In the industry of selling things it's important to know exactly what your customers want. And here in the digital age, new technologies and techniques have become prevalent that are designed to do this figuring to a very high degree of precision. Companies are constantly collecting data on what you’re searching for, where you’re going, and why in the hell you decided it was necessary to pay that extra 20 bucks for the black version of a phone.
Merel Bekking doesn’t want to ask you what you want, though. She’d rather strap some electrodes to your cranium and collect data. She’s a designer from the Netherlands that has decided it’s time to get to the root of the thing and just ask people’s brains what they want.
Working along side Dr. Scholte and the Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging in Amsterdam, she scanned 20 people’s brains while showing them a range of shapes, colors, and materials. Her goal was to find out what people find appealing by what excited their brains, regardless of what they might claim they find appealing consciously or what they might say they're into.
Using only 20 subjects is quite low for a scientific study, but it is clear that she didn't do this in order to write an academic journal paper. Bekking just wanted some basic understanding of what people are leaning towards in design these days. She found a few things out, like the fact that people tend to find plastic appealing, despite saying they don’t. Specifically, red plastic really hits the spot.
I spoke with neuroscientist Eric Janezic from Tucson, Ariz. about this project. “Just because parts of the brain are excited at different colors, material and shapes really doesn't say much about personal preference,” he said. “The fact that some areas get more active during the presentation of the various designs can be interrupted many ways. Depending on the area, it could mean that there is an actual aversion to those design parts.” So: grain of salt.
It’s hard to say exactly how they were conducting this study—the methodology wasn't revealed, a red flag—but it seems like it is a difficult science to utilize properly. Technology, however, is progressing exponentially, and one can imagine a time when a shopper walks into a store and gets their brain scanned to see what they really want. No more browsing BS. The hordes of seemingly lobotomized men you see dragging themselves through shopping malls may just have an easier time with this kind of technology.