Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Final Proposal

Completed and turned in: September 30, 2008

My general goal for this project is to gain a new understanding of design aesthetics, their use in the design process, and their effect on consumerism. In particular, I will be investigating the psychology and science behind why humans feel an initial and subconscious attraction to objects defined as “cute.” Intermediate goals include an increased knowledge of the research done on “evolutionary adaptations,” “visual signaling,” and “Darwinian aesthetics.” I wish to perform precedent studies on objects and living beings already defined as cute, as well as perform surveys and field observations. This will aid the final design process for my furniture design studio in the spring.

A previous class undertaken at Kansas State entitled “Theory of Product Design” first provoked my interest in the psychology of design--why consumers buy certain products and the three levels of design: visceral, behavioral and reflective. The College of Interior Architecture and Product Design bases much study on functional design. I wish to delve further into the study of form design. With a stronger knowledge base on this topic, I can design a product that will create an initial attraction (via form) as well as nurture a lasting relationship (via function).

My findings can further the connection between design and psychology. The subject of “beauty” in design has been widely studied. But “beauty” and “cuteness” are two very different topics, involving very different design decisions, approaches, and audiences. Studying the psychology behind “cuteness,” a topic that transcends culture, can also help to connect different cultures in new ways. My findings can be used as a marketing tool for sustainable technologies, a way to persuade consumers who are reluctant to adopt new green methods, consumers who are more likely to stick to tradition and habit.

I would like to take a special look at the Japanese kawaii (meaning “cute”) culture—it’s history, trends, products, and possible reasons behind this cultural movement. I would also like to study what effect that the use of “cute” advertising and marketing has on consumers and the consumer market. While “cuteness” has been shown to increase sales, there is also an alternate side effect: some consumers have expressed the feeling of being “tricked” into purchasing a product when its usefulness has not equaled its visceral appeal.

[Contact and professor information omitted.]

Proposed Case Studies: The Mini Cooper, Volkswagen Beetle, Toyota Prius and Yaris, and smart cars, Apple products, such as the iBook and iPod, Furby and Cabbage Patch Doll toys, Mickey Mouse and Hello Kitty cartoon characters, and manatees, koalas, and panda bears.

Possible Questionnaires: While a survey may not provide me very scientific information, it may give me an idea about what the average person finds to be cute. An example of a survey would include showing random participants pictures of different products and asking a series of questions, such as:

  • What is your definition of “cute”?
  • Do you consider this object to be “cute”? Or ask participants to rate an object’s “cuteness” on a number scale.
  • What makes this object “cute” or not “cute” to you?

The answers given may give me better insight into which “cute cues” are routinely recognized and which are secondary, meaning which are more obviously cute traits and which are more subtle or subconscious. Gauging and recording participants’ initial responses to pictures (verbal and facial) could also give me a secondary source of information.

Possible Projects: (1) The aging of furniture. What if your furniture aged as you do? If it began as an infant, matured through adolescence, all the way to adulthood? What features would change, getting smaller or larger, altering shape? How would your interaction with each piece differ? Create a series of furniture, 3 to 4 pieces, the first with overly cute features, the last devoid of these features, and the middle piece(s) the process of “growing out” of these cute attributes. (2) An evolution of design. Create a series of furniture that begins with a simple aesthetics that evolve from piece to piece, utilizing more and more “cute” visual cues. (3) A statement on “beauty” and “cuteness.” Create two pieces of furniture, both stylistically similar, but taking my findings and making one more “cute” and one more “beautiful”. Both achieve the same function in the same way, but with different aesthetics. (4) Utilizing the characteristics of cuteness to make a series of sustainable furniture that is more attractive to consumers.

Inquiry Approach: Integration. This project will involve various scientific subjects as mentioned before, all in relation to design. I hope to pool research in all topics into a new understanding of visceral design, to make new connections across these seemingly distinct fields. I would like to deepen other designers’ understanding and increase their knowledge on the topic, to give them better tools and resources for their designs. Eventually, I will apply my findings to my own piece or pieces of furniture.

  • The Design of Everyday Things by Donald A. Norman; A look into aesthetics in design
  • Emotional Design by Donald A. Norman; The psychology behind why we love and hate everyday objects
  • The Aesthetic Object by Michael H Mitias
  • The Panda’s Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould; An essay about the evolution of Mickey Mouse over his first 50 years
  • Studies in Animal and Human Behavior by Konrad Lorenz ; The first occurrence in a study of “cuteness” as a biological and evolutionary trait; Speaks of the “Innate Releasing Mechanism,” a natural, nurturing response to infantile features.
  • Beauty: The Invisible Embrace by John O’Donohue
  • Beauty and the Brain: Biological Aspects of Aesthetics by Rentschler, Herzberger, & Epstein
  • Evolutionary Aesthetics by Voland and Grammer; Visual signaling and Darwinian theory
  • Emerging Visions of the Aesthetic Process by Cupchik and Laszlo
  • A Transformational Theory of Aesthetics by Michael Stephan
  • Concept of Creativity in Science and Art by Denis Dutton
  • Graphic Japan: From Woodblock to Zen and Manga to Kawaii by Natalie Avelia
  • Cute, Quaint, Hungry & Romantic: The Aesthetics of Consumerism by Daniel Harris
  • Reading Faces: Window to the Soul? by Leslie Zebrowitz; A study on how looks can elicit specific responses

