Special Session Summary Affecting Consumers Through Identity and Design

Alex Simonson, Georgetown University
[ to cite ]:
Alex Simonson (1997) ,"Special Session Summary Affecting Consumers Through Identity and Design", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, eds. Merrie Brucks and Deborah J. MacInnis, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 64-66.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 24, 1997      Pages 64-66



Alex Simonson, Georgetown University


In the move from brands to design, there are numerous CB issues that arise. We might be interested in the effects of color or shape in packaging; in isolating various elements of typefaces or logos affecting perceptions; in determining how consumer tastes for product appearances shift or why certain designs appear "outdated" while others remain "classical."

We might see a need for a framework to understand people’s reactions to design or to "trade dress," that entire bundle of non-functional stimuli, like the shape of the Coca-Cola bottle, the look of the Nike logo, the motif of the Starbuck’s coffee shops, the scent and sounds in the Crabtree and Evelyn stores.

This session comes on the heals of a long line of work on the experiential aspects of consumption pioneered in major part by Morris Holbrook. But, two major differences distinguish this session. Here, the focus is on all kinds of products and services rather than on inherently aesthetic products like fashion and music. And, here, we move towards bridging the gap between a field of academic inquiry and a field of business practice-corporate identity and design-one that is crying out for academic insights.

Design firms from the largest like Landor Associates, Siegel & Gale and Chermayeff and Geismar, to the smallest one-person graphic design shops, strive for insights in understanding consumer reactions to design, in devising methodologies to explore possible effects, and in using conceptualizatins to help bridge the consumer behavior concerning design and the management of design processes.

We’re now sitting five years after what we can call the great fall-out of the early 1990’s, when identity and design in the industrial world went through turmoilCcompanies no longer wanted to spend seven-figure pay-outs for corporate identity projects, identity departments were disbanded, and many designers left the field. But what has evolved is more interesting, a world where ad agencies have acquired design firms, so design is viewed as part of an overall communications program, where designers must not only be concerned with art but also with consumer behavior and communications strategies. In this new environment, academic research can no doubt provide theoretical, empirical and strategic insights.

Those interested in this area will note that design or trade dress is a system of interrelated stimuli, like corporate buildings and lobbies, retail spaces, web sites, product and service offerings, packaging and promotional materials. Research streams have sprung up to study certain aspects of the system. The papers that will be presented here draw from a variety of research streams mixing empirical and conceptual approaches.

We begin (in the context of logos) exploring "style," the basic element of design, and how it impacts reactions to design. We then move (in the context of packaging) to empirical studies on how design affects choice. Finally, we conclude with an overall strategic conceptualization of consumer perceptions of trade dress.





Pamela Henderson, Washington State University

Joseph Cote, Washington State University


Virtually every company uses a logo as part of its corporate aesthetics. Currently, logo selection is frequently based on a CEO’s preference from a small set of options presented by a design company. A major problem is the lack of empirical research on the determinants of reactions to logos. The recommendations about logos in the marketing and graphic design literatures are usually based on the expertise of professionals. This paper examines the experimental aesthetics, gestalt psychology, graphic design, and marketing literature to develop an empirical study to test which aesthetic characteristics influence evaluations of a logo’s recognition, liking and meaningfulness. Our goal is to identify the underlying design dimensions (factors) that capture a variety of aesthetic characteristics. We then use the underlying design dimensions to explain reactions to logos and suggest general guidelines for logo design.

The major problem has been that each literature discusses only one or two design characteristics at a time (e.g., complexity and meaningfulness), ignoring the complex relationships among all the characteristics. As such, there has been no development of an integrated theory. But, taken together (we will discuss the literature), the different research streams reveal that there are 9 aesthetic characteristics that should influence reactions to logos: complexity, symmetry, durability, representativeness, cohesiveness, activeness, flatness, roundness, and organicness.


Values for all 9 aesthetic characteristics and three types of reactions were collected for 195 foreign logos from Kuwayama (1973). Following Berlyne’s (1974) guidelines, an average rating of large numbers of subjects or ratings by trained experts were used as measures (Beryne 1974). Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) was used to construct factor scores for the 9 aesthetic characteristics and 3 types of responses. The factor scores for each aesthetic characteristic was included in an exploratory factor analysis (i.e., a second order factor analysis). Factor scoring coefficients were estimated and used to calculate factor scores for the design dimensions. These design dimensions were then used as independent variables into three regression analyses to predict recognition, affective reactions, and meaningfulness. Both main effect and all interactions were included in the regression model. To avoid problems associated with multicollinearity, hierarchical regression was used. The main effects model was fit first, and the interactions were regressed against the residual of the main effects model.


Preliminary results indicated that durability and cohesiveness could not be adequately measured. The remaining 7 aesthetic characteristics were captured by three factors. Elaborateness combines complexity, activeness, and depth and appears to capture richness of design. (It should be noted that elaborateness is not the same as intricacy or detailed. Rather it suggests the use of simple lines to capture the essence and meaning of something.) Naturalness combines representativeness, organicness, and roundness to reflect the degree to which the design reflect something common to everyday experience. Lastly, symmetry is retained as a "factor" of it’s own. The three aesthetic factors explain a significant amount of recognition, affect and meaning. Examples of logos were presented to highlight the design guidelines suggested by our results.


Berlyne, Daniel E. (1974), Studies in the New Experimental Aesthetics: Steps Toward An Objective Psychology of Aesthetic Appreciation, Washington, D.C.: Hemisphere Publishing Corporation.

Kuwayama, Yasamura (1973), Trademark and Symbols Vol. 1: Alphabetical Designs and Vol. 2: Symbolic Designs, New York NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.




