The human brain takes in a tremendous amount of information in an instant and decides for us what is important enough to call to our attention, as well as what is so unimportant or ordinary that it is filtered from our awareness completely.
This is why you can see familiar shapes in clouds, trees, rock formations, ink blotches, or even cracks in the ceiling – while at the same time you can drive down the road and not be aware of things you see every day.
In marketing we use this to our advantage. We create images that trigger the pattern recognition to call attention to a subject, or use the same concept to hide something altogether to guide the focus of attention along a path to another subject.
With each recognition the brain makes it also attempts to assign meaning to what it sees. Sometimes it may be enough to call the persons full attention to the subject, or it may simply stir an emotion or feeling in the person based on previous memories, experiences, or connotations connected to the unconscious pattern recognition.
As a consultant for private schools in the US, I use this concept to guide the thoughts and feelings of parents and families as they tour a campus by placing emotional imagery, patterns, and objects that prompt specific questions and comments at predefined moments in the tour.
This helps the tour guide (whoever it may be at the time) stay on track and remember to cover important information that is easily overlooked or forgotten after the hundredth tour.
Being aware of this can also help us remember how it causes us overlook things we see every day.
When I visit school campuses the clients are often amazed at how many things they see every day, overlook, and pay no attention to that prompt unwanted and unnecessary feelings and emotions in visitors – simply because it became invisible to them.
Some may say to take advantage of this would be manipulative – but I guess it depends on your motive and intent. Any principle can be abused.
But think about this. This is exactly what an artist does on a canvas, a sculpture, or any other medium he uses.
The artist uses shapes, colors, figures, lines, textures, patterns, etc. to guide the eye, provoke emotion, questions, thoughts, and feelings – and to highlight or hide a specific part of the subject.
Exceptional things are more often appreciated for the feelings they invoke than their technical perfection.
It’s just how we’re built.