Surprise and humor in product design designing sensory metaphors in multiple modalities

Geke D.S. Ludden, Barry M. Kudrowitz, Hendrik N.J. Schifferstein, Paul Hekkert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


When information from two or more sensory modalities conflicts, this can evoke a surprise reaction as well as feelings of amusement, interest, confusion or disappointment. In concurrence to joke theory, we argue that people appreciate and enjoy appropriate incongruities that can be related back to the p roduct, whereas they are confused by and have negative opinions towards inappropriate incongruities. This paper reports the design and the evaluation of products in two categories (rubber duckies and deodorants), with (in)appropriate sensory incongruities of three types: visual-tactual, visual-olfactory and visual-auditory. Participants evaluated the level of surprise felt and the intensity of resulting emotions. They also indicated their overall liking for the products. Both appropriate and inappropriate incongruities were evaluated as surprising as well as confusing. As expected, appropriate incongruities evoked more amusement and were generally favored. Whereas products with visualtactual incongruities showed large differences in ratings on liking and amusement between appropriate and inappropriate incongruities, these differences were smaller for products with visual-auditory and visual-olfactory incongruities. Possibly, the appropriateness of an incongruity is more conspicuous when it is brought about by a conflict between touch and vision than when olfaction or audition are involved.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)285-309
Number of pages25
Issue number3
StatePublished - Aug 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by MaGW-VIDI grant number 452-02-028 of the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research ((�NWO.) awarded to H. N. J. Schifferstein. We would like to thank Sara Lee for providing us with deodorant samples and International Flavors and Fragrances for providing the banana, wood, and mint fragrances.


  • Amusement
  • Confusion
  • Design
  • Humor
  • Incongruity
  • Product design
  • Senses
  • Sensory metaphor
  • Surprise


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