Aesthetics, Psychology and Perception in Industrial Design

Many companies continually search for designs and images that appeal to the masses. For that perspective, it’s important to look at the interrelationship between aesthetics, psychology and perception in industrial design.

Although I am not a psychologist I am deeply involved in design and aesthetics. The products I design must be appealing to my clients as well as their customers. They must communicate a specific image based on a product, its market, and its intended use.

Two research psychologists at the University of Berkeley—Steve Palmer and Art Shimamura—conducted extensive research on the psychology of art and aesthetics. Their findings led them to conclude that taste and aesthetic preferences are directly related to knowledge.

This makes perfect sense, and I fully agree with their conclusion based on my personal experience as an industrial designer. Knowledge and experiences are stored in memories. These are symbolically correlated to objects, colors, shapes and proportions based on one’s life experiences. This premise can be applied to product design.

The Aesthetics, Psychology and Perception of a Product’s Character

The tools that designers rely on to impart a specific character, aesthetic appeal, as well as product branding within product design, include overall form, color combinations, graphics, details and most important proportion. Identifying a character for the product is critical and could have a huge impact on its acceptance or rejection by prospective customers.

A product’s character should communicate purpose and function based on forms that relate to its intended use as well as the end-user. For example, simple geometric forms most appropriately used for products that are typically intended for harsh environments, abuse, and utilitarian purposes. These types of products are typically power tools, machines, precision instruments or weapons. The proportions for features within power tools and machines would be much bolder than those for fine instruments and precise weapons.

Conversely, similar forms can be applied to children’s toys with softened edges and contours to imply a certain degree of warmth and comfort. Since children’s perceptions of color differentiation is less sophisticated than that for adults, young children’s toys are always pigmented with primary bright colors. The same colors are sometimes used in the products previously mentioned as accent colors to establish a company’s identity.

Soft curves and undulating forms are frequently applied to products to communicate sensuality, comfort, and elegance. If the forms become too complicated and the shapes have little to no relevance to the product’s function, the designs are often regarded as kitsch with a very short product life.

It’s important for designers to creatively relate complex forms to a product in a manner consistent with its use. The shapes must not become too soft or complicated which will obscure the products overall acceptance and appeal. Skilled designers understand the importance of properly proportioning features and structuring details with deliberate priorities in size, location and shape.

Hopefully, this discussion of aesthetics, psychology and perception in industrial design may help you decide how to prioritize your thinking for your next product. If you would like to reach out to me please feel free to call or email at