As designers, we have a high regard for beauty and beautiful objects. However, ever so often the outward appearance of an object is looked upon with disdain – as something which is not essential, but a mere frill to add-on to the useful core i.e. function. The aesthetics of an object are usually informed by either the prevalent fashion trends or by preferences of the user (as evaluated by the designer) or even the default shape which is determined by its internal components or function (as is the case of a ceiling fan). But new studies in the field of Neuroscience and Architecture are likely to make us re-think the way we design.
The Academy for Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) is a San Diego based institute founded with the objective ‘to promote and advance knowledge that links neuroscience research to a growing understanding of human responses to the built environment’. We already know that people feel more comfortable in some environments than in others, some objects are perceived to be more pleasant or attractive than others. The question that the Academy tries to answer is ‘Why’ does this happen.

All designers are familiar with the basics of colour psychology. Red is the colour of excitement and fear. Green is the colour of calmness and prosperity. But despite knowing these concepts we are not be able to capitalise fully on their potential. If conclusive links could be established between neuroscience and architecture, and by extension design; designers would have within their reach powerful tools to reform living conditions for people everywhere. While right now designers depend upon their own gut-feeling or small user studies to develop products for specialised categories such as children, seniors, professionals etc; scientific data would help them back-up their intuition. It could even reveal new insights about a consumer’s true response to not just a colour, but also form, texture or a combination of the both. UI designers who strive to develop easy to use interfaces could have neurological data to support their design decisions. Aeroplane interiors could help lull passengers to sleep by pushing the right neurological triggers while cutlery could help people lose weight. Moreover neuroscience could help us re-evaluate the validity of so-called set principles of design. For example is the golden ratio really the epitome of beauty? Does deviating from it cause discomfort to our brains?
Neuroscience could open up pathways to more humane design. It could also prove to be the ultimate litmus test to judge what would work in the consumer market. User-centred design could acquire an all new dimension and irrefutable validity. While the ongoing work at the ANFA concentrates on architecture and interior design. It is impossible to ignore other products which form part of the built environment. I hope as the research gains strength, its applications are found in all areas of design. -cw

References: ANFA
Image credit: Wikipedia