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Merel Bekking’s Neurological Search for the Perfect Product Design

In her newest project, Dutch designer Merel Bekking uses an MRI scanner to map people’s preferences, compares this to what the participants actually say, and then uses the data to design a new line for a product. As a self-described “research-based designer” she bases her work on intrigue, study, and analysis, as seen in her unusual past projects including knitted pushcarts, commodity rings made of corn and brick, and plumbing pipe candle holders.

In this project, Bekking worked with scientists from the Spinoza Center for Neuroimaging in Amsterdam to explore the idea of the perfect design. In the usual process of design, the creative vision and decisions on color, form, and material are determined by the designer – but Bekking proposes an alternative.

“If you let a group of non-designers make these choices,” Bekking wonders, “will you end up with the perfect design?” Furthermore if you cross-checked individuals’ articulated preferences with their what their actual brain activity, would there be any significant discrepancies?

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Bekking’s study tracked the brain activity of twenty young adults while they were exposed to different textures, colors, shapes, and subject matter. Then by looking at the map of brain activity generated by each stimulus, Bekking, with the help of a visual perception and personality expert, determined if a person liked or disliked what they saw.

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The results suggested an overall neural preference for red, plastic, and closed organic shapes. This surprisingly differed from the participants’ acclaimed preferences for blue, wooden objects that had round, open shapes.

Although the small design-focused study used a limited sample in age range and demographic variety, it nonetheless proposes intriguing questions regarding subconscious (red, plastic) and conscious (blue, wooden) inclinations. The new study challenges designers and scientists to wonder if there actually can be a “perfect design,” one that appeals to consumers on a neurological and evolutionary level. And if one side is actually more dominant, which facet should be catered to?

Merryl Bekking plans to showcase her designs at the Milan Fuorisalone this April.

Ellen Xie

A native of Bethel, CT, Ellen attended Vassar College for a degrees in Environmental Studies and English. www.ellenguanlee.wordpress.com

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