Being human you are genetically hard coded to look for certain things. If you strip away all of the modern comforts you are accustomed to and start to think of what you would be like in the wild, then you can start to recognize how certain elements attract your attention. They draw your eye.
You know you need food to survive. You need shelter and safety from the dangers of the world. You’ll most likely think about reproduction or at least the comfort and support of connecting with others. There’s way more that you are genetically predisposed to think about but I don’t need to cover those. You can start to think about them on your own from here.
This isn’t actually a full discussion about those topics on a deeper level but they do relate to certain ideas about appeal. The next time you look at something like an image, a movie or a game see if you can recognize some of the elements I’m about to discuss. Also note that audio is just as important as vision when recognizing the appeal of something. I’ll skew some examples towards games since that’s probably why you’re here reading this.
When it comes time for you to create something new, be it an image, animation or background for a game then consider the following.
People find things that look edible captivating. If it looks like you would want to eat it then it’s appealing. This is why the idea of candy land is so attractive to children and adults. The levels in Mario Galaxy and Mario games in general look edible so you are drawn to them. Grass often curls over the edge like frosting on a cake. The levels often look like you can eat them. This means you don’t mind spending time there.
This also works for cars and paint jobs. Shiny candy coated paintjobs make cars and bikes look attractive. People watch clouds roll by. They watch ocean waves swell and water flow and descend. They observe grass and leaves blow in the wind. You need water and plants to survive. These things comfort people. This leads into the appeal of…
You are attracted to ambient motion (smoke, wind, flowing cloth or water, fire, gears, pistons). Some of this is based on your survival instinct and other parts are based on rhythms. People find these things soothing but they are also instinctually looking at motion to recognize danger as well. Is something moving over there? Is it going to attack me?
Your body is tied to rhythm and motion. Everyone’s heart beats and they are all forced to breathe over and over and over. The earth rotates and cycles occur over and over and over. People find repetition, rotation, rhythm, and motion soothing.
Certain elements of lighting also create constant dynamic motion even if there aren’t any objects moving. Reflectivity, Shine, Specularity, God Rays and Lens flare all cause constant unique and dynamic motion when the camera is moving. This is generally more appealing than something dull and static.
Light and Darkness
We need the light to survive. It’s how we see and the sun provides so much. People are attracted to light. People find things that shine and glow appealing. You’re drawn to light sources by the very nature of how you see the world. The eye is drawn from dark to light. If you are in a dark space you will look towards the light. The contrast is that if you are somewhere that is overwhelmingly bright then you will be attracted to shadow or darkness. This goes back to survival instinct too. The mind thinks about escape routes and hiding places. Can something attack me from that shadow? Is it a hole? Can I hide there if something attacks me? This leads into the appeal of…
Edges and Borders
People find anything that assists in spacial awareness comforting. You want to know where the edges are. This is pleasing to the eye because it assists with people’s recognition of the extents of objects. Some of this is based on (cue repetition) survival instincts. You want to know where things can come from or where you can escape to. It’s also about preventing harm to your body. You want to know what’s sharp or where something is so that you don’t stub a toe scratch or cut your skin. You want shadow to creep into the recesses of a crack to show you it’s there and something else might be hiding in there too. The reasons don’t really matter. What matters is that humans find edges and borders more appealing when they are more clearly readable.
Look at doors, windows, crown molding, furniture and appliances. Attention is always spent framing something in a pleasing way. Look at the white borders surrounding text in a book. It frames the edges. You know it would look worse if the words ran right to the edge. Roads have curbs, street lights have bases, and almost everything includes some type of element that frames it or integrates it into the things they are attached to. Watches, TV’s, cabinets and speakers have borders. Often things that don’t have borders or frames have beveled or smoothed edges. This frames them by letting light bounce differently on the edge. Rim lighting is appealing. The way rocks or fences frame a garden/ yard matters. The way grass frames the base of a tree brings comfort and understanding. Your mind recognizes it even if you don’t think you care.
