That’s Using Your Brain!

the brainIs there a science as to why people respond favorably to something that is well-designed? While I would be more than happy to accept all the kudos for creating outstanding design, I can’t take ALL the credit (unless you insist…!).

Our brains have three distinct parts, each with specific functions. Susan Weinschenk (on Twitter @thebrainlady or read her blog) calls these the old, mid and new brains. The old brain is the part that is believed to have developed first in evolution to deal with issues like breathing and digestion. The mid brain controls our emotions, and the cortex, or new brain, is where our reasoning, logic and information processing happens. You are using your new brain right now to read this blog.

We like to think that we make decisions consciously even if we acknowledge we can be influenced by our emotions. But Weinschenk points out, “Most of our decision-making is governed by unconscious processing.”

What does this have to do with design?

Brain MRIs show that our mid brain gets more active when we anticipate getting a reward right away. Our new brain would be OK with pages and pages of monotonous text, but the instant reward that visual elements provide pleases our mid brain, providing a more stimulating experience.

Meanwhile, our old brain deals in contrasts, always monitoring for things like potential danger or possible food, and the input is processed in a binary way. Something is dangerous or it is not; something is edible or it is not. This contrast provides a hierarchy, and hierarchy in design causes eye movement by defining most to least important. A well-designed brochure or a clear illustration activates our old brain’s need for unambiguous clarity.

So while design may be regarded by some as no more than making a brochure, web site or product “pretty,” in reality a successful designer is creating visual elements, contrast and balance that stimulate all three brains, resulting in the most pleasing and rewarding experience for the user.

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