Yesterday, while gingerly assisting her touch up her roots, my mother, with her chin to chest, muttered inaudibly, "I discovered this really cute traffic app…"
"What? Waze?" I interrupted.
This is the same woman who, three weeks earlier, send me a magazine clipping about "a really cool new start-up you should look at". The article was about Warby Parker. From my vantage point, her "discoveries" frequently seem to have been found under a rock, the same rock, perhaps, that she apparently lives under.
Reflexively, I began to crack wise. But I stopped short. Her description of Waze as a 'cute' app…why, that had been my impression too! I'd hardly say traffic is cute. Traffic conjures caricatures of angry commuters, spilling coffee, scalding laps, soured moods and ruined mornings. Accidents. Assholes. Arbitrary outbursts. And elongated honks.
The branding of Waze speaks to a different language of inter-vehicular communication: the friendly staccato voice of "Beep beep!" (think Magic School Bus theme...). Waze makes traffic friendly information to be shared between friends. Waze frames real-time traffic and road information as social content, in turn, creating a networked community of drivers who aim to actually help each other.
The brand is cute in obvious ways. The iconography looks like Tokyo street signage or illustrations you might find in a kindergarten classroom. Their landing page leads with a "Guided Tour" (oh please do hold my hand, Waze). Take a moment to watch this video.
Are you smiling a little bit? Do the little "Wazer" cars make you go all falsetto and want to squeeze something?
Humor me for a moment. In 1943, zoologist and enthnologist Konrad Lorenze postulated the Kindchenschema, a genetic feature set found in all infants, humans and animals alike.
A small body size with a disproportionately large head, big eyes, protruding forehead, chubby cheeks, small chin, soft rounded body, elasticity of limbs--these are just some features that make up the Kindchenschema.
The Wazer is a stripped articulation of this schema.
The Kindchenschema, whose gestalt connotes helplessness and weakness, serves the evolutionary purpose of encouraging parents to protect their young. Some studies suggest cute images stimulate the same pleasure centers of the brain aroused by sex, a good meal or psychoactive drugs like cocaine. These neotenous proportions trigger a nurturing and caring human response, which also seems to relax us and keep us smiling. Waze is wise on several levels. Perhaps unknowingly, Waze puts these biological responses to work in order to alleviate the woes of traffic. And by keeping us calm and protective, it's worth considering that this effect could make our responses to traffic less dangerous. That is, if we can keep ourselves from coo-ing at our phones while driving.