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The Role of Science in Beauty

By: Liz Grubow and Elle Morris
Posted: April 27, 2012, from the May 2012 issue of GCI Magazine.

At their core, creatives and scientists share a compelling and enduring optimism—a byproduct of their innovative pursuit of a better tomorrow. Pivotal moments of scientific and technological discovery in the past century have not only inspired art, design and marketing, but have fully infiltrated the zeitgeist. The relationship is truly symbiotic: As science inspires art, pop culture has the power to give scientific ideas lift, sustaining the concept’s acceptance and presence with society at large. Our collective concept of beauty is therefore intrinsically tied to major scientific concepts.

The visualization of science in the beauty market is rooted in the shared optimism across disciplines. Science can be seen in beauty advertisements and packaging, underscoring the importance of a designer’s ability to simplify complex technology into a symbolic representation that is aesthetically pleasing, sophisticated and highly positioned for optimal consumer connection. As advances in science and technology continue to accelerate, the onus remains on beauty brand owners and marketers to communicate the impact innovation has on beauty products, marketing and, ultimately, society en masse.

The Unseen Seen

Visualizing science serves to demystify the power of science by creating visual frameworks and symbologies, allowing us to attach meaning and close the loop between logical and emotional desires. These visuals make the unseen seen, the conceptual concrete. Often, these visualizations satisfy just enough understanding to offer us a glimpse into the mystique of science—both giving us a reason to believe in its authenticity and fueling our desire for more.

Yet an important distinction to recognize is that visualizations frequently do not represent actuality. Scientific breakthroughs do not always naturally appeal to consumers, as evidenced by actual DNA strands morphed into a more aesthetically pleasing double helix mode. Instead, visualizations encode meaning deep within their representations, tapping into the power of association the human brain makes between a symbol and its detailed meaning. With scientific and technological discoveries rapidly transforming our daily lives, it will become even more imperative that marketers create ways to communicate complex concepts to beauty consumers.

Science as Art

The relationship between scientific discovery and artistic expression can be traced as far back as 1945, when the world’s first atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima, forever changing the human psyche and inaugurating the atomic age. With both scientific and civilian circles buzzing with discussion about atomic structure, visual representations of the atom became wildly popular. Striking combinations of straight lines and dots influenced iconic works such as the 1947 Ray Eames classic “dot” pattern and the mobiles of artist Alexander Calder. As the atomic craze gave way to the age of nuclear optimism in the 1950s and the advances in genetic coding in the 1960s, the double helix was adopted as the universal symbol of DNA. By the early ’90s, continued discoveries in the genetic code kept the double helix on the forefront of art and design, and boosted its commercial arrival in brand marketing campaigns and in packaging for foundations, moisturizers and even perfume. And in 1965, with the international space race in full swing, the pixel was used to explain images from probes sent to the moon and Mars. With its roots in digital photography, pixels have since expanded their applications from space exploration to beauty formulas, adorning packages and advertisements with promises of UV protection and precision in makeup and facial creams.

Visualizing Science