Inside Our Heads, We All See from the Same Visual Perspective

CoolResearch_CanonicalPerspectiveIf I were to ask you to draw a coffee cup, how would you draw it? Or, perhaps asked more specifically, from what perspective would you draw it? Chances are, if you are like the vast majority of human beings, you would draw a coffee cup that looked something like one of the images on the left.

So what, you ask? You’ll notice something interesting in common will all of these coffee mugs: all are drawn from the same perspective. No, I’m not talking about how all of the handles are on the right (although that is a strange phenomenon as well); I’m talking about how they are all drawn from roughly the same angle&amp—from above and slightly to one side, either right or left. This is called the “canonical perspective” and researcher Stephen Palmer (and others after him) proved that most people, when asked to draw objects like coffee cups, draw them all from this angle&amp—slightly above and off to one side. People hardly ever, for example, draw a coffee cup from this view (high above and/or straight on): CoolResearch_CanonicalPerspective2

Whoopdeedo, right? We don’t typically see our drinks from such an aerial view; why would we draw them that way? Don’t we all see coffee cups from a slightly above angle, off to one side, when we’re eating? Wouldn’t it only be natural that we draw things from the perspective that we see them most often? What’s fascinating, though, is that we as a human race draw almost everything from this canonical perspective.

When people were asked to draw small animals (like really short dogs and cats), the canonical perspective was still the overwhelmingly preferred angle, even though we don’t see those animals from “slightly above” hardly ever; we are usually WAY above them.

In our heads, it seems, most all people tend to visualize objects from this slightly above and slightly off angle. This means two important things for visual communicators: if you break this mold and create images and graphics from different angles, they will often seem more visually interesting because they don’t feel cliche or traditional. On the flip side, if you are creating an icon or a graphic that needs to be recognized and immediately understood (for communicative and instructional purposes), research has suggested that if the graphic ought to stick to the canonical perspective.

The question, then, is what is better for a logo? If you have an abstract shape or text only, canonical perspective doesn’t really matter. However, if you have an iconic image (like a tree or animal), radically moving away from the canonical image might create a more visually memorable angle. Or, it might not be as informative. Likely, it will most largely depend on the information or brand you are trying to communicate.