Lawrence L. Garber Jr., Appalachian State University

Raymond R. Burke, Harvard Business School


With the ongoing fragmentation of mass media, point of purchase promotion plays an increasingly important role in the promotional mix. Managers have two major options. One approach is to copy the look of other brands in the category, including the elements such as color, package shape and graphics. Another is to design packaging that intentionally looks different from other brands. The former approach, an "imitation" strategy, has the virtue of reassuring the shopper by fulfilling the expectations of what a brand in the category should look like (Dichter 1965, Loken and Ward 1990). This provides a measure of legitimacy and credibility, which essentially borrows from the visual conventions established and made meaningful by one’s competitors. The latter approach, looking different, offers the virtue of noticeability through surprising contrast (Dichter 1965). This approach, however, is also risky, because novel appearance, though visually striking, may also convey an image or a meaning o the consumer that is deemed unfavorable or inappropriate, which would disqualify it as a credible candidate for purchase consideration.

Study 1

In empirical research using a computerized grocery store simulation, the authors have demonstrated that novel package appearance may effectively evoke purchase consideration if it is also appropriate to its category. In so doing, they have devised a means by which novelty and appropriateness can be measured independently. In this research, the identity and recognizability of individual brands were carefully maintained across changes to existing packaging, to reveal the relationship between novelty and appropriateness and purchase consideration.

Study 2

Conversely, in ongoing research, the authors explore the effects of very similar packaging on purchase consideration and choice. We attempt to answer the following questions. What is the reaction of the shopper when confronted with a package so similar to a competitor’s package that one may be mistaken for the other? Will the shopper be put off, or does this confusion of identities allow for one brand to trade profitably on the image and equity of another? Does it matter if the shopper recognizes the intentions of the mimicking brand?

Methodology for Both Papers

In these studies, subjects are recruited by newspaper to shop using a computerized grocery simulation (Burke et al. 1992) designed to mimic the original market environment. Shoppers may manipulate the display to browse the facings, touch the screen to pick and turn a package, or put a package into their shopping cart. The subjects go on a series of shopping trips instructed to shop as they normally would in their own grocery stores. In the course of their shopping, the packages of some brands are exchanged for packages systematically altered to represent certain visual types. Exposure to these new visual stimuli are hypothesized to evoke certain behaviors at several stages in the choice process (Shocker et al. 1991).


Burke, Raymond R., Bari A. Harlam, Barbara E. Kahn and Leonard Lodish (1992), "Comparing Dynamic Consumer Choice in Real and Computer-Simulated Environments," Journal of Consumer Research, 19 (June), 71-82.

Dichter, Ernest (1965), Packaging: The Sixth Sense? A Guide to Identifying Consumer Motivation, Boston: Cahners Books.

Loken, Barbara and James Ward (1990), "Alternative Approaches to Understanding the Determinants of Typicality," Journal of Consumer Research, 17 (September), 111-126.

Shocker, Allan D., Moshe Ben-Akiva, Bruno Boccara, and Prakash Nedungadi (1991), "Consideration Set Influences on Consumer Choice: Issues, Models and Suggestions," Marketing Letters, 1:3, 181-197.




Alex Simonson, Georgetown University

Bernd H. Schmitt, Columbia University


The "visual style of an organization" is seen as a critical means for differentiating product, securing customer loyalty, and creating positive impressions among the public at large (Olins 1990). Indeed, since the rise of a modern consumer society in America in the 1920s and 1930s, styling and aesthetics have been part of all consumer products and services. Styling and aesthetics are intentional or unintentional 'add-ons’ to the physical/utilitarian features of tangible consumer products and the tangible aspects of services. Yet, to date, despite several programmatic attempts (e.g., Hirschman and Holbrook 1981), consumer researchers have not presented a systematic, strategically useful, conceptualization or empirical research programs to address styling and aesthetics without regard to "aesthetic" products pre-se.

Conceptual Framework

Based on prior research (e.g., Schmitt, Simonson and Marcus 1995), we present a conceptual framework that constitutes a systematic categorization of relevant concepts. We distinguish three relevant concepts: aesthetic styles, aesthetic themes and overall impressions. Analogous to the concept of a mental representation (prevalent in the information-processing paradigm of consumer research), aesthetic styles refer to the form (or format) of consumers’ perceptions of styling. Aesthetic themes refer to their content. Overall impressions are consumer perceptions created out of combinations of styles and themes.

As defined in Webster’s dictionary, the concept of "Style" refers to a distinctive quality or form, a "a manner of expression." We draw from literature in the arts where, according to the art historian Meyer Shapiro, style is "the constant formCand sometimes the constant elements and expressionCin the art of an individual or a group. Style, is above all, a system of forms." We discuss how styles and their various underlying aesthetic elements can affect consumers, marketers and society, identifying various aesthetic styles (e.g., complexity, representational, and perceived movement dimensions) and the perceptions of their underlying components (e.g., colors, shapes, materials). Aesthetic themes originate in various ways and language acts as a filter for creating themes. We discuss themes in the form of labels, slogans, and narratives. Finally, overall impressions result from bridging styles and themes. The dimensions (e.g., time and space dimensions) result in various overall cognitive and affective responses.


Hirschman, E. and M. B. Holbrook (1981), Symbolic Consumer Behavior. Ann Arbor, MI: Association for Consumer Research.

Olins, W. (1990), Corporate Identity, Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Schmitt, B. H., A. Simonson and J. Marcus (1995), "Corporate Aesthetics: Managing Your Company’s Image and Identity," Long Range Planning, 28 (5), 82-92.



The discussant focused on the relation of design in various aspects of our experiences and consumption activities. He showed how design can become part of buildings, part of advertisements, etc. He then led a discussion of the papers.