Contextual; Boring into the Brain

With young adults now being beguiled as “The Snowflakes”, we look into how, more than ever, designers are mapping and targeting their emotional vulnerabilities in the conquest to increase profits.


Are You Beach Body Ready? It’s 8:35am on the London Underground; the screeching howl of a train roaring from its murky black abyss makes you lift your head. The wall by the tracks blazes neon yellow, a decision by the designer to draw attention to the black text hollering across the void on unsuspecting eyes.


Erm yes, no, maybe? Rather unfortuitously, the designer detailed for you what “beach body” ready is; an anorexic woman clad in no more than an A4 sheet of paper’s worth of material, stands shoulders raised in a smug pose. Her ribs are visible but have undoubtedly been smoothed in Photoshop so you can’t notice each individual one, such to hide her malnourishment. For the remainder of the day your mind races, poisoned by thoughts of inadequacy and losing weight.

We give Graphic Designers our most vital resource, our attention, and with that they act maliciously and aggressively to target the most vulnerable parts of our consciousness. Furthermore, there are the Design Engineers that carefully created the curved ad cradles for the peculiar Underground walls, hence providing a podium from which capitalist industries can corrupt your prefrontal cortex.

The situation online is even shoddier. Services like Google and Facebook falsely fabricate a friendly façade when their core business strategy is advertising. A forum user summarized this very concisely back in 2010; “If you are not paying for it, you’re the product being sold” (Blue_Beetle, 2010). If you consider how much data you’ve given to Facebook, such as your page likes, interests, and all those keywords in every single message you’ve ever sent, it’s shockingly terrifying how much personal information an ad company who made US$40million (Zuckerberg, 2018) last year selling divisively targeted ads, knows about you.

“People take the piss out of you everyday.
Leering from tall buildings to make you feel small.
They are the advertisers, and they laugh at you.” – Banksy, 2004

The perseverance of personal data harvesting in the West pales in comparison to a country such as China where a smartphone, with an automatic pop-out camera, recently gave consumers a tangible awareness of how often their phones were filming their faces to track eye position and facial expression as to “improve the user experience” (FastCompany,2018). Internet giant Baidu was even recently sued for the design of their app’s voice dictation feature, which was “always on” and streamed conversations to servers for “analysis and product improvement” with users noticing that adverts seen after a conversation often matched the topic of discussion (JCPC, 2017).

Another major issue is the dogged design process used to develop services. Companies often use A/B testing which involves showing multiple versions of an ad/web page to a consumer. Mouse movements and clicks are then intimately recorded and analysed to understand how small changes in layout and colours can improve profits for the business. This is religiously used by highly addictive services like Netflix, Instagram and Facebook.

The impact of this can be seen in a study by Joshua Porter into signup button design. He found out that, contrary to common sense, a red signup button is 21% better in receiving clicks than a friendlier looking green button (Porter, 2011). The theory is that red makes users feel a sense of urgency and so they are more likely to rush into creating an account. By psychologically manipulating users both in the real world and online, many young people nowadays feel insecure with low self esteem and mental health issues.

For companies, this is the optimal psychological state to incarcerate the consciousness to optimise profits. It means businesses can boast that their product or service will bring consumers happiness, in exchange for their money. It’s a result of this meticulous manipulation using Cognitive Empathy that people think that money is directly transferable to happiness.

I wanted to confirm this hypothesis so I approached 40 random young people, aged between 18-25 around the Brunel Campus. They were asked to rate how truthful they felt this statement is; “Having more money will make you more happy”. Over half of people I surveyed said that having more money would make you happier with 57.5% opting to agree with the statement. But that isn’t strictly true as the late great Notorious B.I.G once said “mo money mo problems” while valued at $160 million (Smalls, 1997).

“Over half of people I surveyed said that having more money will make you happier”

It’s important to ignore the work of the capricious creatives that we see constantly, so to recover and recall that money, objects and services aren’t required for happiness. Going to a park and playing tea tray Frisbee with friends is a low cost way of enjoying your time. You don’t need to be popular on Facebook, Instagram or have a “Beach Body” to feel good; these are simply the biggest tricks and lies of the 21st century perpetuated by superficial money-obsessed designers under the command of callous capitalist businessmen. As a designer, you should always act righteously when possible and not hesitate to refuse work when it crosses your moral boundaries.


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