Comedic Models for Design Ideation: Violated Expectations

A comedic model for graphic design ideation is Violated Expectations (see diagram). This model looks to present a betrayal of our sense of fixed idea or inertia of mind movement. Our mind prepares for a natural conclusion of a situation and finds the subsequent unexpected result humorous.

Akira Saito writes, “We tend to forget that a coin has two sides, head and tail. A well developed joke skillfully leads us to predict a conclusion we are familiar with, and towards the end of the story, it suddenly betrays our imagination and turns us to the tail or back side of a coin, in other words, it misleads us. We take the sensation of this sudden betrayal or unexpectedness as funny and humorous.” (Saito)

An example of violated expectation took place in 1974 when students were asked to judge the weight of different objects place of objects at the front of a classroom. The students came forward and were tasked with lifting objects. The objects that turned out much lighter or much heavier than initially thought elicited humor in the discrepancy. (Journal of Psychology Vol. 86, No. 2, pages 309-312) The study found that heavier-than-expected objects are funnier than lighter-than-expected ones. A follow-up experiment showed that the bigger the difference, the funnier the moment. (Sadie F. Dingfelder, Monitor Staff, June 2006, Vol 37, No. 6, Print version: page 54)

In the Violated Expectation model the designer looks to provoke a thought or reaction by jarring the audience’s predispositions towards a likely outcome. Whether it be physical, emotional, psychological, or environmental. The vernacular in this instance is the native interpretant of the audience, an understanding of the audience’s natural expectation of the situation’s conclusion which then can be switched.

Example of Violated Expectations:

Woman is standing in kitchen preparing a meal when she turns and knocks over a glass of wine. We see the glass fall of the counter and expect to hear the crash of glass breaking but instead hear the “boing” of rubber and the see glass bounce like rubber.

Here are a few examples of Violated Expectation themes:

• Physical properties violate expectations (weight, hardness, temperature, sharpness, etc.)

• Emotional reactions violate expectations

• Behavior violates expectations

• Timing violates expectations

• Consequence violates expectation

Thanks for reading.

Michael Berger, MFA is program director for the award-winning Graphic Design + Visual Experience program at CBU, design director at Harvest with Greg Laurie, and owner of mbdx creative.

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