In this age of digitally manipulated images, facial and body enhancement filters, false eyelashes, and makeup tutorials using enough product to resurface the moon, you might say our society is obsessed with beauty. Obsessed, yes, but it’s much more about perfection than it is actual beauty. It’s a manic, unrealistic pursuit of an ideal we conjure up or absorb from others.
Obviously, selling that ideal works for industries that provide tools to make achieving it seem possible. But some of the most successful companies do understand – and capitalize on – the kind of beauty people are consistently drawn to. For many businesses, however, real beauty is undervalued.
What is “real beauty”?
1. The Human Face
While it may be true that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, there are two things that always seem to capture our attention: faces and art. For decades, researchers have tried to pinpoint a single “beauty center” in the brain, and in 2020, Chinese researchers studied nearly 1000 adults between the ages of 18-50, analyzing their brain activity as they viewed certain images. Ultimately, they concluded that there are actually two beauty centers: one for art and one for faces. The study showed a similarity across the board in how people process imagery as “beautiful” or “not beautiful”, and that images of faces elicited a greater response in the “reward centers” of the brain than the artwork did.
The advertising agency Adwerx says,
Studies show that 91.7% of ads featuring a person’s face attracted more attention than non-face ads, with the effect being greater in scenarios where exposure time is short (like an ad on the internet or social media). Our brains are biologically hard-wired to process faces, so we’re able to detect faces at least twice as fast as many other stimuli. Attention strengthens memory, so it’s no surprise that the results also showed increased ad and brand recognition with face ads. Human faces can help your ads stand out and create a connection with your audience.
2. The Golden Ratio
For thousands of years, artists have turned to the Golden Ratio to compose paintings, sculptures, architecture, and other works of art in order to captivate audiences. Mathematically, it equals 1:1.618, a ratio of composition often found in nature that people find pleasing to the eye. But it’s not just important for fine art. This design principle applies to logos, websites, social media posts, or any other visual element you put out into the world.
The Golden Ratio with Spiral. Source: Canva
Web designers and graphic designers know this, and often use the Golden Ratio, along with the Rule of Thirds, when they design or choose photographs and layouts.
All your photos and graphics should work together visually and thematically, so they do their job of telling your story and establishing your brand identity. The quality of your creative assets also says something about your brand identity – that you care about quality and attention to detail, for example. Be sure to consider color and composition when choosing your creative assets, and ask yourself what message your visuals are communicating.
Real beauty is authentic, genuine, sometimes even vulnerable. Pay attention to this when choosing words and especially when choosing photographs. Stock imagery is fine as long as the photos don’t look manufactured or cheesy. Even using the word “real” in your search often brings up images that look much more natural and representative of regular people. Unless you’re in an industry that relies on professional models, it’s refreshing to see photos of people that look like those you encounter every day.
Capturing your audience’s attention doesn’t mean much if you can’t keep it for more than a split second. Your visuals – especially those photos of the human face – are supposed to draw your audience in and establish a connection with them. Just as we are hard-wired to process faces, we are also hard-wired to focus our attention first on the eyes. That’s hard to do if there are too many people in the photo or the shot is taken from too far away. Even in a sea of people, the focus on one face, one pair of eyes makes a photo compelling. Consider these two photos and ask yourself which is more likely to foster connection:
Ironically, our culture’s hyper-focus on beauty as perfection results in many of us feeling uncomfortable in front of a lens, especially when it’s zoomed in. But those authentic, vulnerable close-ups are what we actually want to see. It’s an invitation to engage, sometimes even to put ourselves into your context. It may all be subconscious, but it happens and it works.
Beauty in design isn’t “icing on the cake” for your business – it’s an essential ingredient, a building block in the foundation of your brand. Your website, logo, and other creative assets are all part of who you are and they let your audience know who you are, too. So grab a mirror and take a look. It may be time for a little makeover or perhaps, a major overhaul of your beauty repertoire.