Join William Lidwell for an in-depth discussion in this video Savanna preference, part of Universal Principles of Design.
- [Jill] Hi, I'm Jill Butler, and this is Universal Principles of Design. In this movie, the savanna preference, or the magical, mysterious appeal of Teletubbies. What do you get when you take a lush savanna landscape, replete with butterflies and rabbits, and plop down four giggling baby aliens with televisions in their tummies? Oh, and the sun is a giant glowing baby face, and one of the main characters is a vacuum cleaner named Noo Noo.
An international children's sensation, that's what. Since it first aired on the BBC in 1997, the Teletubbies have mesmerized children in more than 60 countries and 35 languages. Though parents find the appeal of the simple plot lines, bizarre babbling, and surreal imagery incomprehensible, the appeal to toddler-aged children is undeniable. But if you think about the show from a child's point of view or rather a child's brain's point of view, it makes a lot more sense.
Simple play stories, baby-faced creatures, non-threatening coos and babbles, and a savanna landscape all combine to be excellent design for young children. All of these elements have instinctive appeal to young children. In this movie, we'll focus on the instinctive appeal of just the landscape. We'll focus on what is known as the savanna preference. The savanna preference is a preference for savanna-like environments over other types of environments that are simple, such as deserts, dense, such as jungles and cities, or complex, such as mountains.
So what is a savanna-like environment? Think park-like landscapes that feature openness, uniform grass, scattered trees, visible water, and signs of wildlife, basically, Teletubbie Land. The preference likely provided adaptive benefits to our human ancestors. That is, those who lived or sought out savanna-like environments enjoyed a survival advantage over those who lived in harsher environments.
But I should note that the evolutionary link to savanna environments in early hominids is hotly debated. The preference may also be rooted in what is called prospect-refuge theory, which is an evolved preference for environments with unobstructed views, areas of concealment, and paths of retreat. In other words, places that help us detect predators, hide from predators, and escape predators. Whatever the cause, the preference for savanna landscapes is found across all age ranges and cultures and tends to be strongest in young children.
For example, a survey of art preferences of people living in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Americas found respondents in all countries expressed a preference for realistic paintings that included water, trees and other plants, human beings, and animals. Even people who had never seen such environments, like tribal peoples living in deserts and mountains, expressed this preference. So what can designers do with the savanna preference? In any landscaping context, from public parks to theme parks, sculpture gardens to golf courses, the savanna preference gives us the blueprint for a universally appealing outdoor experience.
If you're selecting imagery for art, advertising, brochures, or packaging, especially when the imagery needs to appeal widely across countries and cultures, the savanna preference should inform your image selection. And lastly, if you're developing products for young children, such as stories, toys, and play environments, the savanna preference tells you what kids find instinctively appealing. So whether you use the savanna preference to inform landscaping or urban park design, to guide image selection for advertisements or interior design, or to create the next international megahit children's show, remember the magical, mysterious appeal of Teletubbies and their savanna home.
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