Designing with Instinct: Santorum’s Website and the Golden Ratio

In this breakdown you will learn:

  • How facial expressions of primates help determine our trust in others.
  • How using stimulus-response relationships will build support.
  • How the Golden Ratio applies to Leon Festinger’s cognitive dissonance.

I will only focus on the brand psychology, color theory, and nonverbal communication techniques being used on his website. If you would like to know about his political beliefs, please visit his website.

RickSantorum.com – 2012 Campaign

Rick Santorum 2012 - WebsiteFirst impression: Light base colors. Polished in overall design, and easy to locate key calls to action.

Main colors: Various shades of blue (trust) and White (purity)

Section 1: Hero Images

Rick Santorum’s main hero image showcases a generally positive photo, a strong call to action, and a well thought out statement to further a stimulus-response type of relationship.

Each of which we will cover as we progress.

First, what I find interesting are his expressions throughout the home page. Specifically, his willingness to show his teeth.

In primates, showing the teeth, especially teeth held together, is almost always a sign of submission.

That may sound odd, but it says a lot about him.

His team wouldn’t choose a random image to influence your first impression with.

This stood out to me because Newt Gingrich’s website, the first breakdown in this series, doesn’t show any teeth throughout his website.

After looking over other candidate websites, I was hard-pressed to find anyone in a large focal image like this showing their teeth. Interesting.

What is the significance of this? You may be surprised.

According to an interview with Scientific America Frank McAndrew, professor of psychology at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill., has done extensive research on facial expressions.

In the interview he states:

In primates, showing the teeth, especially teeth held together, is almost always a sign of submission.

In the primate threat, the lips are curled back and the teeth are apart–you are ready to bite. But if the teeth are pressed together and the lips are relaxed, then clearly you are not prepared to do any damage.

Is it unrealistic to infer this behavior in humans? Think about it for a moment. When you smile, regardless of what caused the smile, what is your primary goal?

At a core level you want to show that you like someone or encourage someone to like you, right?

This ties into your brain’s classification instinct – is this a friend, foe, or sexual partner – you are constantly testing these boundaries. All with the simple act of a smile.

Initially, his smile is welcoming. You let your guard down. But why is he looking to the right? Does this symbolize his focus on the future?

Why is his mouth slightly open showing his teeth? Does he want to come off friendly, but subconsciously tell you he is willing to fight?

Keep this in mind, and watch carefully, as you see others smile around you. Nonverbal communication speaks more loudly than words.

The headline to his left reads “Thanks to you…” and competes heavily for our initial attention due to its size.

Even more important is the fact that the largest text on the entire page is a direct message to you.

Thanks to you, we’ve reached our goal.

You are being conditioned to repeat the stimulus in order to get the same response.

This statement is pushing two agendas. One by stating you are the primary cog to their election machine. Another by leveraging the usage of we and our to establish your part in a larger movement.

A larger group that is moving toward the same goal.

You + we + our + reaching goal = momentum created by your involvement in his campaign

Much like Pavlov’s experiments, which use stimulus-response relation as its building block, you get rewarded for completing an action. With each reward you are being conditioned to repeat the stimulus in order to get the same response.

In this instance, you are noticed and praised. Your action is making a difference. This encourages you to repeat the same behavior to get noticed more. Praised more.

Repeating the same behavior provides Santorum with prolonged momentum, continual financial support, and a solid structure of increasing advocates to spread his message long-term.

To increase the likelihood of you repeating this behavior, his website provides you with myopic focus toward your next action.

Rick’s eyes guide your attention to that single opportunity. Prolong this experience by clicking on the oversized red Donate button.

Conversion is not synonymous with red

There is a common misconception that conversion rates increase when you use the color red. This isn’t always true.

Brains are constantly analyzing this visual data for patterns.

Much like Frank Lloyd Wright’s organic architecture, it’s about the context and color theory of the entire surroundings.

How are you framing the content? How close is your call to action button to other elements? If you use a bold color like red, do you also use it on non-action items?

Whether your visitors realize it or not, their brains are constantly analyzing this visual data for patterns.

These patterns help their brain catalog the general experience and adapt their behavior to it based on experiences from other similar situations.

To put this into perspective let’s do a quick exercise.

First, open Rick Santorum’s website in a new browser tab.

Now, stand up and walk away from your desk.

Most of you probably walk about five feet away. Go further. Try ten or fifteen feet. Go ahead and try it now.

Done?

What three design elements (not photography) stand out?

  1. Donate
  2. Donate
  3. Rick Santorum’s logo

Rick’s entire website is, for the most part, blue. Every interactive element on his website is powered by a high contrasting catalyst in red.

The fact that you can stand fifteen feet away from your desk and still clearly see what his call to action is says a lot. In that regard, his website is a great example of design focus.

Can you do that with your website?

Section 2: Golden Ratio in Calls to Action

Rick chose to use a full width hero image. This pushes his secondary, prioritized navigation area into a much more traditional sidebar location.

This allows the structure of his entire design to fall in line with the Fibonacci sequence. Otherwise known as the golden ratio or the golden rectangle.

