Neuroscience principles we can apply in

every design we make as designers

Why Neuroscience?

Neuroscience is a science that focuses on the brain and how it works. It gives us the knowledge on the processes that happen in the brain and how we think and react to stimuli. It is deeply inherited in the fact that we as humans share all the same thing – our body and the fact that we all have a brain, that makes us humans.  Many sciences have been interested in the secrets of the brain like psychology, marketing, economy, etc. All of them need that scientific explanation of the brain and why we do the things that we do from a biological point of view. They simply need more than just intuition. They need facts.

“Consumers don’t think how they feel. They don’t say what they think,

and don’t do what they say.

– David Ogilvy

Design based on facts, not pure intuition

Through the neuroscience we are able to explore both the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of human behaviour. It’s not only that Neuroscience gives us an explanation but it also provides us valuable information we can use to predict and envision how the user will react to our products/services. We, as designers are responsible to envision not only the physical and digital features of a system but also how users will perceive the product which happen to be two completely different things.

1/ Reality is an illusion and is created in our own brain

Is reality an illusion?
What we perceive is the reality is not what it actually is. Reality is simply an illusion and it’s different for everyone. Our brain sees things in another way different than what it actually is. We think what we experiencing with our senses is the reality but it actually is just our own reality that could be quite different from the others. Actually, our sensory organs collect the information from the outer world in the form of electrical signals. Then these electrical signals are carried to the brain and the brain interprets the information and creates our own reality. It’s the interpretation of the electrical signals, the information that really influences how we create our own reality. It depends on our mental level, past experiences, beliefs, pre assumptions, age, sex, environment, also present situation and many others.
What we can learn as designers?
It’s very important to think about not only the physical/digital features of the product/service but also about the way it will be perceived by the brain. How the brain will react to the product. (What people perceive is not considered to be reality) So, we cannot simply make assumptions about what we would perceive but ask try to understand what users will perceive by putting ourselves in their shoes and showing empathy. Knowing that the reality is not objective but it’s actually subjective and is being different for everyone which means that we have to consider things we wouldn’t have considered looking through our own senses/ lenses/experiences. It’s about going beyond what we would think about/see/hear.

2/ Our brain doesn’t want to change

Thanks to brain plasticity we are able to adapt and learn new skills and abilities. Brain plasticity is the ability of our brain to change throughout the course of a lifetime. For example, we are able to learn to ski or paint even though we never did it before. Our brain adapts also to new skills. Experiment showed that in early new blind people there is an activation of the occipital lobe area that is responsible for the vision cortex. Our brain though doesn’t necessary wants to change. It requires time and effort and it needs motivation and reward system.
What we can learn as designers?
We have to make sure we don’t ask too much from the user and there is a balance between what we ask and what we provide as a value. Using a reward system, we can encourage change. Also, through technology we are able to change behaviour.

3/ We understand better when we have abstract visual representations

According to embodied cognition theory, conceptual processing relies on high-level, nonsensorimotor, abstract representations. Perception and action, comprehension and production are bridged through shared, abstract conceptual representations. There is an exchange between perception, action, and conceptual processing.
Also, thanks to mirror neurons and embodied cognition we are able to learn by doing. That’s why it’s a lot easier for example to do calculations using our hands, or memorise lines for acting while performing.
What we can learn as designers?
Visual representations are important because they can activate motor areas of the brain associated with action. Example: seeing a character walking on the number line can activate motor areas of brain associated with moving (walking). Thus, the processing of numeral concepts with virtual interfaces is more comprehensive than working with static number lines.
This is very useful for us designers, whenever we have to design Collaborative Virtual interfaces. One of the main disadvantages of collaborative interfaces is that they do not support non-verbal communication cues (Redfern and Galway, 2002). A solution to overcome this problem is to include a representation of the participants in a form of avatars that allows some form of limited non-verbal communication.
Another example is whenever we have to ask users to choose options, we can include pictures to support these options. Why? Because visual cues are much better than plain textual cues as the human brain catches visuals faster than text content and thus the user takes decisions quicker. 

4/ The brain prefers familiarity, what it already knows

Our brain prefers visually, things that are already familiar (mere exposure), things that are repeated over time. We like also superstimuli (exaggerated stimuli), evolutionary stimuli like faces or features of a face. We prefer also symmetry like Golder Ratio, symmetry, proximity, similarity, continuity, closure. (Gestalt properties).
For example, we prefer shapes that are rounded and not sharp for products, because they make us feel in danger, and in another hand the rounded make us feel safe.
What we can learn as designers?
In web/ui design we can use rounded shapes to convey more safe feeling for the user, this will increase the likability of the design. To change likability, we can also use mere exposure by exposing the user to the same stimuli over time, and keeping something constant. Repeated stimuli cause activation in the reward system. Repeated exposure of a stimulus increases perceptual fluency which is the ease with which a stimulus can be processed.

5/ Inhibitory connections: the case of ‘gate theory’

Inhibitory connections are basically neurons that inhibit the activity of other neurons. They
Make sure the signal in the brain slow down or stop whenever required. Example: whenever we rub our hand after we bang our finger and it hurts, we start receiving normal somatosensory input and the pain reduces (we close the gate)
What we can learn as designers?
Knowing that we can reduce pain by activating certain neurons to inhibit the activity of others we can avoid pain to reach our brain or to control it. This is especially important when taking decisions in design that can be antistress, like painting the walls in hospitals in green. Also, people react less effectively to a signal when they are moving, especially the part performing the movement. This is very important when we design in the automotive industry. We need to avoid any distractions and send signals in the right moments.