R[E]D – Research : Emotion : Design

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Meet Merel Bekking, A Designer Who’s Secretly A Scientist

Borrowing techniques from neuroscience. Bekking measured how users brains responded to basic design elements. The results might surprise you.


Dutch designer Merel Bekking says she likes to “crawl inside the skin of a different specialist” for every project she does. Take InvesteRing, conceived during the economic crisis, which required Bekking to become a bit of a commodities expert. She created rings with two euros worth of a commodity, such as corn, that could be dispensed from a vending machine that cost two euros. The ring that comes out is a miniature investment, its value changing ever so slightly with the price of corn.

It’s the sort of empirical approach more often identified with scientists than artists, and Bekking proudly refers to herself as a “research-based” designer. “Every project I needed to gather as much information as I could about the subject,” she tells Co.Design. “Talk to people, try things out, read a lot. If I want to design something in a discipline I don’t know anything about, I need do to a lot of research to make a convincing design.”

Bekking’s latest project takes her scientific style to a whole new level. With the help of neuroscientist Steven Scholte from the Neurensics firm, Bekking recruited 20 people to a laboratory and slipped them inside an MRI scanner. She had cooked up a rudimentary neuroimaging study: to measure how their brains responded to various basic design elements.

To do that required two steps. First, participants looked at a series of paintings with various themes. Some of the works (like a Goya or a Caravaggio) portrayed violence. Others depicted simple social activities or food. Still others were erotic in nature. The goal was for the research team to capture a baseline portrait of each brain’s response to certain emotions, shapes, colors, and materials.

“On paper, the subjects preferred wood. In the scanner, they preferred red plastic.”

For the next step, Bekking and company fed participants a new set of roughly 250 images showing an assortment of design elements. There were five different textures, 10 colors, and eight shapes–each flashed without any additional context. By comparing the two scans, Scholte determined each brain’s true feelings toward the design elements. Outside the scanner, Bekking also asked participants to indicate which elements they thought they enjoyed most.

The results–depicted in an infographic (below) that’s been making the Internet rounds–took Bekking by surprise. The design elements that participants said they liked outside the scanner were not the same ones their brains seemed to like inside it. On paper, they preferred wooden material, the color blue, and round shapes. In the scanner, however, they betrayed a preference for red, organically shaped plastics.


“People are prone to give socially desired answers,” Bekking says, “or don’t really quite know what they like.”

Now, as pure behavioral science, the simple study would never pass peer review. No reference is made to other imaging research showing that people’s brains do, in fact, love curvy design. And deciphering the meaning behind brain activity is far from cut and dry; an active area could indicate an aversion to a certain design element just as easily as it could indicate an affection (as one U.S. neuroscientist pointed out to Motherboard).

But by the artistic metric of inspiration the research worked, with the results giving Bekking the idea for her next project. She plans to create a series of household objects with elements favored by the brains she scanned–perhaps a red chair, a plastic table, an organic vase, and so on–and present them in April during the famous Milan furniture fair Salon del Mobile. She’s eager to see how people will respond to designs their brains suggest they like but which their voices suggest they don’t.

Of course, the designer in Bekking understands that context should matter when it comes to style elements; that something red, plastic, and organic might look nice in one situation but not in another. So if it happens that people don’t like the brain-based items Bekking creates, that won’t bother her. “You do research on a subject and you have to make conclusions based on the data you have,” she says. A true scientist couldn’t have put it better.

Author: Eric Jaffe

Source: Fast Company

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What’s the big deal with big data? Big data provides consumer research that keeps businesses abuzz


Big Data is one of the latest phenomenon to hit tech news. This is no surprise as experts in the industry are constantly abuzz about the benefits of Big Data on marketers and any business trying to get deeper insights about their consumers. Yet, for many this new idea of data collection remains a mystery.

So what’s the big deal about Big Data?

Big data is the hottest method for businesses to target their audiences, analyze their outreach, and understand how to craft the most effective marketing effort possible. For the tech world, the devices get smaller, but the data keeps getting bigger.

As we learned to incorporate targeted emotional research into each project, we see more success for our clients,  and design that is more than aesthetics or decoration. –
R[E]D – Research : Emotion : Design

Think ‘Big’ — no, seriously

It’s important to first understand exactly what Big Data is. The first thing to consider is that Big Data is made up of the three V’s: Volume, Velocity, and Variety.

