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Is face recognition the most powerful marketing element?

The human face is the most powerful aspect of any marketing. Before computers, before radio, before telephones, everything happened face to face. More than any other part of the human body, the face offers the strongest connection to personality, to mood, to emotion.

Having spent years working in publishing, online and offline, I’ve always advocated the importance of not only a person (for readers to emotionally engage with), also the importance of good eye contact in the image.

A person looking at you draws you into their world and creates a virtual connection with them. Consider these images, which you can find on stock photo library Pixabay.

Faces with eye contact and without
The images on the right are more engaging because the subject is looking at you. They seem interested in you. The two subjects on the left seem disinterested and lost in their own thoughts.

Why human faces are powerful in marketing imagery

Carrie Cousins, writing for DesignShack, said, “Using actual human faces in the design is one way to do this. Seeing a face can make people more likely to engage with a design because it makes the app/website/poster feel more human. It creates a more distinct emotional connection.”

Eye contact is not the only thing that matters, because the direction of gaze can also help to tell a story. If you want to read more about that, read that DesignShack article, or read The effect of human faces in web design on the Usabilla blog. UX specialist Sabina Idler writes, “When we see a face, we are automatically triggered to feel something or to empathise with that person. If we recognise content on a website — such as a problem, dilemma, habit or whatever else — we feel connected and understood.”

If you are interested in this specific topic, read David Appleyard’s article about different forms of eye contact in photography. Or this article by Hayley Hudson called Here’s why where models look makes a huge difference.

So, is this why faces appear in other designs?

With all that in mind, you can see why designers of products like to represent the face in their designs.

Consider this article from CNN entitled, I run facial recognition on buildings to unlock architectural secrets, which features a few pictures of buildings with facial features.

A building with a face in the design

Think about the Austin Healey, whose design iterations have always featured a smiley face.

Austin Healey smiley face

Many cars have faces, with a range of expressions. This is demonstrated in the meme below (I don’t know the source).

Car faces

Once you start looking around, you see faces in many inanimate objects.

This is all referred to as pareidolia – the psychological effect of perceiving a familiar pattern where none exists. Many refer to this type of face recognition as pareidolia, but I think that’s incorrect because these faces seem to be, in many cases, an intended part of the design.

Are these designers aware that they are creating something with a recognisable pattern – the most engaging pattern in the human emotional scale?

If you want to explore more examples, take a look at my Pinterest board that I have been compiling.

Things with faces - a Pinterest board

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