What do we want?

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Imagine how much more effective the design process would be if you knew what your clients were really thinking. What colors inspire them? How do they interact with their physical environments? How does sunlight make them feel?

Answers to such questions are rarely gathered during typical pre-design planning sessions. For one thing, design teams rarely delve that deeply into the human psyche of end users. And most people have difficulty verbalizing this kind of subjective information.

Research shows that only 5% of what the average person thinks can be expressed verbally,  the other 95% is hidden deep within the subconscious.


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A four dimensional model of experience according to Pine and Gillmore (1998).

Brain Activity Mapping

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Plug in application for the Emotiv headset displays a real-time map of your mental activity in four significant brainwave frequency bands. These are:

Delta (0.5-4Hz)
– indicating deep sleep, restfulness, and conversely excitement or agitation when delta waves are suppressed

Theta (4-8Hz) – indicating deep meditative states, daydreaming and automatic tasks

Alpha (8-15Hz) – indicating relaxed alertness, restful and meditative states

Beta (15-30Hz) – indicating wakefulness, alertness, mental engagement and conscious processing of information

Ambient Control through Cognitive Data

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The Emotiv headset allows users the ability to wirelessly control objects through expression, emotion and cognitive data.Based on the EEG technology, emotiv has transformed the cognitive control patterns into a wearable remote control. This headset allows for control of real-time data which can directly a UI or environment. For example, your mood state could drive the meta-data relationships in a user interface to show you only particular images from your Flickr account or directly affect the physical geometry of the user’s seat as they read a book.

Interfaces Beyond Multitouch

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That future of interface development may include using neurotransmitters to help translate thoughts into computing actions, face detection combined with eye tracking and speech recognition, and haptics technology that uses the sense of touch to communicate with the user.

For instance, the Nintendo Wii made popular the idea of using natural, gestural actions and translating them into movements on screen. The Wii controller takes the swinging motion made by a user and translates it into a golf swing, or it takes a thrust with a remote and turns it into a punch on the screen. At Drexel University’s RePlay Lab, students are working on taking that idea to the next level. They are trying to measure the level of neurotransmitters in a subject’s brain to create games where mere thought controls gameplay.

The lab created a 3-D game called Lazybrains that connects a neuro-monitoring device and a gaming engine. At its core is the Functional Near-Infrared Imaging Device, which shines infrared light into the user’s forehead. It then records the amount of light that gets transmitted back and looks for changes to deduce information about the amount of oxygen in the blood. When a user concentrates, his or her frontal lobe needs more oxygen and the device can detect the change. That means a gamer’s concentration level can be used to manipulate the height of platforms in the game, slow down the motion of objects, or even change the color of virtual puzzle pieces.

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Colour Research

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Walltherapy began in April 2003 and was a collaboration between Rachel Wingfield and flour aiming to bring together areas of design with neuroscience and colour science. This is essentially a research project aimed at developing a new design methodology for bespoke, end-user created designs that can have a positive effect on their environment.

Walltherapy enables everyone to create their own highly individual personal environment from their psychophysically determined colour preferences to suit and possibly enhance people’s sense of well-being. It is well established in scientific literature that ambient colour, light and texture can affect mood and behaviour this is why a conventional decorative surface, such as wallpaper has been chosen as the interface for this experiment.

Sense of Space

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Studies undertaken on rats to understand the cognitive process of spatial perception have revealed that the brain responds when the animals move to certain locations in an environment. Patterns of brain activity were recorded in correlation to the location of the rats.  ‘Place Cells’ are the term to describe where the brain activity occurs when triggered by an external stimulus.

This perception of ‘sense of space’ is the product of a careful creation of elements combined to provide an optimum psychological fit between people and their physical surroundings. An area of our brains called the parahippocampal place area (PPA) plays an important role in the recognition of our scenes rather than faces or objects. Further studies into the correlation between space and activation within the PPA is integral in better understanding why external factors trigger psychological reactions. There is only one institution that is concerned specifically the link between external stimuli and the body and this is The Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture (ANFA) that was created in 2003 to explore ways to link the research of neuroscience to the practice of architecture.