Volume is the large amount of data that can be stored. Advances in technology allow us to store a lot more information into smaller amounts of space. As hard-drives get larger, and languages like Hadoopallow programmers to cram more information into smaller code, we are able to store giant data sets that are far larger than any in the past.

Velocity is the rate at which this data is collected. Rather than hand-recorded information, computers are able to constantly record online activity as it happens. This allows for rapidly expanding amounts of data to be stored. Today, computers continuously collect data at a consistent rate from anywhere at anytime.

Variety refers to the vast, diverse types of data that the computers can track. Where humans were once limited to only knowing a small set of information (the information voluntarily given by the subjects), businesses now have a much deeper look at everything a person is doing—from how long they stay on a webpage to what purchases they make online, with minimal error.

Farming social media

So how does social media play into the phenomenon of Big Data?

Social Tree

When you think about it, social media is one of the largest data farms out there. No, I’m not talking about Farmville. Through social media, people are publicly stating their opinions on products and services, checking into businesses, and providing deeper insight into every facet of their lives. This becomes a huge opportunity for businesses to collect and analyze all of these preferences. This provides a sample size of hundreds of millions of people across a handful of social networks all feeding personal data.

With a larger set of information to draw from, businesses get a stronger understanding of how consumers behave. They can analyze broader trends based on what people are doing with a higher accuracy rate because everyone is contributing unfiltered information.

This constant stream of social data allows companies to discover new, creative ways to showcase and analyze consumer behavior. The only limit is how they connect all the data together. 

Connecting big data and social

So how is this data shaping tech? The possibilities are endless.

At its most basic, companies can now effectively monitor everything said across different social networks. With this virtual omnipresence, companies can quickly respond to a customer complaint, suggest a purchase, or promote their product to their audiences.

Machine Learning allows businesses to engage with users and garner the most reach possible. By collecting heaps of data from previous posts and user activity, computers are able to analyze what is the best time to post to social networks.

Digital storytelling is also an interesting way to break down all the information in a fun and informative way. By now, majority of people have seen a compelling infograph, but some content creators are going deeper. SGI, a digital graphic and computer solutions company, made a video showing the evolving conversation around Hurricane Sandy. Through the video you can see the GPS locations of tweets regarding the hurricane as it travels across America.

The most popular (and perhaps creepiest) example of effective use of Big Data was by Target. By tracking consumer purchasing patterns and ‘likes’, Target’s predictive analytics were able to accurately determine that a teenage girl was pregnant before her family knew.

Big Data is still a bit of a mystery as there are new ways of use being developed every day. If you’re interested in diving into this new phenomenon there are different ways you can get your hands on Big Data including: collecting it yourself with low-cost programs, buying the data from database companies, or collecting it from social media monitoring suites.

Either way, don’t sleep on this new concept — it’s an invaluable asset to finding and understanding your audiences. When it comes to data, bigger is better.

by Jeff Anaya

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A Look Inside the New Mercedes-Benz Silicon Valley Research & Design Facility


As the influx of technology has invaded our everyday lives through channels like smartphones, “the cloud,” tablets and just about everything in between, there is one industry that has been oddly lagging behind in tech innovation: the auto industry. The rapidly changing app landscape has cultured users to become accustomed to constant firmware, UI and functionality updates, effectively establishing a new standard for incredibly dynamic technology. And yet, while the rest of the tech world progresses at light speed, the extensive research and design process, testing and production times within the automotive industry has forced seemingly “new” vehicles to suffer from dated in-dash firmware and software as well as mediocre functionality that creates a driver’s reliance on their phone in the car.


Mercedes-Benz recently took a massive stride towards the realignment of its luxury vehicle lineup with the current standard of technology in our everyday lives. Setting up shop in the heart of Silicon Valley, the German automaker recently completed construction on a Sunnyvale, California-based technological research and design facility. Situated within a 5-10 mile radius of the Google, Apple and Facebook headquarters, the decision to open an R&D extension in the heart of Silicon Valley is a testament to the investment Mercedes is taking into a new future for tech in its vehicles.


