Don’t feel like reading? Listen instead.
I’d like to introduce Raymond Loewy, the industrial designer behind the Greyhound bus, Airforce One and the Coca-Cola bottle. He was most active in the 1950s, but his understanding of human nature and how we react to innovation is still relevant today.
Loewy had a unique sense of how to make consumers interested in products. He believed that they are torn between two opposing forces:
- neophilia, curiosity about new things
- neophobia, fear of everything new.
As a result, they are attracted to bold but easy-to-understand products.
Loewy called his grand theory “the most advanced, yet acceptable” – MAYA for short.
He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar, and to sell something familiar, make it surprising.
More recently, this effect was observed by Matt Ogle, who designed the “Discover Weekly” algorithm for Spotify. His philosophy of music is:
- most people enjoy new songs,
- but they don’t enjoy the effort it takes to find them.
When Discover Weekly was first launched, it included only songs that users had never listened to before. But during testing, a bug in the algorithm included songs that users had already heard.
When the team around Olge found out, they fixed what they assumed was a bug. But engagement with the playlist feature instantly plummeted.
Olge said: “It turns out having a bit of familiarity bred trust, especially for first-time users. If we make a new playlist for you and there’s not a single thing for you to hook onto or recognize—to go, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good call!’—it’s completely intimidating, and people don’t engage.”
As humans, we seek familiarity because it makes us feel safe. But we are also charged by the thrill of a challenge, powered by a pioneer lust.
How to profit from this knowledge
- When launching innovative products, create anchor points to familiarity. The use of traditional milk cartons for plant-based milk is an example.
- Repeated exposure creates familiarity. If at first there’s pushback, try again. It will reduce over time. Pretty much all electric train locomotives in use today are based on a design by Loewy that was called “ridiculous” when first presented.
- To launch innovative products, you need to be an anthropologist – make sure to observe people and learn from the market, figure out the unmet needs, and then fill those gaps.
Example: When we launched Boreal Botanicals, a highly innovative range of tonics brewed with medicinal mushrooms, we made sure to anchor our packaging design in graphic elements that consumers were already familiar with. This makes sure that our drinks are being perceived as new and exciting, but not scary.