Architecture and Neuroscience

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A question still explored by modern neuroscience, is to understand what particular tangible factors have a notable impact on our perception within space. Armed with our previous knowledge on the parameters that affect our biochemical make up, how can we design spaces that have a more constant appeal to the neural patterns throughout a cross section of society?

This is where our connection with architecture provides fascinating potential; in architecture we can control these tangible factors in an environment. Preconceived ideas, previous exposure to medium and cultural background inevitably shape our feelings towards design, however neuroscience offers the potential to understand more about the rhythm of feelings created; excitement, comfort or awe in correlation to the placement in architectural space.

Architects are often seen as a profession solely concerned with the aesthetic of their designs. However, a well-designed building should primarily enhance the behavioural qualities of the inhabitant and promote wellbeing. As such they provide the occupants with appropriate lighting, heating and cooling, acoustics and a well designed ‘shell’ in which to perform the task at hand. Further investigation into neuroscience in architecture could help inform architects how to design offices that promote productivity, classrooms that help concentration and adaptable homes depending on the mood or activity being undertaken.

The field of environmental psychology and neuroscience is so vast that the task of understanding the multiple interactions of the brain in responding to memories and senses seems daunting. However, our current medical knowledge reveals that careful science can lead to successful generalizations and hypotheses about how and why our bodies respond as they do. The scientific method, that prescribes careful experiments and controlled testing, has been a successful model for understanding new discoveries in science for years. In a similar way, controlled experimental design could increase our understanding of our responses to the elements of architectural settings.

FMRI Scanning

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Functional magnetic resonance imaging, works by detecting the changes in blood flow. FMRI can be used to produce activation maps showing which parts of the brain are involved in a particular mental process. This is where the difference lies between MRI and FMRI scanning, that the neural response can be measured in real-time in relation to bodily movement and stimulation. This is what application is useful when analysing perception of space. We can map what unconscious waves are being stimulated in particular areas of ambience. (see Brain Mapping)

Integrated Environmental Language

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Our goal as designers is to promote specific behaviours through the interaction with our proposed idea.  Therefore our brief as a designer should be to consider what physical and environmental parameters will promote these behaviours.

Behaviour is affected by the perception of our environment which in turn is a product of the balance between the environmental medium of the space. Each environmental media has an impact upon the sensorial qualities that it evokes within the occupant. Each design discipline (e.g.: acoustic, lighting, materials) has an impact upon the next. For example: acoustics are affected by the materiality chosen, which in turn are integral to how the light reflects within the environment.

Peripheral Technology

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Designs that calms and informs are not usually met together, but both are needs of the human body. Technology is more often the enemy of calm. Mobiles, Internet, Apps and Email bombard us every day all day in some cases. Can we really look to technology itself for a solution?

The difference is in how technology engages our attention. Calm technology engages both center and the periphery of our attention. Obtrusive technology engages only the center of our attention.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for three reasons.

  1. We are able to attune to many more stimulants that appeal to our periphery attention than our central attention that can only be commanded by variant.
  2. The part of our brains that are attuned to the periphery also process sensory information. Meaning the peripheral processing is more emotional.
  3. The periphery is able to not overburden our minds as we are only alerted to the stimuli when there is something that is not right. We unconsciously chose what becomes central in our minds.

Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience

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The research in this group is concerned with detection, discrimination and short-term memory of visual stimuli. A key part of the approach to the work is to study interactions between different regions of visual cortex, and interactions between visual and non-visual areas by using transcranial magnetic stimulation, psychophysics, eye movements and electrophysiological recording methods. Human vision is a dominant force in our behaviour and the study of vision therefore takes research questions into many different areas of perception outside of our more obviously visual work on visual search, the functions of the parietal cortex, the frontal eye fields and how the brain changes with learning. These include the perception of time, visuomotor learning, music, and mathematics – apparently different functions which often draw upon the same brain resources. The group is engaged in extending the use of TMS in combination with other methodologies, in particular electrophysiological recording and work with neuropsychological patients.

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