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Connecting to Your Audience: The Human Face

Whether you’re giving your time to a passion project or trading work for money, everything you design, draw, or sculpt over the course of your career will have to connect to other people. And in a world where your audience is confronted with hundreds of consumable thought snippets every day, your creative pieces have to be relatable enough to hold the attention of the people you’re trying to reach.

In that big competitive media landscape, there is still a powerful, often overlooked way to connect to your audience:

Show them a human face.

Faces in the Clouds

People are so programmed to connect to human faces that they see them where none exist. We’re born with a hypersensitivity to facial patterns (a phenomenon called pareidolia) that causes us to pick out the shapes of eyes, mouths, and noses from random patterns. Think of the way window curtains and tree leaves can, with a little creativity, suddenly come alive with shadowy mouths and gazing eyes. It’s a tendency that’s hardwired into us. Long before they can walk or talk, babies react strongly and positively to face-like images—even in the womb.

Ever wonder why marketing agencies have papered everything from soda bottles to truck beds with faces? Faces, especially smiling faces, get our attention. According to a study by the Georgia Institute of Technology and Yahoo Labs, people are 38% more likely to like a photo on Instagram that features a human face compared to photos that show objects or landscapes.

Even the likeness of a human face captures our attention. We find eyes and mouths, drawn or real, relatable. It’s why we like pandas more than grasshoppers, or why a toaster with a smiley face drawn on in permanent marker seems downright friendly.

For Artists, the Human Face is a Tool

Whether they’re symmetrical, elfin, or ugly, faces connect your audience to your work. With a little strategy, you can craft that connection to help shape your audience’s overall impression. Consider the following:

  1.  Eyes follow eyes. Use your subject’s eyes to tell your audience where you want them to look. People tend to notice the eyes of an image first, and then follow whichever direction they’re pointing.
  2.  People see. People do. Visible emotions, even artificial emotions (look up emotional contagion—it’s pretty cool), can deeply affect your audience. Strategically choosing the facial expressions of your subjects lets you tailor the emotional impact of your piece.
  3.  I’m looking for myself. Like it or not, there’s no faster way to a person’s heart than to remind them of themselves. If you know your audience, leverage images you know will resonate with them. Teenagers want to see teenagers. Educators want to see educators. Alt-rock, beanie-wearing hipsters with satchels are looking for…well, you get the point.

Everyone you ever visually reach out to through your work will sport at least one eye, a nose, and a mouth. And anyone who consumes the work you create will be, consciously or unconsciously, looking for a human face to connect to.

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