The headquarters boasts a workforce of over 100 engineers, technology researchers and designers who are specifically tasked with focusing on things such as advanced user experience design, telematics and user interaction, Mercedes-Benz App development, connectivity and smartphone integration, autonomous driving, and user interface/HMI software development. While the global majority of the Mercedes-Benz workforce is based within the company’s home base of Stuttgart, Germany, the Silicon Valley location offers a unique opportunity for the storied auto brand to become even more proactive in leveling the playing field for luxury automakers whose goal has long been to deeply integrate tech into its product line.


The interior of the three-story headquarters was designed by IA Interior Architects and took roughly six months to complete. In contrast to many corporate environments, Interior Architects took into account the need for creating a space where employees would not only be effective and efficient, but also inspired, creative and collaborative. Each of the three stories features a variety of color gradations along its expansive wall space, while dry erase-ready glass walls encourage a company culture of innovation. No R&D department would be complete without its fair share of technological advancements pre-built into the structure and core operations. The facility is fully equipped with NEST thermostats and electronic, touchscreen door, and room pads that signify when a room is vacant or occupied.


A uniquely casual atmosphere is perpetuated throughout the facility as the designers included partitions such as the “Ice Cream Room,” “Chocolate Room,” “Odwalla Room,” and a plethora of espresso bars, juice bars, and game rooms that offer employees a brief respite from their desk for a snack break or a bit of recreation. Patio terraces on each floor create an opportunity for individuals to host meeting collaboratively on chromatic couches while overlooking the Bay Area mountains.

As the traditional corporate model is continually being challenged by a new generation of start-up company culture, the decision of decades-old companies to rethink their internal operations can sometimes be impossible. And yet, those companies that have become reactionary to the changing company culture climate and a new generation of collaboration-minded people in the workforce, seem to be the same companies that see continued success. The Mercedes-Benz Sunnyvale headquarters is a step in the right direction that effectively sets a precedent within the corporate automotive world that it is time to invest in technological innovation and rethink the model within which a company motivates its employees to be effective.

Author: Alex Maeland

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‘What Would I Say?’ Generates Whimsical Status Updates


Making a good first impression matters, even in social media. So why not outsource your next status update to a piece of software?


What Would I Say?,” a site created by a group of graduate students at Princeton University, quickly writes up witty status updates to post.

Granted, not everything the site spits out is Facebook gold. Many times, they’re gibberish. The site itself also acknowledges that it’s not perfect. “We’re not trying to predict the best status update,” said one of the developers during a conference call today with ABC News. “Just the funny ones.”

What Would I Say was developed by Vicky Yao, Ugne Klibaite, Daniel Jiang, Pawel Przytycki, Edward Young, Harvey Cheng, Max Homilius and Alex Furger.

The site uses what’s called a Markov model to figure out what to write. After sifting through a Facebook user’s status updates, the site picks one word and starts calculating probabilities of other words that are likely to follow. Eventually creating a sentence.

The developers also add that though Markov models may not serve much practical use here, they are definitely valuable research tools for their own fields of research. “It’s used to help with natural language processing, to look at genomic sequences, and to help build telescopes,” one of the developers said.

While Facebook users have to grant What Would I Say access their profiles, it doesn’t store any of the information. “We don’t store any of your personal information anywhere,” the website’s “about” section states. “In fact, we don’t even have a database!”

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Coca-Cola Designed Its New Can Around A Problem No One Has

And the company isn’t the only one. Why has chill-activation become such a design fad?

There are two types of problems that designers try to solve: problems people have, and problems designers delude themselves into thinking people have. Venerable sugar tonic maker Coca-Cola has just released a new can design firmly in the latter camp: a chill-activated can to visually tell people whether their Coke is cold or not. First released as a 7-Eleven promotion six months ago, the chill-activated can is now available to everyone.

Chill-activation, of course, is nothing new. The designers at MillerCoors have previously rolled out a series of chill-activated Coors Light cans, glasses, and containers. When refrigerated, the outline of the Rocky Mountains on the cans turn a vibrant blue, indicating that the can is properly cold. Coca-Cola is doing the same thing here, only color-changing ice cubes serve as the visual cue.


