Consumer Behavior Essay
This section describes the roles of product appearance in the process of consumer evaluation and choice. For this aim, literature in the fields of product development, product design, consumer behavior, marketing, and human factors has been searched. The literature shows that the visual appearance of a product can influence consumer product evaluations and choice in several ways. Several authors considered the role of product or package appearance in consumer product evaluation or choice (Bloch, 1995; Garber, 1995; Garber et al. , 2000; Veryzer, 1993; Veryzer, 1995).
However, they did not discuss explicitly the different ways in which appearance influences consumer choice and their respective implications for product design. In addition to these more recent contributions to the literature, the functions of a product in consumer–product interaction are described in earlier industrial design literature (Lo? bach, 1976; Pilditch, 1976; Schu? rer, 1971). Several of these functions concern product appearance. There are differences between authors in the number of roles (i. e. , functions) of product appearance they distinguish and the terms they use.
For example, communication of ease of use was mentioned by Bloch (1995) and was described as part of the aesthetic function by Lo? bach (1976), while Veryzer (1995) called it the communicative function of a product appearance. If all the roles mentioned in the literature are considered as a whole, the following six roles of product appearance for consumers can be distinguished: (1) communication of aesthetic, (2) symbolic, (3) functional, and (4) ergonomic product information; (5) attention drawing; and (6) categorization. A description of these six roles and their implications for product design follows.
Product Appearance and Aesthetic Product Value The aesthetic value of a product pertains to the pleasure derived from seeing the product, without consideration of utility (Holbrook, 1980). A consumer can value the ‘‘look’’ of a product purely for its own sake, as looking at something beautiful is rewarding in itself. When product alternatives are similar in functioning and price, consumers will prefer the one that appeals the most to them aesthetically (see, for example, Figure 1). Aesthetic responses are primarily emotional or feeling responses, and as such they are very personal (Bamossy et al. , 1983).
Several researchers have tried to determine properties of products that are related to aesthetic appreciation. Innate preferences are proposed for visual organization principles, such as unity (i. e. , congruence in elements), proportion (e. g. , ‘‘the Golden Section’’), and symmetry (Hekkert, 1995; Muller, 2001; Veryzer, 1993; Veryzer and Hutchinson, 1998), and an inverted U-shaped relation is proposed between aestheticpreference and complexity (Berlyne, 1971). Another property influencing aesthetic judgments is color.
The desirability of a color will change according to the object to which it is applied (e. g. , a car or a table) and with the style of the object (e. g. , modern or Georgian) (Whitfield and Wiltshire, 1983). In addition to (innate) preferences for certain properties of stimuli, prototypicality is found to influence the aesthetic response. Proto typicality is the degree to which something is representative of a category (see also the section about categorization). In several studies, evidence is found for a positive influence of visual prototypicality on aesthetic preference (Hekkert, 1995; Veryzer and Hutchinson, 1998; Whitfield and Slatter, 1979).
According to Hekkert et al. (2003), products with an optimal combination of prototypicality and novelty are preferred aesthetically. As well as the product-related characteristics previously mentioned, there are cultural, social, and personal influences on design taste. For example, color preferences differ between cultures and in time (Whitfield and Wiltshire, 1983). In addition, personal factors, such as design acumen, prior experience, and personality influence the design taste of consumers (Bloch, 1995).
The influence of an aesthetic judgment on product preference can be moderated by the perceived aesthetic fit of the product with other products the consumer owns, or his or her home interior (Bloch, 1995). Product Appearance and Symbolic Product Value Consumer goods carry and communicate symbolic meaning (McCracken, 1986). Symbolic value even can be the key determinant for product selection (Hirschman and Holbrook, 1982) and can account for the selection of products that clearly are inferior in their tangible characteristics (Levy, 1959).
An example of the latter is Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif lemon squeezer (Lloyd and Snelders, 2003). The choice for a specific product or brand may convey the kind of person someone is or wants to be; consumers use products to express their (ideal) self-image to themselves and to others (Belk, 1988; Landon, 1974; Sirgy, 1982; Solomon, 1983). Symbolic meaning can be attached to a product or brand on the basis of, among other things, advertising (McCracken, 1986), country of origin, or the kind of people using it (Sirgy, 1982).
But the productitself also can communicate symbolic value in a more direct way, namely by its appearance. A product’s appearance communicates messages (Murdoch and Flurscheim, 1983), as it may look cheerful, boring, friendly, expensive, rude, or childish (see, for example, Figure 2). In addition, a certain style of appearance may evoke associations with a certain time or place (e. g. , the Fifties). Furthermore, the product or package appearance can reinforce the image of a brand, as the identity of a brand is expressed visually in the appearance of products (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997).
Consumers may attach the meaning of a brand to elements of the physical appearance of products. In this way, a brand image may transfer to different kinds of products (see the section about categorization). Many companies therefore make consistent use of certain design elements, such as a color combination, a distinctive form element, or style. For example, car manufacturers often try to keep different car models recognizable as belonging to the same brand. The distinctive radiator grill of BMW automobiles is an example of a recognizable design element.
The linking of brand meaning to elements of the product appearance will be easier when the associations these elements engender by themselves (e. g. , because they are innate or are determined by culture) correspond to the desired brand image. For example, use of bright colors and a large size, which is associated with aggression (Murdoch and Flurscheim, 1983), will make it easier to position a car brand as aggressive. Although there are large individual and time-specific differences in the experience of color and form, there are certain associations that seem to be relatively constant.
Overviews of the influence of form and color on consumer perception of symbolic value (but also ergonomic and aesthetic value) can be found in Muller (2001), Murdoch and Flurscheim (1983), Schmitt and Simonson (1997), and Whitfield and Wiltshire (1983). For example, angular forms are associated with dynamism and masculinity, while roundness evokes softness and femininity (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997). Culture is an important determinant of the interpretations that consumers give and the associations they have with certain factors of a
product’s appearance. For example, color associations vary from culture to culture (Whitfield and Wiltshire, 1983). In America and Europe, the color white stands for purity, and brides traditionally dress in white; in Japan itis a color of mourning. Furthermore, meaning is context dependent. The impression that colors give may change completely by combining certain colors (Muller, 2001). Also, the meaning of forms and colors may change in time, as meanings are continuously transformed by movements in art, fashion, etcetera (Muller, 2001).
There is some debate about whether symbolic interpretation is part of the aesthetic experience. In most literature, aesthetic value is mentioned as botha hedonic impression and a result of interpretation and representation (Schmitt and Simonson, 1997; Vihma, 1995). It is acknowledged in this article that whether a product is conceived of as beautiful is affected by what it represents (Vihma, 1995). The same style can be considered ‘‘good taste’’ at one point in time, while being considered ‘‘bad taste’’ 10 years later, because the connotations associated with it or the interpretations given to it have changed.
For example, orange was a modern color for clothes, furniture, and plastic products in the Seventies, generally was perceived as old-fashioned and ugly in the Eighties, and became used in products and clothing again in the Nineties. However, the view in this article is that aesthetic and symbolic value should be distinguished, as they may have opposite influences on preference. For example, someone who likes a colorful design may not buy it because it looks ‘‘too childish. ’’ Product Appearance and Functional Product Value