What would you say if someone said a term struck them as cutting, sharp, or spiky? What if someone told you that another word looked round, smooth, or blobby? The Bouba-kiki effect is a phenomenon that investigates the concept of sound symbolism. It is human nature to link modalities together, such as sound and shape (taste, emotion, etc.).
The bouba-kiki effect and sound symbolism are both essential to understanding. It all begins with a seemingly easy question: what can be referred to as “bouba” and “kiki?”
Researchers studied how we associate various sounds with specific shapes based on a 1929 psychology study. Participants in the following 2001 study were asked to name two contrasting shapes from a list of non-words: “bouba” and “kiki.” These names contrasted sounds and visual shapes of each letter based on pronunciation. According to the results, 95% of participants gave the word “bouba” to the rounder form and “kiki” to the spikier shape, as expected by the researchers.
The study demonstrated the power of our brain’s connections between sounds and visual shapes. There have been numerous follow-up studies in this field, encompassing other senses such as taste and how we perceive others’ appearances.
Let us look at the theory behind the Bouba-kiki effect before we look at how to apply it to branding and packaging designs.
As we talk about “rounded” sounds, we refer to the form that our lips take when we say them. To pronounce the oo in “boot,” u in “fun,” and o in “wrote,” We must produce a rounded shape with our lips, while the vocalization occurs in the back of our mouths. The ee in “peek,” the I in “fit,” and the “a” in “had” are examples of “unrounded” sounds, which need the lips to be stretched apart when pronounced.
The bouba-kiki effect demonstrates how the visual shape of a sound affects our perception of it. Because of the shape of their corresponding letter, consonants like k, t, and z are regarded to be spikier, sharper sounds. In contrast, letters like g, b, and o are all thought to have round, soft, or curving shapes and sounds. This means that the bouba-kiki effect is heavily influenced by a person’s literacy or ability to interpret these letters.
The letters in each matching alphabet and the language(s) spoken by each person make a difference. Sound symbolism has even been linked to the formation of languages based on our preconceived notions and expectations.
Creating cross-modal links
According to the study, the bouba-kiki effect is based on humans’ preference to identify various sounds with specific forms and qualities; this is known as sound symbolism—people associate easygoingness with items labeled with round-sounding syllables. We tend to think of entities whose nouns have spikier or sharper sounds as more precise or decided.
Packaging design and branding choices with symbolic meaning
Let us think about how this affects branding and design now that we know how our brains correlate sounds with forms.
How may companies and packaging designers leverage these results to their advantage if many humans have this inbuilt process of associating certain sounds with specific shapes and characteristics?
Your brand name is the first thing a buyer sees, and it will elicit a reaction: a set of assumptions. It is not just about hard vs. soft or huge vs. small.
Our associations with words extend well beyond that, including the ability to foresee comedy.
With a sound and a shape, determination and precision are captured.
What is more “bouba” than Google, if we look at some well-known examples? It is a simple, approachable experience that is so huge it practically holds the entire planet and beyond. It was also a nonsense term, similar to bouba, at its conclusion, leaving others to guess what it would be. While the Google logo’s spherical spaces are a bit of a bouba.
What about Nike, for example? You have got it all: precise, determined, energetic, and competitive. The Nike swoosh, which evokes precision and action, is more suited to a kiki.
Putting the pieces of a branding puzzle together
To attract their target audience, brands should create a holistic and consistent aesthetic, meaning that all pieces must fit together.
It is jarring and unpleasant when a brand or product name does not match the overall brand vibe. For example, if the name is based on an existing word, its meaning may not be acceptable in this new context; if the name is a non-word, it may sound unappealing, incorrect, or difficult to remember for target audiences. Therefore, you will not gain customer trust if this is the case.
Every component that the brand encompasses must have a strong sense of branding. Its name must be compatible with the font used, the logo it will be attached to, and the company’s overall tone of voice.