It’s all achieved with thermochromatic ink, a color-sensitive dye that has been used in cheap thermometers for years, and is increasingly being used by the big brands for packaging purposes. For example, Pizza Hut has used thermochromatic ink to show whether or not your pizza was delivered hot in an innovation they called “the Hot Dot.” And Mountain Dew has also experimented with thermochromatic inks, releasing a limited edition 16-ounce can in a cross-promotional campaign with the last Batman movie that changed the color of the Dark Knight’s symbol when properly chilled.

It’s all innocuous enough, but with Coca-Cola getting in on the thermochromatic ink trolley, maybe it’s time to call this what it actually is: faddish bad design.

It should be obvious, but for the most part, no one needs to be visually told when something is cold or hot. There are exceptions, of course: an electric stove burner that turns orange when it’s hot is an important safety cue. But when safety is not a factor–and a lukewarm can of pop is not going to kill anyone–a can that shows you when it is cold is like a siren that goes off when it’s bright out. It’s self-evidently absurd. We don’t expect to “see” cold. We expect to feel it, and our skin has been designed to do just that. When we want to know if a can of Coke is cold, or a pizza is warm, our natural instinct is to touch it. That’s what our hands are for.

The design problem that Coca-Cola, Coors Light, Mountain Dew, Pizza Hut have tasked themselves to solve is how to convey the temperature of their product to people without hands. That’s actually a noble pursuit in its own way–amputees need a nice frosty one now and again, just like everyone else–but something tells me, that’s not why these companies’ R&D departments spent their millions.

Written by John Brownlee

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This Brain Part Decides What Goes Viral on Social Media



By Chris Taylor

Ever heard of the Temporo-Parietal Junction? No, it’s not a train station, nor is it a 60’s-style rock group. The TPJ, as it’s also known, is the area of the brain that gets activated when we’re thinking about how to share something and who to share it with.If you want to make something go viral on Facebook or Twitter, in other words, the TPJ is where you want to hit — because it lights up like a Christmas tree before we even know we’re going to share something. The more activated it is, the more persuasive the share. And it doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with what we think is cool ourselves.

SEE ALSO: This is How Your Brain Works [VIDEO]

That’s according to a study just published in the journal Psychological Science, where UCLA scientists put students in MRI machines and set them a test that involved deciding what to share with each other. This being L.A., the test had to do with entertainment: some of the students played production interns, the others producers, and they had to decide which TV pilot shows they were going to pitch or bank on.If the TPJ was particularly active when someone saw an idea for a pilot, it successfully predicted not only whether they would pitch a given show, but how persuasive they were when making that pitch later on. The psychologists behind the study called this “the salesperson effect.””We’re constantly being exposed to information on Facebook and Twitter,” said Matthew Lieberman, the study’s senior author, explaining its rationale in a UCLA release.”Some of it we pass on, and a lot of it we don’t. Is there something that happens in the moment we first see it — maybe before we even realize we might pass it on?”The answer was yes, and not in the way the scientists expected. The scientists expected the regions associated with memory would light up; the TPJ effect was a surprise.”Nobody had looked before at which brain regions are associated with the successful spread of ideas,” added Emily Falk, who conducted the research as a UCLA doctoral student in Lieberman’s lab. “

You might expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated about ideas that they themselves are excited about, but this research suggests that’s not the whole story.

You might expect people to be most enthusiastic and opinionated about ideas that they themselves are excited about, but this research suggests that’s not the whole story.”Thinking about what appeals to others may be even more important.”It’s one of those conclusions that makes a lot of intuitive sense: you know that feeling you get when you see something on Facebook that you have to share with a specific friend? That moment when you get an image of how they’re going to react when they see that news story or this kitten? That, apparently, is your TPJ working overtime.The TPJ is located around the center on both sides of the brain, just behind your ears. We know its job is to connect us to the thoughts and beliefs of others; the kind of empathy you get from watching a movie or reading a novel. Damage to the TPJ has been known to result in out-of-body experiences: literally stepping outside of yourself.Three years ago, an MIT team showed that stimulating the TPJ affected moral reasoning: subjects were less likely to care about the inherent morality of a situation (in this case, whether a man should let his girlfriend walk across a rickety bridge) and more about outcomes (did she get across safely?).So the next time you share a great tweet or a cute picture on Facebook and get exactly the “squee!” you were looking for, remember which brain part to thank.

Image via iStockphoto, Henrik5000