Some things make noise, others make sense.
To essentially everything we take in, there is a mental reaction- a stimulus that causes us to feel one way or another about what we are experiencing. In design, that stimulus starts with the visual elements and works its way thru our brains to determine how we react to whatever it is we are viewing. Sometimes, this is an advertisement attempting to generate a sale; a piece of art that triggers a memory; or a visual scene evoking an emotion. I like to think of it as the “tone” that is set as a result of the way something is designed, something that is intentional and generally for specific purpose.
Survey Monkey, a leader in online surveys and questionnaires, describes the process of setting the right tone as “priming and timing” in a recent post to their company blog. They use the example of entering a grocery store on a full stomach vs. an empty one and the different purchasing reactions that result from how hungry the shopper is when they arrive. They go on conclude that “the state at which you enter into the store might have an effect on your purchases, but the layout of the grocery store may also influence what you buy” (e.g. what you see on display upon entering the store may get more notice than what is hidden on the middle of an aisle). Of course they are discussing the wording and sequence of questions used in online surveys in this article, but we feel that design acts no differently. What people see isn’t just about good graphics, pretty colors, or catchy photos. It all folds together and creates a visual tone that acts as the basis upon which your audience takes in your product or deliverable.
This all feeds into the much larger topic of UI/UX when we get into design, layout, and usage of digital media, but the overall concept is simple and intuitive. Take the time to think thru the tone you want your website, newsletter, advertisement, etc to have on the targeted audience. Impressions are important and short lived these days, and spending more time before delivering can have a larger mental (and economic) impact in the long run.