their subconscious minds. In recent years, retailers have acquired a greater understanding of psychology and its role in the sales process.
It’s a fast-developing branch of psychology. In clothing stores, when “feminine scents” like vanilla were introduced, sales of women’s clothing increased. The same was true for men’s clothing when “male” scents were used.
The Psychology of Color
The one significant psychological influence all retailers can and do is to make use of color. Color can be everything to a successful store if the palettes work well across the whole shop and complement other elements such as product displays and lighting. The point isn’t about creating the most beautiful shop, but one with coherence.
Color is central to coherence because people react instinctively to it. For example, red means “stop” and green means “go.” Our brains are wired to respond to color, and for modern retailers, the trick to using color is to understand both its physiological and psychological influences.
People react fundamentally to colors because they help them make sense of their surroundings; indeed, some 80% of information reaches our brains via our eyes. It means we are instinctively more comfortable when colors remind us of something familiar – for example, a soft shade of blue triggers associations with the sky and a psychological sense of calm. Prisons and hospitals now use color to influence the behavior of inmates and patients.
With children, color associations are still being formed, which is why youngsters respond best to bright primary colors. Bold colors are the color of most toys, clothes, and children’s books- and the color schemes of the most successful kids’ retailers.
Color psychology perhaps explains why people are allegedly more relaxed in a green room and why weightlifters perform better in blue gyms. It’s undoubtedly the reason why some paint manufacturers now have color cards setting out the therapeutic aspects of each color, and why some cosmetic companies have introduced ‘color therapy’ ranges.
People all share similar responses to color, although some cultural variations exist. For example, white is the color of marriage in western societies but is the color of death in China. In Brazil, purple is the color of death. Yellow is sacred to the Chinese but signifies sadness in Greece and jealousy in France. People from tropical countries typically respond favorably to warm tones. However, those from northern climates prefer cooler colors.
Both heart rates and blood pressure rise when people look at intense reds; and conversely become tired or anxious by looking at large areas of bright whites or grays. In a retail environment, understanding those responses can be crucial to enticing a customer inside and then luring them to open their wallet or purse.
Socially Reactive Hues
To make things more complicated, the success of a retail store isn’t so much influenced by the chosen color scheme but by how their target customers react to it. Is the store aimed at teenagers? Thirty-something? Senior citizens? The success of the store depends on how the customer responds to both the products on display and the sales environment. Younger people like the energy of bold colors but older people prefer subtle palettes. Get those colors wrong, and a retailer will find their customers simply won’t relate to their brand.
This color association also extends into food retailing. For example, most fast-food restaurants are decorated in vivid reds and oranges. These are colors that encourage us to eat quickly and leave – precisely what the fast-food operator wants us to do. Luxurious brands, on the other hand, favor softer colors and browns that appear more sophisticated. In fine dining restaurants, the colors are more conducive to hunger, encourage us to linger – and to order another drink or coffee.
Color as a Roadmap
Creating strong and effective color associations is about using every surface to convey the brand message, including floor coverings. In some retail environments, it really does start from the floor upwards, because colors, if required, can enhance mood or change awareness. For example, lighter floor colors can make a smaller room appear more massive, and dark floor colors will make a space seem more intimate. Combined with wall paint colors, a short narrow room can be transformed by matching light colors to deeper color on the short walls and a lighter color on the long walls.
Some retailers are now using colors to influence patterns of travel around a store – particularly from the critical zone just inside the shop entrance, often referred to as the compression or transition zone – the place where customers first orientate themselves with what’s inside. Here, color is being used to subtly ‘direct’ shoppers deeper into the store or, by using different colors and patterns, create subconscious walkways shoppers will tend to follow.
By recognizing how color influences people, salons and retailers are better able to induce feelings of warmth, intimacy or serenity – or, by using more vibrant palettes, to excite or stimulate. It’s about understanding target markets, the product lines to appeal to them and the kind of brand the salon wants to convey.
Creating a perfect palette is about the balance between strong colors, sophisticated neutrals, and subtle textures. It’s about creating style and projecting a corporate image that resonates with customers. It’s also about using the walls and floor to help create a coherent vision.
Designing Salons Around the Mind
Salon design influences your customer’s behavior. The primary design objective is to create and implement a design that combines the physical rejuvenation with an emotional space – achieving a compelling experience. As a result, it creates an environment conducive to buying and maximizes the potential of the salon business.
Dr. Leon Alexander is CEO and Creative Director of Eurisko Design – a comprehensive design, consulting, and distribution source serving the salon and spa industry. Author of A Window into the Consumer’s Mind, Dr. Alexander has a PhD in Behavioral Psychology. He has designed and presented a wide range of educational/business courses for the beauty industry.Share: