There’s something about print that makes my brain happy. Because you’re reading a blog post on a printer’s website, it’s probably safe to assume that you, too, have spent time wandering through a bookstore or library, picking up books, looking at covers, thumbing through pages and inhaling their scents.
Paper – especially quality paper – makes an impact on people, even if they don’t realize it. More than half the brain is devoted to processing sensory experience, according to A Communicator’s Guide to the Neuroscience of Touch from Sappi North America.
I recently sat down with Marie Langdon, of Midland Paper, to talk about the way paper, texture, color, finish and more come together to communicate more than the words printed on the page. Print provides a satisfying experience without the sensory overload that can accompany digital materials. Marie walked me through the ways people respond to paper, and how we experience different aspects of paper.
To borrow an example from Marie: Think about the menu you receive at a nice restaurant. If it’s printed on flimsy paper, how does that affect your opinion of the meal you’re about to receive? The texture should match the brand or emotion you want to convey.
“I think people don’t realize they want to touch things, but they do. When you receive something, and it has a soft touch coating, people have a hard time putting it down,” Marie explained. “Touch is a human need. It goes back to nature. And I think that we’ve gotten so digital and computerized, but people are tired of that. So what’s old is new again.”
From her Mary Poppins bag of samples, Marie brought out a wedding invitation she’d recently received from a family friend. A simple off-white color, with violet lettering and gold edging, the weight of the thick, textured stock made it clear this was a wedding you want to attend, and the reception will almost certainly have excellent champagne. A study by psychologist John Bargh, described in The Neuroscience of Touch, showed that weighty objects help confer a sense of gravitas. When evaluating job candidates, the interviewers holding a heavier clipboard rated their candidate as more solid. A study done in the Eagleman Lab, of Dr. David Eagleman, had people read about a fictitious company on heavy, high-quality coated paper, lighter, lower-quality uncoated paper and a computer screen. Those with the heavy paper remembered the content better and had more positive feelings about the made-up company.
Paper can be used to create a sense of ownership via the Endowment Effect. As explained in The Neuroscience of Touch, people tend to believe objects they own are more valuable than objects they don’t own. However, they don’t have to actually own them for the Endowment Effect to take place. Merely touching the object, imagining touching it or touching something else – like a paper catalog – that created “ownership imagery” can begin to create a sense of ownership.
If we were to take all of this information to its furthest conclusion, we’d probably be sharing materials etched on sandstone tablets. Since that’s not a practical solution, paper is an excellent way to create the impressions we want.
Marie used A Maker’s Field Guide to Texture and Color, from Mohawk, to illustrate how colored paper can be used as a fifth color in four-color printing. The guide showcases how prints on colored paper provide an eye-catching base. A one-color job printed on a rich paper can give a completely different impression than one color printed on white paper. A Maker’s Field Guide suggests printing black and white photography on colored stock for an unexpected and dramatic result.
According to the American Paper Institute, direct mail pieces receive higher response rates – as much as 20 percent – when they use eye-catching colors. Color also helps increase retention, readership and the tendency for readers to react to the piece.
There’s an incredible smell that comes from ink on paper, but there are now options to have some more fun with smell.
Marie was so intrigued by KFC’s chicken-scented Valentine’s Day card, she tracked down and purchased samples from local stores – which she now keeps tightly sealed. The United States Postal Service released popsicle-scented stamps over the summer, which were a huge hit.
People have better recall and understanding for what they read on paper versus what they read on a screen. The Neuroscience of Touch explains the three reasons for the success of a tangible medium.
- Paper makes content more intuitively navigable.
- Paper facilitates better mental mapping of information.
- Reading on paper drains fewer cognitive resources, making it easier to retain the information.
To put it simply, paper makes a deeper impact on the brain.
Our conversation, held while surrounded by high-quality, touchable papers in beautiful colors, was inspiring. It made me want to surround myself with beautiful samples like those Marie carries around in her bag (and I certainly walked away with a few pieces of literature). With most of my day spent looking at a screen, looking at the paper laid across our conference room table felt like the mental equivalent of a deep breath after a strenuous hike.
During our conversation, there were no interruptions from new emails, or distractions from advertisements moving at the corners of the screen. The samples laid out in front of us allowed us to devote our attention to the piece at hand.
The evening after my conversation with Marie, I took a closer look at the catalogs I’d saved from the stacks of mail I receive every day. REI, ModCloth, and Chaco had all made the cut. The heavy, textured paper used by REI and Chaco, and the bright colors ModCloth features probably had more to do with that decision than I realized when they were spared a direct trip to the recycling bin.
My challenge to you: find a way to surround yourself with good paper. Gather what you can, lay it out where you can see it and spend twenty minutes experiencing it through every sense: the way it looks, the way it feels, its smell, the sound it makes when you turn a page. I wouldn’t use taste unless you’re daring, but you do you.