Islam Gouda
Islam Gouda 21 December 2015

Product Anthropomorphism: The Personification of Design

We might not build our purchasing decisions at first based on how we perceive products' features, but that deep feeling of resemblance which intrigues human emotions makes us more accepting to purchasing that product unconsciously.

While at home or at the office, take a closer look at the products around you – the desk, the lights, or the doors – you would find an intriguing resemblance between these inanimate objects and human features, an eye, a mouth maybe, or a much complex thing as human emotions as a smile. We might not build our purchasing decisions at first based on how we perceive products’ features, but that deep feeling of resemblance which intrigues human emotions makes us more accepting to purchasing that product unconsciously.

Product designers however, do not do this intentionally; the fact that there is a resemblance between products and a human face or a familiar shape goes beyond putting little things beside each other to construct the features of a human face or a familiar object or shape.


Customers do not align specific design features with facial features simply to appreciate the analogy but instead seem to actually perceive concrete facial expressions. When customers look at a grille on a car, they interpret it as more than a mouth – they see a smile. These various types of emotional connotations take us to the fact that products do not only resemble facial expressions but manifest emotions as well.

Customers do not only recognize and perceive the morphological resemblance between the human features and objects; they also use the perceived information to construct an emotional meaning of the characteristics inferred by the shape of the product. These highly relevant cues observed from a product are inspired from shapes in the environment around us which when put together construct such facial expressions which lead to that perceived meaning.

If a car’s grille can look like a smile it might as well look like an angry or aggressive face – these facial features of aggression when placed on the right product (muscle car) it can result a likeable product combined of course with the product’s performance which can affect how people perceive the product and the brand as well.

Product design encourages the elicitation of various stimuli which when combined contribute to the perceived emotional comprehensions of what the product means and what does it stand for. Customers usually prefer familiar features which elicit feelings of pleasure – the features of arched eyes or an upturned mouth translates into feelings of friendliness which connotes with pleasure and ultimately preferred over other product facial expressions. 


Anthropomorphism in product design doesn’t only assist in eliciting feelings and emotions from a smile or looks of aggressiveness the product shows, it as well allows customers to treat the product more than just an objective (making it more human as a pet they own or maybe a friend).

The concept as well provides customer perception with a social cognition which inhibits the look for alternatives – not having an objective understanding towards the product but rather a subjective understanding based on how it looks and the emotions it instils in the customers minds and hearts.


If you have a car and you call it (Paul) you will not be treating (Paul) in a very bad way – you will take care of the car and provide it with attention in terms of cleaning it and trying not to dent (Paul). You would as well not be interested in replacing (Paul) – it is your car, your friend, your pale on long trips, and you have many experiences together that you don’t want to replace him (not it) – because the car doesn’t only have a utilitarian value but as well a social value which goes beyond its functionality.

Such constitutes problems at some points for the brands – customers are so loyal to their products that they refuse to replace them. That’s why major brands have understood such a problem and take longer times in changing the shapes of their products in the annual upgrade. A Toyota Land Cruiser or a BMW (any series) would take at least 2 to 4 years to change in shape of their products, with minor modifications that doesn’t allow of the alteration of the look and feel of the product.

Marketing and Product Design (Anthropomorphism)

Anthropomorphism and providing human like characteristics to products as well associate other attributes to those products, such as intelligence and emotions – these characteristics are not innate by the products but perceived by the customers and how they distinguish those human like characteristics.

When considering the value of Anthropomorphism, we would understand that customers place a greater degree of perceived value more than elements such as the price – the concept is a superior predictor of personal value than price, usage or methods of acquisition. Which when used effectively, Anthropomorphism could act as a tool to enhance the value of products – whether simple or complex.

Nonetheless, the complexity of a product is the control factor where Anthropomorphism as a concept would or wouldn’t work; there is a lack of research however on various types of products when Anthropomorphism as a concept is applied.

Mostly, testing and experimentation has been applied to cars, cell phones, and/or slot machines. Such is being explained as the more the complex the product is the easier for it to be Anthropomorphised – the concept could be less appropriate for products of simple features.

For example, if marketers choose to put a smile on children’s toothbrush it wouldn’t be as appropriate or appealing to the customers. Thus, such area of product marketing requires further future research efforts to probe into understanding the applicability of Anthropomorphism as a concept on complex versus simple products.

Childlike Anthropomorphism in Products

When we review the term, we might guess that it refers to creating products for children, but it is more like identifying childlike characteristics in products by adults. Marketers know that baby-like-features intrigue and trigger feelings of tender nature for adults and such features can be high lightened through elements of design such as the size of the product (specially being small), the degree of how the cheeks are round, the large eyes – all of such generate that caretaking instinct adults have towards infants.


These childlike features in products allow for more interaction and play with the product, most importantly, these features don’t trigger feelings from adults only – babyish physical features engage with all ages. However, research depicts that women are more likely to depict baby-like-features in products more than men. Men on the other hand perceive highly neotenic adult women faces as attractive.

Childlike features in products might not necessarily be excluded to physical features; “cuteness” is a feature of personal, relational, and or affective dimension. The size of the product (particularly small) can invoke child-like associations however, gentleness, innocence, and invitingness also connotes with childlike meaning.


There are various successful examples in the marketplace that provides such cute products from different categories. Etsy is an online retailer of products which are handmade selling a variety of cute products, such as dog inspired pillows and painted wooden figures with revenues exceeding the 800 million dollars in 2012. Another brand would be Lilly Pulitzer, which is a fashion brand that incorporates rounded shapes, tropical colours, and light-hearted designs creating clothing lines and accessories with sales exceeding the 100 million dollars in 2012.

Another great example of Anthropomorphism is with Pixar, which have taken the concept to a whole new level. Pixar movie which is part of Disney have been very clever in their marketing towards utilizing the concept of Anthropomorphism when promoting their products. The utilization of Toys giving them life with a fascinating story with their owner (Andy) and the interaction which takes place across the events of the movies is fascinating.

Who is not fond about the Toy Story Trilogy with their well positioned and famous characters – Woody the Cowboy and Buzz Light-year. Adults, teens, young and old – millions around the world were fond of the characters and the life lessons conveyed from commercial products.

Sacred meanings were derived by objects that millions of customers later purchased after the launch of the movie and became sincere fans and dear friends to them. These cute babyish products didn’t only have humanlike features, but rather a story which viewers connected with and were fond about – which is a true application of Anthropomorphism in its best form.

At the end, products are just an extension of us – they appeal to whatever traits that we as humans have, human like traits that puts life into products and allow a connection between us as customers and them (as more than objects). Thus, it is crucial for marketers to understand such type of connotations that customers create with Anthropomorphising the products – further research as well is required towards the application of the concept for various types of products.






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