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Open Booth Design: The Nuance of Numbers

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“Whenever a man can get hold of numbers, they are invaluable: if correct, they assist in informing his own mind, but they are still more useful in deluding the minds of others. Numbers are the masters of the weak, but the slaves of the strong.”  Charles BabbagePassages from the Life of a Philosopher

Numbers are a very ancient archetype that seems to predate humanity itself. In the book Number and the Language of Science, mathematician Tobias Dantzig mentions a number of examples of animals and even insects who seem to posses a number sense. The classical Greeks conceived numbers as the substance of the universe – not as an abstraction but something that exists and composes all things. In his book on Pythagorean Numbers, Philolaus of Tarentum, states: “All things, at least those we know, contain Number; for it is evident that nothing whatever can either be thought or known without Number.”

Dating back thousands of years, numbers have profound effect on our psyche. Especially so, with the number 9. We are charmed by number 9. In an experiment conducted by MIT and the University of Chicago, a women’s clothing item was tested at the prices of $34, $39, and $44. To their utter surprise, the item sold best at $39, even more than the cheaper $34 price…that is the mysticism of number 9.


We all talk about doing compelling graphics to captivate your audience. For a change, try using numbers to get your message across. Learn what numbers mean and how you can manipulate the voice of numbers when you design your graphics for your exhibit. Do not stop with your exhibit; splash it across your marketing channels and marvel in the knowing that “numbers are indeed living, qualitative reality that has to be experienced.”

Here is a brief overview of how to use numbers to maximize your marketing campaign.

Size it Up (or Down)! Large numbers fool your brain into thinking that you are getting more. Using big numbers to convey high nutritional benefits (1,000 milligrams of fiber, not one gram) or cellphone talk time (660 minutes, not 11 hours) makes people feel as though they are getting better deals. People tend to infer more from large numbers. Play on numbers if you want to downplay your “30-day service penalty”, by referring it to as “a one-month suspension.”

Unitosity Matters: People often resort to numbers rather than units to make decisions. We perceive weeks as a greater unit than days, regardless of the number attached to it. For example a two-week period is perceived to be longer than a 14-day period. Units comes in handy when evaluating a long term loan or mortgage payment. An additional payment over 360 months seems more palatable than one over 30 years and a 30 day money back gurantee.

Nuance of Numerosity: Numerosity is a “property of a stimulus that is defined by the number of discriminate elements it contains.” More pieces of something usually suggest a larger magnitude. The brain is always seeking a pattern: proximity, alignment and so forth. For example, because larger houses usually have more rooms, the brain automatically concludes a house to be a big one, if it has certain amount of rooms… and you know that is not necessarily true.

Ascending versus Descending Order: It looks confusing, right? It is very common for marketers to resort to this strategy…Be Educated!

What is greater? 4 x 3 x 2 x 1 vs. 1 x 2 x 3 x 4. At a first glance the brain automatically extrapolates the first 2 multiples and places a higher value on the factor of 4; 12>2 or the first number 4>1. So how you place your numbers have profound impact on the way it appeals to consumers. Research shows that people are drawn towards the larger number and the larger benefit. For example, “70 items for $29″ is more appealing than, when the price is presented first (e.g., “$29 for 70 Items”).

Complexity in Calculation Matters: Neuroscience proves that the brain is fundamentally a lazy piece of meat. It doesn’t want to waste energy. The brain thinks per unit price in a “70 items for $29″ package is lower over one billed as “$0.41 per item,” However, when it is easier to compute the brain is not fooled by it. For example, in a package billed as “50 items for $20″ the brain is fast to calculate per unit item. Keep this in mind when carving out any marketing offers that appeals to the masses.

For Pythagoras, numbers were a bridge between the visible and invisible worlds. “It was a way of understanding and working with nature, leading to the contemplation of eternal things that never vary.” 

For you trade show booth designers, use numbers to solve problems, drive distinction and purify visual pollution that is so rampant, everywhere around us. Keep in mind: “The relative influence of numerosity, units, order, and calculation difficulty depends on decision contexts, individual mindsets, cultural conventions, and mathematical competencies, among other variables.” When crafting your message with the aid of numbers, being aware of these factors will promote your design to be visually powerful, intellectually stimulating and timeless in your call to action.

“If you do it right it will last for ever.” Remembering Vignelli

© 2014 by Sarmistha Tarafder