Individual interests and preferences play a role in determining what works together and what doesn’t. The bouba-kiki effect is at the heart of this, with its seemingly simple observation that it is in human nature to associate particular forms and sounds together.
As a result, the usage of bouba-kiki in branding and design must be complementary. All of your brand identity components work together to convey a unified story that has an emotional and positive influence on target consumers. Based on the bouba-kiki effect, here are some branding and design concepts.
Starting With a Brand Name
A brand name is at the basis of every brand’s identity, as we have seen, and it often retains a steady foundation while the brand evolves over time.
A recent study looked into the power of sound symbolism and how it could be used in branding. According to the researchers, participants predicted front vowels to appear in nouns representing small entities and back vowels to appear in nouns denoting large entities. The position of your tongue as you say or pronounce each note determines whether a vowel is front or back.
For front vowels, the highest tip of your tongue is situated towards the front of your mouth. These include the “a” in “bad,” thee in “shed,” and the I in “knit.” When speaking back vowels, the opposite is true. The u in “huge,” the o in “drone,” and the “oo” in “book” are examples of these sounds.
For a moment, consider how the I in “Pip” reflects the quality of being “little” in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations. This is appropriate, given that Pip is the book’s protagonist, a small child. The rounded o sound in “London” gives a sense of grandeur.
Returning to the study, the researchers discovered that employing these vowels to transmit such concepts in non-words is more effective and remembered than mixing non-words with words. This means that if you are starting a new business or releasing a new product, it is a good idea to come up with a word made out of sounds and letters that communicates the values of your company or product.
After hearing or reading the name, customers will have a preconceived notion or expectation about your brand/product. Finally, this creates a platform for consistent branding. As potential clients become acquainted with your brand, it provides the start of a seamless trip.
Your brand name and logo design are fundamental; together, they establish the tone for your
entire brand identification. As a result, it is easy to see how sound symbolism can positively impact design.
It will be more “bouba” to use curving lines and circular silhouettes to avoid straight, sharp edges. These curves suit approachable, natural brands that give a pleasant experience for clients, as shown in the Moo Cafe logo design.
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A shape with sharp edges and straight lines, on the other hand, feels more “kiki.” This could be a fantastic place to start when designing a logo for a company that wants to emphasize its efficiency, speed, or directness, such as a bank or a car company.
There is no reason why your brand name and emblem could not be even more mysterious, falling somewhere between bouba and kiki. Instead, you can create your nonsensical phrase and shape based on your growing understanding of sound symbolism. This understanding of cross-modal linkages can be huge assistance in figuring out how to communicate your brand to a target audience on your terms.
Using Customized Packaging to Spread Your Wings
Once you have mastered your brand name and logo, you may start fleshing out your larger visual presence as a cosmetic brand. Are you primarily a digital brand, or do you create physical products or spaces? Are we discussing branded web designs, custom eyelash boxes, or a whole on-and-off package?
The cross-modal links you used in your brand name and emblem can be carried over to the rest of your brand design and eyelash packaging box. In addition, the style, sound, and meaning of everything you create must be consistent.
For example, when working with a cosmetic brand, the sound of your name can be an excellent guide for how to create the experience. Take a peek at Chanel’s fashion brand (which sounds to me like something sleek and classy). The sound of the company is well represented in the space. For example, a great US-based lash brand, Dior, sounds like a sleek booba. The brand gives an even more friendly feel with pink custom eyelash boxes.
Through the pronunciation of its name and the warm pastels of its identity, the brand mirrors the shape of the eyelash packaging box. It is an excellent example of employing sound symbolism to give your company a consistent visual identity.
Embrace the bouba-kiki craze
Once you understand how noises influence our perceptions of how things will appear and feel, you can use them to your advantage. Psychology and branding are inextricably linked.
There is no reason why a round-sounding business name with a spiky-looking logo may not work, but it will not feel as natural. Perhaps you want to create an unsettling, unpleasant brand identity; make sure your audience is aware of it.