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Not Slacking Off

by M.G. Siegler


"To sell something surprising, make it familiar; to sell something familiar, make it surprising."

Fascinating article about Raymond Loewy, the "father of industrial design" -- filled with so many great blurbs like:

Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new. As a result, they gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. Loewy called his grand theory “Most Advanced Yet Acceptable”—maya. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.

Along those lines:

For that reason, the power of familiarity seems to be strongest when a person isn’t expecting it.
The reverse is also true: A surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. 


The preference for familiarity is so universal that some think it must be written into our genetic code. The evolutionary explanation for the mere-exposure effect would be simple: If you recognized an animal or plant, that meant it hadn’t killed you, at least not yet.

Mildly ominous.

A great industrial designer, it turns out, needs to be an anthropologist first and an artist second: Loewy studied how people lived and how machines worked, and then he offered new, beautiful designs that piggybacked on engineers’ tastes and consumers’ habits.


Max Planck, the theoretical physicist who helped lay the groundwork for quantum theory, said that “a new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

So true.


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