Things in nature do this automatically but man made things, when crafted well, take this into account. Look at your favorite games. You’ll start to see how they add frames and borders to the edges of objects and geometry. Even great pixel art takes this into account. Things created taking edges and borders into account most often look better than something that doesn’t have this care or craft. Sometimes this happens in the lighting with things like ambient occlusion. This helps integrate objects into the world around it. People find this appealing so if you aren’t doing this with the things you create then you are missing a very helpful tool. Create a blend where a rock intersects the ground. Put some grass there or even cut in a little crease to make it look like it’s eroded over time. It will look better.
The rest of these could take just as long to describe but they are easier for you to reason out why so I’ll skip the long winded explanations.
· Color – Color is meant to capture your attention. Vibrant colors signify Fruits, Flowers and Foods. They dazzle for mating rituals and they warn about Poisonous Creatures.
· Exaggerated Scale – Really large things command your attention. Towers, Trees, Mountains, Monuments and Mammoths all require your thought.
· Sexual and Phallic Imagery – No explanation necessary. We are genetically driven to think about reproduction in order to continue as a species. Sex Sells.
· Soft and Fuzzy – Things that are fuzzy or soft looking are also appealing just because you are looking for comfort to protect you from the dangers outside. You are driven to find comfort to keep your body safe.
· Cute and Cuddly – Big eyes and certain pleasing features trigger the protective parts of your brain so that you will be more inclined to raise your young and prolong the survival of the entire species.
· Familiarity – This is why advertising works so well. You’re mind finds comfort in things you understand and see often. This can be common things we all relate to or even symbols.
· Surprising Moments – Think about things like explosions, fireworks, volcanic eruptions, lighting and wild beasts springing out of nowhere to devour you. You’re mind imprints things that surprise you so that you can remember them for future protective measures. You cannot stop this and you get an adrenaline rush when it happens. This feels good for most people even if you think you don’t like it. It makes you feel alive. This is appealing.
· Odds – You’re mind tries to group things so when you see even numbers of things you automatically understand they are a pair. If you see one then it is interesting because it’s isolated and individual. If there are 3 elements then your mind tries to work through what the connections are. Are these two together or are these two? Which one is the odd one out? What are the relationships? This might seem silly but your mind still does this even if it’s Rocks, Trees or buildings.
· Symmetry – If you have random shapes or elements that don’t seem to look to look right then try adding some symmetry to it. Symmetry makes things look intentional and purposeful. Nature creates symmetry in creatures. We create symmetry in our creations. This makes them balanced and pleasing.
· Meaning and Symbolism – You mind tries to seek meaning so if you can provide it then you don’t need to explain it. It’s more fun for people to think they figured it out on their own.
I could actually go on and on but I think you get the point.
Next time you are looking at something you really like look for the elements we discussed. If you are creating things then keep this in mind. People are almost guaranteed to find certain things appealing so think about added them to the things you create to make them more interesting and dynamic.
· Moving Things – Clouds, Rivers, Waterfalls, Waves, Cloth, Wind, Grass, Leaves, Rain, Snow, Gears, Pistons, Fire, Smoke, Sparks and Living Creatures.
· Lights and Shadow – Contrast, Light Rays, Lens flare, God Rays, Glows, Neon, Fireworks and Sparkles
· Edges – Beveled Edges, Erosion, Borders, Blends, Frames, Integrators, Ambient Occlusion, Rim Lights, Overgrowth, Intentional Seams, Outlines, Spacing and Separators.
· Edible Qualities – Smooth, Colorful, Candy Coated, Chocolately and Clean.
· Shine – Reflection, Gloss, Specularity, Wetness and Icy.
· Surprise – Fireworks, Lighting, Explosion, Eruptions or Shocking Elements.
· Comfort – Repetition, Symbols, Logos, Familiar Relatable Elements
· Landmarks – Large Isolated Elements (Towers, Mountains, Bridges, Trees, Creatures, Castles, Bridges) Odd Clusters (3, 5 or 7 of the same components)
I hope you find some of this useful. At least it’s a nice refresher for some things you could consider common sense. I still need to edit this but I wanted to get it out earlier. Thanks for reading.