Remember when I mentioned that our brain is constantly analyzing visual data for patterns? Let’s expand on that thought.

Adrian Bejan, professor of mechanical engineering at Duke University, has published various papers on how our brain has evolved over time to interpret images using the golden ratio faster than any other method.

According to Bejan:

It is well known that the eyes take in information more efficiently when they scan side to side, as opposed to up and down. When you look at what so many people have been drawing and building, you see these proportions everywhere.

The golden ratio is best understood by dividing an image into thirds. In web design division is typically done horizontally. It uses relational distance between objects to help us analyze the data.

In the image below you will see an example of this.

Santorum - Golden Ratio Design

Each rectangle is broken down into thirds. The main rectangle surrounds the composition: the hero image, content, and sidebar. It houses the entire spiral.

The sidebar, where the spiral arcs deeper, is exactly one-third the size of the content area.

As you follow the spiral you can see how the size of the sidebar, and where the icons line up, fall directly on the border of other rectangular thirds.

Like Bejan said, this allows your brain to process this information efficiently.

Processing information efficiently relaxes your brain.

Section 3: Standardized Web Design

Like I outlined in Influencing Customer Behavior with Interactive Psychology, using a standardized header, content, sidebar, footer structure lays the groundwork for initial interest.

It buys you a few extra seconds to present them with something of value. Something of intrigue.

When a user sees that standard structure, it relaxes their brain and puts it into a passive state.

Studies show that people in passive activities are much more open to the power of suggestion.

Rick Santorum 2012 - Website

Rick’s entire website is a motivational tool for donation. He has a single goal. A single call to action. His suggestion is front and center.

How can you capitalize on this?

Find out what your users want and give it to them.

No games.

No gimmicks.

Effort only takes place after the perception of value is verified in our mind.

If you are immediately passive your defenses are down. If your defenses are down, you are more likely to be drawn in to sign-up for a newsletter, like him on Facebook, or even donate.

In contrast, if a user’s first experience with your website consists of confusion you’ve already lost the battle. You might as well throw in the towel.

Confusion implies effort is required to find information.

Information about someone they aren’t sure they care about yet.

In 1956, Leon Festinger, an American social psychologist, proposed that people have a motivational drive to reduce internal disagreement by altering their existing perception to create a consistent belief system. He called this cognitive dissonance.

Applying this to web design the core message is: don’t challenge a user’s expectations.

Effort only takes place after the perception of value, or suggested reward, is verified in our mind. Once you challenge expectations you open the door for a swift exit.

For Rick, that could mean losing donations and support that may ultimately change the course of his election.

How to Design with Instinct on Your Website

Rick Santorum’s website strategically uses our natural human instinct to create a long-tail support effect. It panders to our brain’s natural ability to organize visual data. Building a slow, confident momentum toward implied success.

But how do you trigger momentum in the first place?

How Rick used human nature to his advantage:

  1. Through the use of standardized web design (header, content, sidebar) Rick was able to calm our senses immediately. His use of the golden ratio, or the rule of thirds, capitalizes on our natural brain function to organize and analyze visual data. Using this strategy puts important information where your brain expects it to be. The golden ratio is a blueprint for effectively placing call to action buttons.
  2. He used a wide hero image that started with a direct message to you and ended with a request to donate. He continued this singular call to action throughout the home page. While there are other navigational items, it’s clear that donation is priority. It’s important to have one priority per page so that you can funnel visitors exactly where you want them. Remember the exercise you did standing 5, 10, or 15 feet away from your computer? Try it on your web design or branding materials.
  3. A Pavlovian stimulus-response relationship was established immediately. If you are a supporter it shows that your involvement in his campaign makes a difference. If you aren’t a supporter it shows how important he views those that have already helped him gain momentum. Regardless of which you are, he encourages you to support him so you, as an individual and as part of his larger tribe, can accomplish more. It ties directly into our innate human nature. We all want to succeed. To win. To conquer.

His website utilizes core design psychology. It’s important you implement all of these on your website not only to build momentum, but to gain readers and encourage brand advocacy as a whole.

If you only take one thing away from this article, make sure it’s this:

Prioritize your message.

Do you want me to help you and evaluate the design psychology behind your website? Learn about UX Triggers

  • Adrian Bejan

    Very interesting observations. This design principle is a manifestation of the Constructal Law of design in nature, and it is explained simply in the new book “Design in Nature” (Doubleday 2012),

    http://www.amazon.com/Design-Nature-Constructal-Technology-Organization/dp/0385534612/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1327888221&sr=8-1

  • http://www.joshuagarity.com/ Joshua Garity

    Thanks, Adrian. While writing this article I read some more of your work relating to the evolution of athletes as well. Love what you’re doing. I will make a note to read your book in the future.
    I’d be interested in exchanging emails about how your work on “Design in Nature” relates to the perception of marketing and design in business.Do you have a preferred method of contact?

  • Mohammad Bazrkar

    Thanks for this great article. But there’s something I didn’t get. What do you exactly mean by this sentence? > Studies show that people in passive activities are much more open to the power of suggestion.