Designing cute

For the designers among us, a NYT article yesterday (The Cute Factor) offers some insights into the role “cute” plays in evolution, and particularly, how evolution has wired us to perceive and respond to cute.

Scientists who study the evolution of visual signaling have identified a wide and still expanding assortment of features and behaviors that make something look cute: bright forward-facing eyes set low on a big round face, a pair of big round ears, floppy limbs and a side-to-side, teeter-totter gait, among many others.

Cute cues are those that indicate extreme youth, vulnerability, harmlessness and need, scientists say, and attending to them closely makes good Darwinian sense. As a species whose youngest members are so pathetically helpless they can’t lift their heads to suckle without adult supervision, human beings must be wired to respond quickly and gamely to any and all signs of infantile desire.

Here’s the hard-wiring:

New studies suggest that cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine…

But beware the subtle dangers associated with designing for “cute,” as we may more readily respond angrily when we suspect that such cuteness was intended to deceive.