How Design Affects the Brain: What is Attractive and Why?

Great design and attractive products please the human brain, according to brain scan studies revealing that the mere sight of an attractive product can trigger the part of the motor cerebellum that governs hand movement. That means human beings instinctively reach towards attractive things, even if they don’t fully understand why while they’re doing it.

“A revolution in the science of design is already under way, and most people, including designers, aren’t even aware of it,” writes The New York Times. For example, consider color. “Last year, German researchers found that just glancing at shades of green can boost creativity and motivation. It’s not hard to guess why: we associate verdant colors with food-bearing vegetation — hues that promise nourishment.”

This could explain why some research suggests landscape views can help speed patient recovery in hospitals or aid learning in classrooms. And as for the workplace, studies of call centers show that “workers who could see the outdoors completed tasks 6 to 7 percent more efficiently than those who couldn’t, generating an annual savings of nearly $3,000 per employee.”

Geometry also has a lot to do with our attraction to images and the human brain seems to prefer the golden rectangle shape. “…in 2009, a Duke University professor demonstrated that our eyes can scan an image fastest when its shape is a golden rectangle,” notes the article. “For instance, it’s the ideal layout of a paragraph of text, the one most conducive to reading and retention. This simple shape speeds up our ability to perceive the world, and without realizing it, we employ it wherever we can.” 

“We think of great design as art, not science, a mysterious gift from the gods, not something that results just from diligent and informed study,” concludes NYT. “But if every designer understood more about the mathematics of attraction, the mechanics of affection, all design — from houses to cellphones to offices and cars — could both look good and be good for you.”