  • “Hello Kitty: One Nation Under Cute” by Ilya Garger from Psychology Today
  • “The Science of Cuteness” by Jeanne Moos on CNN
  • “The Cute Factor” by Natalie Angier from The New York Times
  • “Hello Kawaii” by Sharon Steel from The Boston Pheonix
  • “Why are Panda’s so Cute?” by Sam Howe Verhovek from The New York Times
  • “The First Impression” and “Cute on the Brain” by Carlin Flora from Psychology Today
  • “The Cute quotient” by Zenaida Serrano
  • “Too Cute for Words” by Mia Lee from The Stanford Daily
  • “Pandamania: Hard Wired” by Meaghan Wolff from The Washington Post
  • All previous articles are an introduction to studies on “cuteness.”

Scientific Studies
  • “The Functional Neuroanatomy of Maternal Love: Mother’s Response to Infant’s Attachment Behaviors” by Madoka Noriuchi, Yoshiaki Kikuchi, Atsushi Senoo from Biological Psychiatry; A study done at the University of Oxford involving MRI measurements.
  • “Natures and Cultures of Cuteness” by Gary Genosko from Invisible Culture; An article on how and why cuteness transcends culture.
  • “The Biology of Cuteness” by D. Balasubramanian from The Hindu
  • “Amygdala Activity Related to Enhanced Memory for Pleasant and Aversive Stimuli” by Stephan Hamann from Nature Neuroscience; MRI studies and study on how the brain responds to different stimuli; Useful in my study on the utilization of “cuteness” as a marketing tool.
  • “Ecstasy and Agony: Activation of the Human Amygdala in Positive and Negative Emotion” by Stephan Hamann from Psychological Science; Connects different stimuli with similar brain patterns; Useful for pairing “cuteness” with other factors in design.

  • Cute Overload (www.cuteoverload.com)
  • The Cute Project (www.thecuteproject.com)
  • I Can Has Cheezburger (www.icanhascheezburger.com)
  • All previous website sources will be used as case studies. Each of the three sites is created simply to house pictures of “cute” objects or animals. The incredible amount of hits that these sites receive proves that “cuteness” has a place in culture and consumerism.

When my research nears completion, I will begin to draw connections between various topics and sciences. I would like to take both my case studies and surveys and break down each product into its “cute cues,” creating a unique icon for each cue. From that, I can chart which products utilized more “cute cues” and designate a points system. This visual chart will be a great way to summarize my survey in an easy-to-understand manner.

When I move into the schematic design and design development stage, my illustrated chart will give me an idea of which “cute cues” I want to utilize in my furniture design. It will also allow me to see which combination of “cute cues” produced a closer connection between consumer and product. I can then begin sketching and producing study models according to my findings. These will be shown to a random assortment of people in order to gauge individual “cuteness” factors. As I continue developing a more detailed design, through prototyping, sketching, computer modeling, I will rely less on my research and more on human response, as my aim is to increase consumer connection to my product.

Work presentation: (1) Begin with a history of the study of cuteness, early findings by Konrad Lorenz, Stephan Hamann, etc. and move towards modern studies in psychology, sociology, evolution, etc. (2) List the “cute cues” that scientists have shown to illicit an initial attraction to infants, animals, and objects. (3) Introduce the visual chart with these “cute cues” and my case studies. (4) Present each case study individually, which “cute cues” they employ, sales stats. (5) Shift into the subject of consumerism and popular culture, how far “cute” reaches, and my survey findings. (6) Move into what my study means for designers and for the future of design.

Timeline: (There are roughly 8 weeks left in the semester.) 1: Final accumulation of resources. Complete research. Begin surveys, if applicable. 2: Turn notes and research into individual index cards. Meet with mentors about future direction. Finish up surveys, if applicable. 3: Reorder index cards. Create an outline for my book and presentation. 4: Start writing book, gather necessary images. 5: Continue writing book. Begin to translate book into presentation. Meet with mentors about current progress. 6: Create “Cute Cue” Chart/Poster. Begin to finalize book. Continue creating presentation. 7: Finalize book, final editing with mentors, make final changes. Finalize presentation. 8: Get book printed and add final touches to presentation. Practice presentation and timing.

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