Dutch product designer Merel Bekking wants to understand if it is possible to make a perfect design based on research. Although what she came up with is a disappointment slightly smaller in magnitude than the sinking of the Titanic — the most appealing object is plastic, red, and has a "closed organic shape" — the way she arrived at this plastic apple is fascinating… or possibly horrifying, depending on your point of view.
Essentially, she worked with the Spinoza Center for Neuroimaging, which paired her with one Dr Steven Scholte, a neuroscientist and also a partner at Neurensics, a market research firm that routinely analyzes “commercially relevant” brain data. The company has developed a method for identifying all of the important brain functions that influence the buying process, known as 3D Brain Rating. In more practical terms, 20 people were helped onto the bed of an MRI scanner and, while they viewed different materials, colors, and shapes — these three components are, to Bekking, the most important choices a designer makes — their brain activity was recorded. Each participant spent an hour within the scanner, while a nearby scientist analyzed their neural activity, assessing each stimulus presented for its general impact as well as for any negative or positive emotional associations. Bekking is hoping to bypass a person’s stated preference and purported taste in order to go directly to the source: the brain. By creating designs based on data obtained from an MRI scan, what she calls Brain_manufacturing, Bekking hopes to reach some previously unobtainable ideal.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, what people say they like and what a brain scan indicates they like are two different things. "If you ask people what they like, as a group they like blue, wood and round, open shapes," she told Dezeen, the architecture and design magazine. "But if you do research with an MRI scanner, they show that they like red, plastic and organic, closed shapes." Soon enough consumers will be able to judge for themselves; Bekking is fabricating a new collection of “perfect everyday objects” to be shown in Milan during April.
Meanwhile, the team at Neurensics has moved beyond 3D Brain Rating to establish a new method for identifying specific reactions related to certain stimuli, such as a brand, product, or campaign. 3D Mind Mapping looks at the brain functions involved when a consumer’s purchasing behavior has been triggered. The basic theory is that if a marketer understands the particular patterns of brain activity inspired by their packaging, ad campaigns, and branding, they will be better able to consciously link their products with a consumer’s unconscious responses, which in turn should encourage them to buy buy buy. All is well, I guess, so long as we never have to wonder: How many consumers were injured in the making of this commercial?