Friday, November 23

Building Spaces: Environments Impact Minds

Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi
Fast Company recently covered a story in the Pacific Standard that explores how certain types of spaces affect our behaviors and ultimately our brains. Designers and programmers might take note of it.

Architecture isn't the only design that ties into neuroscience. When people click on a link and land on a page, design and organizational function create a cascade of immediate reactions, sometimes before anyone has the chance to read the first word. It dictates how we feel when we visit a platform.

The reason is simple. Our brains can't always distinguish the difference between stories, pictures, programs, and real-life experiences. This is the reason horror flicks can trigger our "fight or flee" mechanism. It's also why some photos, like the Basilica of San Francesco d'Assisi, have an immediate calming affect on our mood. In at least one case, as Fast Company noted, it inspires clarity.

Thinking spatially, contextually and visually will become a dominant design driver. 

In fact, neuroscience studies in this fascinating field use virtual renderings of architectural models to test their theories. One of their many findings concluded that design is often responsible for making people feel lost or providing enough guidance to create a confident, intuitive sense of where they are going.



There is a dual edge to this kind of design theory, both architecturally and online. While our brains may have some design preferences that may be universal (something along the lines of feng shui), some of our preferences are built upon other environmental factors that help set our expectations.

Ergo, there is a reason that architectural movements tend to occur in waves or that Twitter, Facebook, and Google+ all create similar streams of content. Advertising design sometimes does the same (the dark and edgy advertisements that dominated much of the 1990s have fallen off, for example). But that doesn't mean designers and programmers ought to be concerned with trends alone.

There do seem to be universal design elements and structures that touch our subconscious, which is why certain natural and classical architecture immediately appeal to our senses and feel timeless. Such consideration could make the design-build stage of everything — advertisements, websites and social networks — much more effective in delivering a memorable, automatically comfortable experience.

Perhaps there is a Pinterest connection to intuitive design.

This could even be why Pinterest took off as its own unique niche network. While there were several sites that were launched (and relaunched) around the same time, Pinterest propelled itself forward because it stumbled upon an interesting, universally appealing platform design that felt natural.

Sure, some people believe that Pinterest took off because it was all about visuals. But it seems to me to be much more than that. While the structural layout wasn't necessarily original or new, it did take advantage of a more universally appealing design — one that "feels" cleaner than other networks but not overtly sparse as Google+ looked when it was originally rolled out.

In other words, it seems a few answers to why some platforms succeed and others do not might be more linked to design and neuroscience than we think. And if it is, better design-program integration will eventually become a priority.
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