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Brain Manufacturing by Merel Bekking

Brain scans reveal recipe for "perfect design"

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.