Brain scans reveal recipe for
"perfect design"


Brain Manufacturing by Merel Bekking

News: Dutch designer Merel Bekking has come up with an experiment to find the "perfect" design by scanning people's brains to determine the aesthetic qualities they best respond to.

Brain Manufacturing by Merel Bekking
MRI scan image of a brain

Merel Bekking teamed up with scientists in Amsterdam to create a method for scientifically researching people's preferences in shape, colour and material using an MRI scanner. Their results showed that our brains respond most positively to objects that are red, plastic and formed in closed organic shapes.

Describing herself as a "research-based designer", Bekking worked with Dr Steven Scholte from Neurensics, Europe’s first neuromarketing research and consulting firm, and the Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging in Amsterdam to carry out the research.

Brain Manufacturing by Merel Bekking
MRI image showing people's responses in different parts of their brain

Twenty men and women aged between 20 and 30 took part in the experiment, which involved lying in an MRI scanner for an hour while being shown various images of textures, colours, shapes and paintings.

To maintain authenticity the individuals taking part weren't told what the test was for. They were then shown 252 images consisting of five different textures: wood, paper, plastic, steel and stone. They were then exposed to eight shapes: round, organic, square and rectangular, presented open or closed. There were ten colours and four different types of paintings depicting ether violent or erotic images, or scenes of social activities or food.

"Different parts of the brain react to different emotions," Bekking said. "If you show a violent painting, such as Goya or Caravaggio, it will stimulate a different part of the brain than if you would show a erotic scene."

Dr Scholte was then able to compare the results of each stimulus and create a scientific formula for what people prefer to look at.

Brain Manufacturing by Merel Bekking
Brain manufacturing infographic

Bekking added that the results were surprising because they contradicted what individuals thought they liked. "It shows that design is subject to context and that people think they like something, but maybe they prefer to give socially desirable answers," she explained. "If you ask people what they like, as a group they like blue, wood and round, open shapes. But if you do research with an MRI scanner they show that they like red, plastic and organic, closed shapes."

Bekking is now using the results to create a series of "perfect everyday objects" and will reveal the collection in Milan in April.

  • Matt

    This is astoundingly shallow.

    It completely misses the gestalt aspect of apprehension and appreciation – that people interpret objects as a whole, not an assembly of parts – not to mention context (red has a different cultural meaning for Chinese people than, say, Jewish) and subjectivity (who doesn’t find Caravaggio’s work erotic!).

    And where is the control. If someone responds well to an ‘image’ that happens to feature red it need not mean they’re responding to it’s chromatic quality, or certainly not solely.

    Based on this ‘logic’ Apple products would totally bomb, and straight men would find blow-up dolls, especially red ones, aesthetically preferable to real women.

  • Romain_M

    Don’t let the marketing analysts see this.

  • Greg

    Red, plastic, organic, closed shapes: That basically describes various fruits. Something our monkey brain is very attracted to, because it meant food and thus survival. Interesting idea from a designers point of view but nothing special for neuroscientists, I guess.

  • Interesting. Thanks for the info.

  • llih

    This project is a cry for attention.

  • Paolo

    Perfection as a goal is nothing but misery. This is bulls***.

  • Antonio

    Haha! Maybe they should try the same experiment this time with fruits! A banana, a strawberry and an orange. I guess according to the results scientists should create a genetically spliced red organic banana, which would totally suit our “monkey” side.

  • Dr A.

    Woo, more neuromania. Haven’t we noticed this fad already? (See Tallis).

    This “experiment” shows how people react to images. That’s all. You couldn’t even put all the positive ones in a collage and be confident of a positive reaction to the gestalt.

  • Essentially, the brain is attracted to red meat, fruit, lips and genitalia. These are necessary for human survival. Nothing too revealing there.

  • The company of Eric

    And the first thing good designers learn is you can’t please everyone, though this often takes many designers years to realise.

    Looking forward to many baboon butt looking objects in the future.

  • Andrina Peric

    Their results showed that our brains respond most positively to objects that are red, plastic and formed in closed organic shapes:
    1. how our brain responds positively or negatively? I guess it responds, or, the response is the strongest to some stimuli, but how to determine if it’s positive or negative?
    2. N=20 is extremely small. Participants’ background, education?

  • john4life

    Good for you young lady. Now do as some of these comments say; test this idea culturally in China, South America and others. Then test it using fruits and vegetables vs. man-made objects. Do all this and narrow your results in order to substantiate them. I think Matt, Greg and the others all have good points and could have been more respectful in their delivery, but that doesn’t mean you are not on the right track. Just do more research then correlate your findings.