The Power of Design: A Social Experiment

“In most cases at least half of our experience of food and drink is determined by the forgotten flavor senses of vision, sound, and touch.” – Charles Spence

Design plays a huge role in many decisions consumers make. Design evokes emotion – and emotion makes decisions. When our Director of Ops ran into an article about how typography can affect your perception of taste, it sparked some curiosity amongst our creative team.

Intrigued, we began doing some research on how our senses – other than taste – can affect how our brains perceive the flavor, or quality, of our food. We found that package design, typography, color, and even the name of a food item can all affect how your food tastes. In a sense, this same concept can be applied to the design of your ads. How an ad looks, how it makes a consumer feel, and what emotion it provokes from a consumer will affect how your consumer interacts with your ad, and eventually, your brand.

The Experiment

Moonlighting as an expert baker in her spare time, our Creative Director, Jessica, decided to perform a social experiment on the iFocus employees. She baked a large batch of identical almond flavored cookies, frosting the cookies in three different icing colors – but not flavors. Outside of this one difference, the cookies were exactly the same. These cookies were then divided into three groups:

Group 1 – Almond Cookies: These cookies were labeled as almond flavored, frosted with white icing. The font used on the container was a sans-serif font, and there was a white lining placed in the container.

Group 2 – Vanilla Cookies: These cookies were labeled as vanilla flavored, frosted with light blue icing. The font used on the container was a script font, and there was a blue patterned lining placed in the container.

Group 3 – Sugar Cookies: These cookies were labeled as plain sugar cookies, frosted with a navy icing. The font used on the container was a slab-serif font, and there was a red heart patterned lining placed in the container.

The Results

Members of our team tasted each cookie and voted for their favorite flavor. The results came in as such:

VANILLA: 2 Votes

SUGAR: 3 Votes

ALMOND: 6 Votes

cookie taste test results

Even though these cookies were exactly the same recipe, because they looked different, and because they were labeled as different flavors, every team member who participated chose a favorite cookie flavor. In fact, chatter around the office indicated that people truly perceived a different taste in each cookie. This perception was based on senses other than taste.

There are many things that could’ve influenced our team regarding the taste of the cookies. It could’ve been the different fonts used. It could’ve been color. It could’ve been the simple fact that each cookie was labeled with a unique flavor, so they were already expecting them to be different. In the same regard, these are all things that you can manipulate in marketing design to influence how consumers perceive your product or service. While every consumer is going to process things a bit differently, there are some primary influencers when it comes to design.

Package Design

You’ve probably heard people say that soda or beer tastes better out of a glass. Research suggests that the taste of the liquid does not actually change just because it’s in a different container; rather, your perception of it changes. The experience changes, and therefore you think it tastes better simply because you enjoy drinking it out of a certain container more so than another. This same concept applies when buying certain brands. In performing this experiment, our Creative Director recalled a previous experience with buying single serve juice bottles from Aldi. The label was generic and simply said, “Fruit Punch.” But, when she opened the outer packaging, the bottles inside almost exactly mirrored those of Mondo juices (a name brand); they even had the Mondo label on them. The only thing that was different was the outer packaging – the one we see when making a purchasing decision.

In this study, the same cereal was placed in two different packages. One was generic, and one had cartoon characters on it. Children tried both cereals and preferred the taste of the one with cartoon characters over the generic one. This is because they preferred the box with the cartoon characters – the flavor of the cereal appeared to be better simply because the box was more appealing to their sense of sight.


The original article that sparked this study talks about how typography can affect the way your food tastes. Expensive restaurants lean towards the use of serif fonts because they tend to make consumers feel as if the chef has more experience. Serif fonts make a consumer feel like they are in a more luxurious setting.

In the same sense, it’s important to keep these things in mind when choosing typography for your branding and advertising. If you want to come across as affordable, a sans-serif font is best. If your business is in the luxury category, a serif font is more ideal. If you want to connect with consumers on a more personal level, handwritten fonts are meant to make the consumer feel more of a connection to your business. They’re more personable and welcoming.


Why do M&Ms come in so many colors even though they all taste the same? If you got a bag of nothing but brown M&Ms, they’d be pretty boring. M&Ms are fun to eat because they are so colorful.

Think about when you’re picking out apples at the store. You look for the ones with the brightest colors, even though that color is likely fake (fruits are typically dyed to be more presentable). The brighter colors have no effect on the taste, yet we are convinced that the brightest apple tastes the best. This article explains food color theory at a deeper level.

Color evokes emotion. We associate different colors with specific emotions all the time without even realizing it. When designing ads, it’s important to make sure the colors you are using are aligned with how you want a consumer to feel when interacting with it.


Finally, the name of a food (or product/service) can affect your perception as well. When you go out to eat, foods with fun or unique names are more attractive than food with everyday names. For example, as this article explains, “chicken noodle soup” is far less appealing than, “Grandma’s chicken soup.” By simply labeling the soup with a name that evokes nostalgia, consumers are more likely to think the soup has a better taste.

This same concept applies to marketing and ad design. If something costs $100 and it’s on sale for $85, there are several ways you could promote the offer. You could use, “Save $15,” “Save 15%,” or “Was $100, Now $85!” Instead of advertising, “Summer Savings,” try promoting your, “BOGO Beach Sale!” or your, “Hott Deals, Cool Nights,” discounts.

All these messages say the exact same thing – but which one makes your consumer feel like they are getting the best deal? Which offer is most inviting? It’s important to choose words, phrases, and tag lines that cater to how you want your customers to feel.

Going back to our cookie test, there are several reasons one could have been chosen over the other. Regardless of if it was the color of the cookie, the name of the cookie, the font chosen to label the cookie, or the color of the container linings, our employees chose a favorite cookie based on what was seen, not what they actually tasted.

Bottom line: Design is important!

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