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When Things Go Right

How to make something appear more authentic and ahead of its time

Take a look at the team logos of the NFL (National Football League) below and see whether you can spot a common feature in their designs.

When logos point in a particular direction, they nearly always face to the right, appearing to move in that direction.

This is no coincidence. Our natural tendency is to scan images from left to right, even when there’s no text in the image. This scanning habit causes us to perceive objects pointing to the right differently than those pointing left.

Perceptual studies find that we judge rightward objects as moving faster, and their movements to be more natural, than the same objects going left. Additionally, our minds represent time as unfolding from left to right, so things facing right give the impression they’re moving into the future and making progress. We also have a better memory for rightward images. You can see why, then, designing logos this way creates the kind of impression teams would want fans to have about them.

This rightward bias is also apparent in company logos and how products are depicted in advertising, especially when speed and modernity are central to a product’s image. (Of course, ads sometimes orient their products to the left, and this can create a different impression. Images moving to the left may convey a sense of uniqueness and going against the grain; they can evoke nostalgia about how things used to be; or suggest a leisurely, steady pace rather than a hurried one.)

In general, though, we prefer images facing rightward, and this is especially true when it comes to likeness of people. In films, people moving to the right tend to be portrayed more positively than those moving to the left. As an extreme case in point, German propaganda during WWII exploited this concept by showing German soldiers walking from left to right on film. Specifically, the Ministry of Propaganda dictated that “German troops in motion were always to be shown as marching or driving from left to right in order to assure that pictures from the East front would give the impression of a successful advance.”

Another application of this principle may explain why athletes typically run counter-clockwise around race tracks—as spectators, we prefer to see athletes running (driving, riding) from left to right.

This preference certainly applies to how we view snapshots of people. When you take a picture of someone, or when you display one of yourself, keep in mind that the profile’s direction will leave a subtle impression on those who see it.

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