If you’ve ever put on a watch and felt more secure, worn a pair of heels and felt more confident, or picked up a clipboard and felt ready to get down to business, you aren’t alone.

In a study by Hajo Adam and Adam D.Galinsk, called Enclosed Cognition, everyday people without scientific experience tested out wearing 2 lab coats while solving a problem–one lab coat was a real lab coat, and the other was a dummy made out of cheaper materials. When they wore the dummy coat, they did just as well as when they didn’t wear a coat. But once they put on the real lab coat, they immediately had a boost in their focus and attentiveness.

Todd Herman talks about the Alter Ego Effect, and how people have the ability to create new personas that are the best versions of themselves in specific contexts. Like Stefani Germonotta, a shy introvert who transforms into alter ego, Lady Gaga to perform boldly on stage.

The interesting thing about the lab coat experiment is, the weight and material of the coat help drive the transformation from common woman to precise professional.  The coat becomes an embodiment of a new mindset and a new persona for its wearer, inspiring an alter ego that’s more confident and attentive to the task (in a hospital, that could mean the difference between life and death)

Why is this relevant? It’s relevant because it’s an opportunity to make your customers feel more confident, surer, more powerful, when they touch and use your products. Creating subconscious impressions and a form of muscle memory, which would lead to better perceptions of your brand, and eventually form brand loyalty. 

During the rest of this post I’ll be focusing on the influence of visual and tactile aesthetics on people, both in their buying decisions and their behavior when using your product.


1 – Minimalist

Originally focused about the truth in materials (having wood look like wood, and steel look like steel without painting them), this honesty to materials has become synonymous with simple forms and simple product interactions. Most people are aware of Apple’s use of minimalism in their recent products, and they see minimalist products as better quality, innovative luxury items. This can be ideal for designing tech products, fashion products or packaging, but can feel too cold or out of place in children’s products and more utilitarian items (like camping gear).

When a minimalist aesthetic is paired with cool materials like metal, or glossy plastic, it can make people feel more tech savvy or avant-garde, inspiring “sure” behavior in them.

When it’s paired with warm materials like fabric and matte plastic or wood, it inspires more methodical, and confident behavior in users.

2 – Organic

Organic products are typically ergonomic, designed with the intent to fit into the hands or give the perception of interacting with users. They are generally seen as friendly because of their soft curves. When done right, these products feel good when held and touched, which make them ideal for products that need to be held a lot.

When used with cool, metallic or reflective materials, organic products can start feeling futuristic, making users feel intelligent and sure.

When paired with warmer, less reflective materials, they give users confidence in the product, making them feel safe like a trusty friend, and more connected to the task they’re using the product to do.

Some organic products are biophilic (evoking nature), and become what I’ll call fluid products, which are less about how they fit in a hand and more about how natural they look. These products are often designed to move people emotionally to make a purchase or create a connection with users that surpasses functional utility. 

These products feel like works of art, making people who use them feel confident in their taste, and feel a desire to display and show these products to friends.

3 – Parametric

Also a biophilic visual language, parametric products are designed using algorithms and modern manufacturing methods, which give them natural, sometimes, bone-like looks. Unlike the calming effect of most biophilic design, they can sometimes look aggressive and alien. But they always stand out and look sculptural. Regardless of the materials this aesthetic is used with, parametric products make their users feel closer to nature. 

Parametric products beg to be put on display. Parametric product owners feel fashionable and become more open to novel experiences, more likely to envision new possibilities, and step outside their comfort zone.

4 – Textured

Textured products are familiar, evoke our cultural traditions and draw on our primal need to touch and feel. Using texture on a product as a surface finish (not just a grip) can be an effective way to draw potential buyers and have them pick up your product (which makes them more likely to buy it). However, because texture is getting more common in products, just slapping any old texture onto any product may actually work against you, so make your surface textures and patterns interesting and appropriate to the product and its context.

Textured products, both hard goods and soft goods, can be a grounding force for people, making them feel grounded in tradition. When textures and patterns are used with natural and soft materials like wood and wool, it can also induce comfort in direct and indirect users.

5 – Rugged

The rugged look (and feel) can be seen in most power tools and outdoor devices. This look is often characterized by black or grey products with brightly colored thick rubber parts. The rugged look, because of its function, weight and association, makes products look and feel durable enough to survive anything, including, storms, floods, crashes, drops from cliffs, misuse, and children.

Rugged products, for the most part, make users feel powerful, a little adventurous, and sometimes a bit reckless.

On the flip side, a few users feel intimidated by the powerful feelings and would rather use a less hard and rugged product.

6 – Tacticool

Inspired by military tools, tacticool products communicate durability to users, but unlike rugged products, they also communicate precision. They have a downside though, because of their perception of precision, and their sharp edges, a lot of tacticool products also feel a bit fragile, as though if they are used in the wrong way, they may break. 

Tacticool objects make users feel like specialists and bad asses like John Wick, James Bond, or Rambo (take your pick). They inspire more precise behavior than rugged products. They can be especially great for technical, but messy tasks. A downside to this look is, some people are put off because it can feel overbearing and militaristic.

7- Transparent

Transparent objects can have very different uses depending on the product. They can be great for showing off technical skill used in manufacture (a popular use in mechanical luxury watches). They can be used to communicate with users (like in Dyson vacuum cleaners being full of dust or seeing what’s in a Tupperware box without needing to open it). They can be used to make products feel less imposing. They have also popularly been used to refresh product lines as special edition items (like transparent Gameboys). 

Transparent objects are back in trend, and likely to become more popular in the next few years, especially with companies becoming more “transparent” in business. They can be a great way to differentiate your product. 

Regardless of their application, transparent objects speak of care and technical confidence. They tell potential customers that you know what you’re doing and you have nothing to hide, inspiring trust in buyers and customers. 

This makes transparent objects attractive to connoisseurs and trend makers, and aspirational for everyone else. They make people who own and use them feel more discerning, trendy and confident in their tastes. 

8 – Chunky

A playful look characteristic with bright thick parts, large buttons or knobs, and bright vibrant colors, Chunky products appeal to the child in all of us (and actual children). It’s a great look for hobby items, and because of its odd proportions and bright colors, it always grabs the attention of the passing shopper. Chunky products are rarely very glossy, and often feel extremely durable because of their proportions, and likely because the only other adult products that get so vibrant are rugged tools. 

Chunky products inspire users to be more playful, childlike, curious and careless. If you create a product that looks chunky, it would be wise to make it durable. After all, any product that attracts children and inspires some carelessness needs to be able to take a beating.

This list is obviously not exhaustive of all the design languages or material possibilities out there. If you want to inspire people to behave in different ways or associate a feeling with your brand, you could also try merging aesthetic languages (do this wisely, some complement each other, and others clash), and picking materials that fit with your goals. 

The next time you’re designing a product, think a bit about what sort of feeling you want it to give your customers, what sort of alter ego or superpower do you want them to gain. Ask yourself; Where are they when they pick up or turn on your product? Where do they want to go? And how do they need to feel to get there? Then pick an aesthetic direction and a material that helps them get there. Remember, your product must feel as good as it looks, to create an alter ego effect and leave your customers with a lasting impression of your brand.