Typicality and novelty

Several studies have demonstrated that people prefer typical or familiar instances of a category such as furniture or paintings. Simultaneously, however, people are also drawn towards the new or novel. In Project UMA, we are currently investigating how typicality and novelty jointly affect the aesthetic pleasure derived from product designs.


While some studies have shown that people prefer typical, conventional product designs, others have demonstrated that people also like product designs that are unusual or new. As an explanation for these opposing findings, the design principle ‘Most Advanced, Yet Acceptable’ (MAYA) suggests that people in fact prefer a balance of both typicality and novelty in product designs. This principle has since been tested via a range of consumer products, and it has been found that the most attractive product designs are those that maximize both typicality and novelty simultaneously. As an explanation, we propose that typicality and novelty fulfill basic evolutionary needs for safety and exploration that still drive our behaviour today, and that products are most preferred when they satisfy both of these needs simultaneously. However, in certain situations, such as those involving risk, we suggest that people may prefer typical (safe) over novel (risky) designs. Similarly, when a certain situation is safe, people may prefer novel to typical designs. We propose that such preferences arise because conditions of perceived safety and risk activate approach and avoidance behaviors, respectively. Overall, this research will provide insights into when and why aesthetic preferences for typicality or novelty occur.

Post-doc project by CLEMENTINE THURGOOD
(With: Paul HekkertAllan Whitfield, and Janneke Blijlevens)


Thurgood, C., Hekkert, P., & Blijlevens, J. (2014, August). The joint effect of typicality and novelty on aesthetic pleasure for product designs: Influences of safety and risk. In A. Kozbelt, P. P. L. Tinio & P. J. Locher, Proceedings of the 23rd Biennial Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA). New York, USA.



Products such as cars and pianos are widely available in colors people have grown accustomed to: silver cars and black pianos are quite common, for instance. However, while the color red might also be considered typical for a car, a red piano could be considered quite novel. This is not because red is itself typical or novel as a color; rather the product categories in question have typical and novel attributes.

We propose that different product categories can be subject to manipulations, like color in the examples given, in order to produce novel instances. Currently we are investigating how novelty manifests within product designs, and if their aesthetic appraisal is dependent on our perception of object categories.

PhD project by SHIVANI TYAGI
(Supervisors: Allan Whitfield and Clementine Thurgood)



Tyagi, S. & Whitfield, A. W. (2014, August). Unravelling typicality in mundane aesthetics. In A. Kozbelt, P. P. L. Tinio & P. J. Locher, Proceedings of the 23rd Biennial Congress of the International Association of Empirical Aesthetics (IAEA). New York, USA.

Tyagi, S., Thurgood, C., & Whitfield, T. W. (2013). Unraveling novelty. In K. Sugiyama (Ed.), Consilience and Innovation in Design: Proceedings of the 5th International Congress of International Association of Societies of Design Research. Tokyo: Shibaura Institute of Technology.