Tag Archives: Personification in Design

Personification everywhere

I’ve been watching a repeat of the series Secrets of the Superbrands, a TV series about marketing of global mega-brands, and the host of the series was visiting a laboratory that creates flavourings and fragrances for super-brands. They spoke about creating flavourings that match the “personality” of the brand, citing a list of emotional attributes that can be embodied “serious”, “playful” etc. How is the different to the varieties of synaesthesia that personify concepts such as numbers and letters, or the varieties of synaesthesia that personify objects such as house plants, fruits and cutlery?

Later a researcher in South London, Prof. Gemma Calvert of the Neurosense Group, at the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences, was shown doing a study with an MRI brain scanner, putting people into the scanner while they were shown photos of the faces of people in their immediate family, and also shown photos of the products, featuring familiar product logos and labelling and packaging design, that they are personally familiar with. Apparently the photos of faces and products triggered similar patterns of brain activation, activiating a “reward centre”, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, and also the face recognition areas at the back of the brain. This could be interpreted as evidence that advertising and marketing and brand packaging design produces the effect of personifiying products in ordinary people, so I think it follows that one does not need to be a personifying synaesthete to perceive objects as though they are faces or people. Perhaps personifying synaesthetes are more consciously aware of this effect, or perhaps we are more open to being manipulated in this way, but it shows that we aren’t really that special or different.

Facial personification of a car in a sideshow ride

personified car with a face on a sideshow ride

Car with a face on a sideshow ride

How creepy is this? Another example of a sculpture or creative design that features personification added to the form of an everyday object. My particular interest in personification is my own theory that personification synaesthesia (as experienced by myself) or something like it gives rise to superiority in face memory (or being a super-recognizer) by naturally making the faces of unknown people more memorable and interesting. But the personification of objects is not limited to synaesthetes or people with unusual perception of faces. The personification of objects is a theme that can be found in sculpture, design, art and advertizing, and I’ve written about an photographed many examples at this blog. Not all personification in sculpture or design takes the form of a face, as in this creepy sideshow ride car. One could say that the fanciful face of this pretend car is a reference to pareidolia, which is a psychological phenomenon in which the mind interprets random or vague images or stimuli as having a pattern or significance. Some classic examples of pareidolia are seeing animals in clouds or seeing faces in rock cliffs orhearing voices in white noise. Even though the fronts of motor cars have little in common with faces (except that maybe a person looks forward through both, and a mouth and a radiator grille are intake openings), the pattern of two headlights above horizontal design features in a symetrical layout at the front of a car makes the human mind think of a face. It is thought that we are so sensitive to face-like patterns because our minds are designed to look for faces. All the same, I’d rather not have to look at one as creepy as this one.

It’s just air and plastic

It’s just air and plastic but it’s creepy all the same. This one is trying to eat the children. Air dancers or wavers wouldn’t be so uncanny and so visually attention-grabbing and so effective as promotional aids if they didn’t exploit the tendency of the human mind to personify or animate objects, especially very large moving and dramatically lurching objects.

Waver or Air Dancer

Red Air Dancer

air ancer or waver

Red Air Dancer

Another Perth sculpture depicting a personified object

Whimsical sculpture at Glendalough Train Station, title and artist unknown

Sculpture at Glendalough Railway Station

If anyone knows the details of this whimsical sculpture at Glendalough Railway Station on the Joondalup Line which looks as though it is made of bronze, please let me know. Tourists do like to use it as a seat, which is a bit of fun. I guess the inspiration was the phrase “legs of a chair”.

Another sculpture of personified fast food

small sculpture of personified soft-serve ice cream cones at a new playground in Western Australia

Cool for Kids by Judith Forrest, located at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity. Alkimos, Western Australia

a playground at Trinity at Alkimos Western Australia
Playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

Macca's burger monster sculpture on drive-thru bollard

Burger monster sculpture on drive-thru bollard at a McDonalds restaurant

Scene at sunset from picnic seating at the playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

Scene at sunset from picnic seating at the playground at Agora Village Square Park, Trinity at Alkimos.

I don’t know what inspires a sculptor to create a work depicting a piece of fast food with human characteristics, but I think it does demonstrate how much the personification of things that aren’t persons is a ubiquitous part of human psychology, not only for those of us who naturally personify numbers and letters with one variation of synaesthesia. Judith Forrest might be horrified if I compare her work with those cute hamburgers with faces that decorate the tops of poles in the drive-thrus of McDonalds restaurants, but I will anyway. Another odd fact which I can’t explain is that this new playground isn’t the only one in the Perth metro area which features one or more sculptures of personified objects. The Piney Lakes Sensory Playground south of the river includes many striking and whimsical sculptures including some personified letters of the alphabet, which for me, a multi-synaesthete with ordinal-linguistic personification, have a special appeal. I think those sculptures might be the work of Anne Fine, and I’ve written about them in the past.

The inclusion of sculptures in a new playground is some indication of the level of quality of this new property development. I’ve spent many a happy hour supervising kids in WA playgrounds, but I think this small playground is the best example I’ve seen of bringing the beauty of the natural local landscape, flora and fauna into a park and playground area. This is an attractive, intelligently-made playspace with play equipment that kids genuinely enjoy, and recreational areas for families that are a pleasure to use. The only issue is a lack of toilets, but I guess that is because this park was created for local residents. If you sit still, tiny blue wrens can be seen darting about in the bushes of WA coastal native plants around the playground at sunset. I wish the Opportunity Playspace on Scenic Drive in Wanneroo (Rotary Park) was a bit more like this wonderful playground. I don’t know exactly who created the Agora Village Square Park, but I’d like to say you’ve done a top job.

Personification of inanimate objects in the “Back to School” shopping list

Photo1116

(In case you were wondering why I’m so interested in the personification of inanimate objects – I have a theory that my ordinal-linguistic personification synaesthesia, one of many types of synaesthesia that I experience, is closely linked in some way with my apparent super-recognizer status. If you are interested in my ideas in this area, click on the relevant tags on this post.)