• 08.09.10

New Scientist Brainsources Its Latest Cover, While Guy Kawasaki Crowdsources His

But which method is going to work best on the general public?

New Scientist magazine covers

Today, British magazine New Scientist announced that it has used neuromarketing in a bid to choose its latest cover. Compare and contrast with the fact that entrepreneur and VC nabob Guy Kawasaki is to harness the power of the crowd to help design the cover of his next book. So, in a nutshell, we’re seeing the power of the unconscious versus the power of the people here.


But which method is going to work best on the general public?

In these quiet months of summer, when news is scarcer than an English-born ex-CEO of an oil firm, New Scientist decided to make some for itself (using nothing but 19 right-handed Englishmen, an electroencephalograph machine, a trio of potential covers, the expertise of a Berkeley-based firm called NeuroFocus, and a man-sized petri dish). Could EEG, as it is known, give the editorial team a better handle on what sort of cover design would make a future issue fly off the shelves? Being scientists (or, at least, people who write about science and its ’tists) they were skeptical. Following the experiment, held in the obligatory darkened room, they were less so.

The design that scored highest on the brainometer was the central image at the top of this page. It did so for several reasons, one of which–the red lettering–is already known to magazine bods, the others being less easily decipherable: who would have known that the word fabric is attractive to one’s brain? The final test, however, will be how the magazine does at the kiosks this week–although it would have been nice to see just what decisions the 19 guinea pigs made with the electrodes off the scalp and relying solely on what they saw.

Kawasaki’s gig is a different bag of spanners altogether. As well as knowing what he wants (“clean, elegant, enchanting, powerful. I don’t want frilly, romantic, cute”) he knows what makes a creative tick, as he’s leaving color choice up to the designer, merely saying that the design has to stand out in the bookstore as well as the iBookstore. There’s a carrot (although not a particularly large one) in the form of a $1,000 award, as well as the kudos of having your design chosen by Kawasaki.

Neuromarketing essentially dispenses with the services of a human at the top of the tree (although pedants will probably argue that it takes a human to decide whether to go with the method in the first place), while it still calls on someone to design a shortlist of covers in order to make the final choice. And, while former Apple staffer Kawasaki’s decision to crowdsource his latest book cover is throwing the task open to the floor, Crowdspring’s MO (it is the middle man between client and craftsman) the final decision on the artwork will be made by Kawasaki himself–because that’s what they probably teach you at the Apple School of Business.

About the author

My writing career has taken me all round the houses over the past decade and a half--from grumpy teens and hungover rock bands in the U.K., where I was born, via celebrity interviews, health, tech and fashion in Madrid and Paris, before returning to London, where I now live. For the past five years I've been writing about technology and innovation for U.S.