I have been reading lately about synesthesia and I have found it very interesting specially for the use of the knowledge of it focusing on branding and marketing.

Synesthesia is a neurologically-based condition in which stimulation of one sensory or cognitive pathway leads to automatic, involuntary experiences in a second sensory or cognitive pathway. 

A common form of synesthesia is the color-graphemic synesthesia where the subject perceives letters or numbers as colored. There are other ways of synesthesia, like the visual motion → sound synesthesia which involves hearing sounds in response to visual motion.

At this point you might be asking yourself, all right, this is a condition that affects a small group of people, why should we care about synesthesia when thinking about design. Here is why:

The above image belongs to a test designed by Wolfgang Köhler, people are asked to choose which of two shapes is named bouba and which kiki. 95% to 98% of people choose kiki for the angular shape and bouba for the rounded one. Even 2.5 year-old children (too young to read) show this effect. 

Here is when this gets interesting. If 95% to 98% of the population have a similar “brain linkage” then we can start considering that 95% to 98% of the population are synesthesic to some extent. 

First thing I can think of is branding. A brand that chooses an image that doesn’t match very well how our brain perceives reality might end up being harder to remember for the customer or even produce a repulse reaction.

On the book, “Marketing aesthetics: the strategic management of brands, identity, and image” By Bernd Schmitt, Alex Simonson. They use the example of Gillette, in 1989 Gillette chose the agency Desgrippes Globe that applied a proprietary research process called “SENSE” (Sensory Exploration and Need States Evaluation) to identify the key design elements (shapes, colors and materials) that express the Gillette product line identity: masculine, traditional but technologically progressive:

  • The color blue express the cleanliness of shaving. 
  • Black communicates universality and gutsy, masculine lifestyle.
  • Silver, with its metallic sheen and industrial presence, reflects the performance aspect of razor blades and sensor.
  • Gillette’s bold Futura logo reinforces the company masculine heritage and leadership position.

These are some examples the process behind any brand creation, what I find interesting is that after testing the final product, 95% of the people receives all the messages the way they are intended.

There is plenty of literature on this topic and I have just started to read about it. I will soon start to read The Hidden Sense: Synesthesia in Art and Science by Cretien van Campen. I will post updates on this issue as soon as I find more interesting information about it.