Graphic Design and Human Behavior – Subarus and Basketball Shoes

The Subaru User Experience

Being in my 2022 Subaru Legacy makes it easy to see design implemented in every square-inch of my surroundings.

The first thing I do after sitting down is to visually scan for the ignition, which brings my eyes across the steering wheel and into the space between it and the touchscreen entertainment console. Moving my head in that way helps me see the neat space where my knee fits perfectly.

As I sit back up I reach back to find my seatbelt, which brings my eyes to my surroundings with a wide arc of visibility implemented in the window’s design (tall with limited blindspots).

After, I reach for the shifter with my right hand. It is easy to grab and highly tied to memory and so I don’t need to look at it, unlike with the design of my girlfriend’s vehicle, which has buttons for park, drive and reverse, farther up on the dash which is unfamiliar.

After this, I grab the steering wheel with both hands, leaving the center of the wheel more prominent than before (the side-buttons are covered by my hands now). In it’s center is the Subaru logo. In small writing imprinted in the wheel (smooth -on-texture imprint) is the logo for the “SRS AIRBAG”. Then below is an smaller imprint of a classic horn symbol. These three symbols together tell me I am in a Subaru, that I am safe, and that I have functionality at my fingertips, which brings with it a feeling of reassuredness or confidence.

These also happen to be the very reasons I desired to purchase the vehicle, and so it reinforces that my choices directly lead to and complement the way I will use the vehicle- to drive down backroads and find lakes and rivers to kayak, a lifestyle that requires a vehicle designed with lifestyle in mind. Self-flattery is possibly the best part of all of this- I get to pat myself on the back for my decision over and over again.

The Core of Design

“For thousands of years, humans have needed and desired social identification.” (David Airey’s, Logo Design Love, Page 10)

“The same visual identity seen time and again builds trust, and trust keeps customers coming back for more.” (David Airey’s, Logo Design Love, Page 21)

The above two sentences describe the core of great design, because they describe the nature of the need for design on a personal and interpersonal level. They both describe the nature of humans and human behavior, and I’ll argue it is really more about the way humans learn.

Take the example of basketball shoes. The shoe does not perform by itself. It assists a person in performing.  The shoes athletes wear may not function the best, for the task of fast-yet-versatile, aerobic and agile movement, because the athlete may take a contract to wear a specific brand of shoe before knowing how well the shoe helps them perform. 

An athlete may switch shoes many times, as they try each in turn, but an athlete that keeps wearing a particular shoe of a specific brand is either getting paid a lot, or actually feels that shoe is the best for the job. People who want to learn to be the best at something, will tend to want to observe someone who is considered the best at that thing. So the fans of the athletes won’t learn through experience the way the athlete does- they will learn by copying the athlete. They may see the shoe the athlete wears, and then buy that same shoe, thinking it will grant them new skills. It will not, but if they have skills then the shoe might enhance or expand the ability of those skills. 

It seems people don’t differentiate between having true skill and wearing a shoe for those with skill, and there may be people who want to look as if they have certain abilities, either for interpersonal reasons such as being accepted by peers, or personal reasons such as an aspiration to increase their skills.

Perception is tied to pattern recognition. A brand is a shortcut in pattern recognition, because it is a symbol that represents a reality, with or without that reality being present. 

People seek brands if they tend to learn vicariously rather than through direct experience. People learning through direct experience tend to mainly desire a product that performs the best, even if it has no logo on it. Hence, brands are mainly important to every person except the one it is made for- the company that gets paid, and the fan that aspires to become more, but not so much the athlete. This is why the company pays the athlete, to make it worth their while to associate with a particular brand. For the majority of people, who are non-professional athletes at best (hobbyists), they pay the company and do not get paid. The money in this cycle flows generally upward, and so it is a lucrative market with high competition to the level of monopoly.

The Subaru Logo

I didn’t have to tell you it is a car logo, probably.

This logo exemplifies three elements of iconic design, keeping it simple, aiming for distinction, and focusing on one thing.

It keeps it simple, because there are several, clearly distinguishable objects on a background of one color. The blue background surrounded by a black and then silver, oblong-shaped outline resemble a headlight coming up in the distance perhaps. The five smaller stars might share a general shape of a car moving around a corner. The large star being connected to the top-most of the five stars adds a lot of tension and movement to the overall image. The logo focuses on one thing, because there is just one object, the 4-pointed star, repeated five times to the lower-right and one large time to the upper left.

Human behavior both drives, and is driven by the design of the objects humans use. The more effective the design, the more effective the behavior can become. The process begins with humans aspiring, carries forward with the use of an object, and ends for some products, when a design is discarded for it’s competition.