can great design really stir the soul? Volvo proves that yes it can…

We all know that great design, considered design, beautiful design can create strong emotional responses within us – both good and bad. But a piece of design that one person adores and finds exhilarating will not necessarily be the same as you. Or the next person. So is there a way to scientifically measure what the emotions of design are? Volvo has sought to answer a few of these questions with a series of ground breaking experiments, which have been shared with designer and Sussex Associate Claire Potter, following her visit to see the new Volvo Concept Coupe back in 2013.  So – can design really stir the soul?

It has been a long standing joke which stretches across the world – when people look upon their cars as highly treasured possessions, bestowing love and affection onto them in a similar way to a human relationship. But can we actually have such strong feelings to an inanimate object?

Actually, it appears that yes we can.

emotions in design experiment

Using a variety of innovative techniques and experiments, Volvo have looked into just how our brains behave when shown a series of images – from old cars to the new Volvo Concept Coupe to children – by measuring the spikes in the prefrontal cortex area, changes in heart rate and tracking where the eyes of the test subjects were concentrated.  What is interesting is that there appears to be a very clear correlation between what is perceived to be ‘aesthetically pleasing’ design and the sense of arousal in the brain and heart rate.

Men responded with a higher intensity to ‘good design’ – 74% reporting that it made them feel good, with many men experiencing more emotion whilst looking at beautiful cars to a picture of a crying child. 60% also admitted that driving a beautiful car makes them feel more confident and empowered.

Image - Heatmap - Male

Volvo Concept Coupe eye tracking heatmap results – Male

Conversely, women experienced a far higher level of emotion whilst looking at the crying child – perhaps a very pre-programmed and expected response, but what was interesting is that only 33% of women rated attractive car design over an image of an ‘attractive’ male.

So perhaps we are judging those who personify their cars a bit too harshly?

But what does this sort of research actually mean for design, and automotive design in general? Will we be using such experiments and tracking data to create design that is designed to be pleasing? Will this be a process that is taught? And ultimately, will there end up being a universal formula for beautiful – and therefore successful – design which is fed to us in the knowledge that it will satisfy our deepest desires?

Image - shown in experiment

the new Volvo Concept Coupe

An interesting thought, but what we think is the most interesting with the emotions of design data is the proof of exactly how strong a personal and physical response design can actually have on someone.

Dr David Lewis, a UK leader in the neuroscience of consumerism and communications stated, “Appreciating an aesthetically pleasing design is an experience which combines understanding and emotions. These are so closely intertwined that it is impossible to distinguish between them. Aesthetic experience involves a unity of sensuous delight, meaningful interpretation, and emotional involvement”.

Basically, design can stir your soul. 

(images courtesy of Volvo via Claire Potter)

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