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What is Neuro Design?

Neuro Design is a new and growing field that applies insights from the mind sciences to help craft more effective designs. These insights can come from two main sources:

  1. The general principles of Neuro Design best practices that have been derived from academic research on the human visual system and the psychology of vision. These include things like which areas of our visual field are more sensitive to noticing visual elements, thus helping designers compose more effective images.
  2. Design and marketing agencies, as well as brand owners, are increasingly commissioning their own neuro research to assess specific design options. For example, if a brand is thinking of completely refreshing their packaging design, they may want to test several design variations, using consumers to assess which shows the most potential.

Traditionally, consumer design research would have involved asking questions, such as:

Which of the following designs do you most like and why?

However, research from academic psychologists has demonstrated that we actually have a limited ability to consciously understand why we like certain images. Part of this is because a lot of the work that our brains do to decode and understand images is subconscious; we are simply unaware of it, as we’ve evolved to have rapid reactions to what we see.

We’re all familiar with the way that sudden movements in the corner of our eye can startle us – an inherited sensitivity to keep us safe from predators – but there are other in-built biases too. For example, we make rapid (within half-a-second) judgments of images and designs, on whether we find them broadly agreeable or disagreeable. These super-fast, subconscious first impressions then bias our subsequent thoughts and actions relating to that design.

What makes this a problem for researchers using conscious questionnaires is that whilst we are unaware of these types of subconscious biases, we are also unaware that we are unaware! We are often driven by the need to appear in control of our own behaviour and for that behaviour to appear consistent and logical to ourselves and others.

In contrast, many of the subconscious drivers of our reactions to designs are irrational to our conscious minds. Rather than simply saying ‘I don’t know why I had that reaction to that design’, or ‘I have no idea why I picked that particular product off the supermarket shelf compared to any of the competitors’, we do what psychologists call ‘confabulate’: we make up a plausible sounding explanation for our behaviour.

Facial Action Coding

In contrast, neuro design research methods don’t ask people to consciously speculate on why they like an image, instead, it teases out people’s reactions in a number of clever ways. Some of these are direct measurements of people’s brains as they view images, either using fMRI scanners or caps fitted with EEG sensors. Eye-tracking cameras can also be used to measure exactly where we look on an image or video. A technique called Facial Action Coding extracts information on our emotional reactions to images through measuring momentary changes in our facial muscles (e.g. our facial expressions of emotion).

Implicit Response Testing

Another less known but powerful methodology, called Implicit Response Testing, measures our automatic associations between any image and any word – such as a word describing an emotion, or one of the brand values the image intends to evoke. The power of techniques such as eye-tracking, Facial Action Coding, and Implicit Response Testing, is they can all be conducted online, using webcams and home computers or tablets. This new generation of testing techniques make it possible to test hundreds of consumers at a far lower cost than bringing people into a lab for a brain scan.

Neuro design research and insights are now used by a wide variety of industries across many types of design. Websites, supermarket packaging, product design, and brand logos are amongst the many areas that have been guided by neuro design testing. One typical example is the supermarket giant Tesco. It has used several neuro design research methods to optimize new packaging designs for their ‘Finest’ ready meal range.

Boosting the ability of the packs to grab attention in-store, and to automatically communicate the desirable good quality. Another example is London-based design production house, Saddington Baynes. They now regularly run Implicit Response Tests to help better understand how people are responding to their design concepts as they develop them, and then refine their designs accordingly.

Neuro design isn’t intended to replace the creativity, inspiration or spirit of human designers. It is simply a new technical tool to help boost their own intuition on how consumers are likely to respond to their ideas. Artists and designers have a long history of adopting new technologies to enhance their work. Neuro design can help them by extending their own intuitive skills in the same way that tools like Photoshop extend their drawing skills.

About the Book: Neuro Design

neuro designToday, businesses of all sizes generate a great deal of creative graphic media and content, including websites, presentations, videos and social media posts. Most big companies, including Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, Tesco and Google, now use neuroscience research and theories to optimise their digital content. Neuro Design: Neuromarketing Insights to Boost Engagement and Profitability, opens up this new world of neuromarketing design theories and recommendations, and describes insights from the growing field of neuroaesthetics that will enable readers to enhance customer engagement with their website and boost profitability.

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Darren Bridger

Darren Bridger works as a consultant to designers and marketers, advising on using and analyzing data that taps into consumers' non-conscious thinking and motivations. He was one of the original pioneers of the Consumer Neuroscience industry, helping to pioneer two of the first companies in the field, then joining the world's largest agency, Neurofocus (now part of the Nielsen company), as its second employee outside the United States. He currently works as head of insights at NeuroStrata.

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