Haptics: Touch it, you know you want to.

Originally published on Medium, November 2017.

Haptics and the importance of touch in marketing and design.

For me personally, it’s always paper. The weight, the finish, its edges and the texture. Mention a brand name and it conjures up a physical encounter, not a stock ticker symbol or logo. The starting point of any marketing before we talk fonts, colours and images — we figure out how a brand is supposed to feel.

adj. — relating to the sense of touch, in particular relating to the perception and manipulation of objects using the senses of touch and proprioception.

Why we need to touch.
Touch is the key to our bodies primary processes and we gather so much information that the brain uses more than a quarter of the body’s energy resources. More then half of the brain is devoted to processing sensory inputs. The bodies nervous and sensory systems are the largest — with skin as our largest organ.

We intake touch data subconsciously in seconds, ranking any number of factors like weight, smoothness, density, texture, temperature and size into account without an active intent to either do so or filter our response to the data we receive.

The brain then makes judgements, influencing what we believe we know. The mind maps recollection and knowledge differently — in that the pathways are distinct and different. If asked to recall your home address, the brain accesses a recollection after a very brief delay. If asked what your home feels like, the access is rapid and provides a detailed visual and sensory representation.

Touch is translated as knowledge, allowing the mind to create a more complete and complex record that is accessible to us almost instantly.

How it applies to brands.
Everyone has had the experience of an impactful brand moment, whether it left a positive association or a negative one. Being handed a package, a luxury item in a heavy smooth box, tied with wide cotton ribbon and neatly stuffed with paper. Finding a flyer in the mailbox, black and white printed on light recycled paper, roughly folded in half.

A paper’s influence is beyond its utility as a place for printed communications. In fact, studies suggest that people retained and felt more positively about companies they interacted with on heavier, coated paper stocks. A marketer will say that a business card is often the first physical interaction a person will have with a business — what does your business card’s touch convey about you?

The haptic influence may be strongest in packaging — with the adage about judging a book by its cover never truer than when we make decisions as consumers. Expensive wine in glass bottles or paper/plastic cartons. Coffee served in a ceramic mug or a styrofoam cup.
A designers main job when we identify what a brand is “made of” is to reflect what the verbal and tangible elements communicate.

We remember better with paper.

People understand and remember what they read on paper better than what they read on screen. Researchers think the physicality of paper explains the discrepancy.
- Ferris Jabr, “Why the Brain Prefers Paper” Scientific America

The “death of print” has been a drumbeat for some time now, starting with the advent of the first consumer computers, and amplified by the explosion of digital news, content and devices on which to access it. Declarations that magazines and newspapers were a beast nearing extinction were supported by a dramatic drop in advertising, circulation and market share.

But quality print has slowly resurrected itself, with companies like Conde Nast, the New York Times and retailers turning to science and research to explain why elements of print still drive sales, despite the death tolls. Magazines have undergone extensive redesigns, textured cover stocks and abnormal sizing are all over newsstands. Retailers are expanding or re-introducing catalogues.

The reason is haptics. Simple, attainable and important in anything that’s meant to reach people. Happy to work in the digital word, with my screens, analytics and quick edits — I still read all my magazines in print format, request business cards and collect print materials that give me pause when I encounter them.

So when someone asks me ‘Do I even need anything but a website?’, my answer is yes.

YeS you do.

This post was inspired by a sappi presentation and a copy of ‘A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch’