The new strategies of desire

Rob Horning:

In Dichter's time, figuring out how to manipulate consumers beneath the level of consciousness was a matter of applying Freudian theory in what seemed to be intuitive, arbitrary ways ("To elevate typewriter sales, [Dichter] suggested the machines be modelled on the female body, 'making the keyboard more receptive, more concave,' " the article notes). Now it's more a matter of Paco Underhill-style applied surveillance, where retailers spy on their consumers, amass data on their aggregate behavior and draw conclusions that no individual consumer would have been able to explain—what kind of music leads to more purchases, how wide the aisles should be, which products should be placed at eye level, and so on.

It's interesting to me that consumer product design style does not just evolve based on stylistic trends, but also trends in models of consumer behavior. We now use a model-less model, where computers derive statistical models that are not based on psychology, merely on data points.

It seems to me that the only individual recourse to the billion-dollar market research industry is to use the same tools ourselves on ourselves. Measure yourself, hoard your data, build models, and use those models to direct your behavior.