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Word Trek - Word Brain streak - hand made puzzles. At the age of 25, Loewy was looking to start fresh in New York, perhaps, he thought, as an electrical engineer. When he reached Manhattan, his older brother Maximilian picked him up in a taxi. Loewy rode the elevator to the observatory platform, 40 stories up, and looked out across the island.
In France, he had imagined an elegant, stylish place, filled with slender and simple shapes. It was a disappointment. The world below would soon match his dreamy vision.
Loewy would do more than almost any person in the 20th century to shape the aesthetic of American culture. His firm designed mid-century icons like the Exxon logo, the Lucky Strike pack, and the Greyhound bus. He designed International Harvester tractors that farmed the Great Plains, merchandise racks at Lucky Stores supermarkets that displayed produce, Frigidaire ovens that cooked meals, and Singer vacuum cleaners that ingested the crumbs of dinner. The famous blue nose of Air Force One? But when he arrived in Manhattan, U. American factories—with their electricity, assembly lines, and scientifically calibrated workflow—produced an unprecedented supply of cheap goods by the s, and it became clear that factories could make more than consumers naturally wanted.
Loewy had an uncanny sense of how to make things fashionable. He believed that consumers are torn between two opposing forces: neophilia, a curiosity about new things; and neophobia, a fear of anything too new.
follow url As a result, they gravitate to products that are bold, but instantly comprehensible. He said to sell something surprising, make it familiar; and to sell something familiar, make it surprising. W hy do people like what they like?
It is one of the oldest questions of philosophy and aesthetics. Other thinkers were deeply skeptical: David Hume, the 18th-century philosopher, considered the search for formulas to be absurd, because the perception of beauty was purely subjective, residing in individuals, not in the fabric of the universe. Over time, science took up the mystery. In the s, the psychologist Robert Zajonc conducted a series of experiments where he showed subjects nonsense words, random shapes, and Chinese-like characters and asked them which they preferred.
Their preference was for familiarity.
Across hundreds of studies and meta-studies, subjects around the world prefer familiar shapes, landscapes, consumer goods, songs, and human voices. People are even partial to the familiar version of the thing they should know best in the world: their own face. Because you and I are used to seeing our countenance in a mirror, studies show, we often prefer this reflection over the face we see in photographs.
The preference for familiarity is so universal that some think it must be written into our genetic code.
But the preference for familiarity has clear limits. People get tired of even their favorite songs and movies. They develop deep skepticism about overfamiliar buzzwords. The reverse is also true: A surprise seems to work best when it contains some element of familiarity. Consider the experience of Matt Ogle, who, for more than a decade, was obsessed with designing the perfect music-recommendation engine. When he joined Spotify, the music-streaming company, he helped build a product called Discover Weekly, a personalized list of 30 songs delivered every Monday to tens of million of users.
The original version of Discover Weekly was supposed to include only songs that users had never listened to before. But in its first internal test at Spotify, a bug in the algorithm let through songs that users had already heard. Several years ago, Paul Hekkert, a professor of industrial design and psychology at Delft University of Technology, in the Netherlands, received a grant to develop a theory of aesthetics and taste.
On the one hand, Hekkert told me, humans seek familiarity, because it makes them feel safe. On the other hand, people are charged by the thrill of a challenge, powered by a pioneer lust.
He understood that this meant designing with a sense of familiarity in mind. In , Loewy met for the first time with the president of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Loewy imagined something far sleeker—a single smooth shell, the shape of a bullet.
His first designs met with considerable skepticism, but Loewy was undaunted. It gradually conditioned them to accept more progressive designs.
To acquaint himself with the deficiencies of Pennsylvania Railroad trains, Loewy traveled hundreds of miles on the speeding locomotives.