Visceral Response

One of the three levels of processing comes from the most primitive element in the brain, the visceral level. Visceral derives from the term “viscera” meaning t he organs in the intestinal cavity of the body; the gut. When responding to an external event or artefact at a visceral level, it can be seen as a gut response. This response is automatic, biological and cross-cultural – the most immediate level of processing before significant interaction occurs, judging physical features such as look, feel and sound.

Visceral Design

Visceral design is about designing for affect rather than for aesthetics alone. Beauty and the feelings of pleasure that beauty evokes is really only a small part of the possible affective design palette, but it is also a very important one.

Visceral experience leads directly and universally to emotional response, that is to say, emotions change the way the human mind solves problems. At the visceral level, the brain is a bit more creative, attractive things make people feel good, which in turn makes them think more creatively, and being happy broadens the thought processes facilitating creative thinking. Alice Isen-Psychologist at Cornell University and her colleagues, Ashby, F. & Turken, discovered that when people were asked to solve difficult problems, they faired better when they had been given a small gift – something as simple as candy. How does that make something easier to use? By making it easier for people to find solutions to the problems they encounter.

Visceral preferences different from “acquired¬† tastes”. An example can be found with bitter food, which is naturally disliked. However, some humans have learnt to overcome this natural impulse and develop a preference f or bitter tastes – an acquired taste. Humans viscerally prefer symmetrical, rounded, smooth, pleasant-to-touch, colourful, pleasant-to-smell or sweet-tasting objects, which is thought to derive from nature’s evolutionary process.

If you design according to the underlying principles of visceral design, your design will always be attractive, even if somewhat simple. Designing for the reflective level can apidly date your design as this level is sensitive to cultural differences, trends in fashion and continual fluctuation.

Examples of Visceral (in Art, Design)

Artists throughout human history have used the visceral response in their work. Below are images of Meret Oppenheim’s fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon and Gianlorenzo Bernini’s marble sculpture of Apollo and Daphne.

Meret Oppenheim's Fur-Covered Cup

Apollo and Daphne


1. What is your visceral response to that above works of art?

To the fur-covered cup, saucer and spoon: quite the opposite of what I would like to drink out of, eat off of or use as an eating utensil of any kind. Fur is quite nice to touch, but horrible to feel in your mouth (from very limited experience).

To the marble sculpture of Apollo and Daphne: this is very cold, although the lighting in the above image is warm, the marble that the sculpture is made out of is bound to be cold, and very hard. That’s my visceral response.

2. Research and document several other works of art that affect you. You may wish to refer to the DADA movement, Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and/or Marco Evaristti.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper

3. Many commercial products focus on the visceral response to sell their product, for example, this IKEA table. Who do you think this table would appeal to? Research and document other examples.

IKEA Table

My response to this table is that it is likely designed for children. A few factors lead me to this thought: bright colour (used to catch/keep the attention of a child); smooth shapes; odd shapes; the size of it (compare the size of the legs to the size of the draw).

4. Research and document examples of websites that viscerally affect you.

Food Tease

I’m not a vegetarian, but I still get the feeling of “yuck” when I see the meat on this website.

Red Nose Day

A little bit funny, a little bit more sad.

Gisele Jaquenod

Fun, happy, cartoon, friendly.

The Cannibal Queen

Dark, moody, foreboding.


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