Google doubles down on design, mining neuroscience to reveal how sensory design elements affect mental and emotional states.

Last year, Google’s inaugural Milan Design Week installation was all about humanizing technology to “bring to life the sensorial experience of hardware.” This year, the tech giant doubled down on human-centric design with A Space for Being. Continuing the conversation on how human-focused design can impact wellbeing, the multi-room installation served as an exploration of how different aesthetic experiences affect the brain.

“With neuroscience now, you can prove the things that designers and artists have always known: that aesthetics – which is not just making things look pretty, but enlivening all the sensory systems through space, color, texture, music and shape – affects our brain, our physiology and our wellbeing,” said Ivy Ross, Google’s Vice President for Hardware Design, UX, and Research.

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Biometric wristbands at A Space for Being. Image courtesy of Google.

The cross-discipline project integrated expertise from architects, designers and scientists. The space was co-created by Ivy Ross, VP of hardware design, UX, and research at Google; Christian Grosen, Design Director at Muuto; Suchi Reddy, founder and principal at Reddymade Architecture and Design Studio; and Susan Magsamen, executive director of the international Arts + Mind Lab at Johns Hopkins University. The exhibit consisted of three rooms, each of which featured unique elements – including artwork, colors, textures, lighting, sounds and scents – designed to elicit different emotional responses. Upon entering the exhibit, visitors were given a wristband to measure physical and physiological responses. After making their way through all three rooms, guests then received a customized report analyzing their biometric data and real-time physiological responses to suggest which room left them feeling most comfortable and at ease.

This sits at a crucial intersection for today’s consumers. With technology fusing seamlessly into the world around us and the wellness industry rapidly expanding, the impact of our environments on mental and emotional states is increasingly being questioned and explored. “Design affects everything,” Ross explained. “We are all striving for wellbeing and to be less stressed in our lives. There are choices we can make about the environments we surround ourselves with, which can actually enhance our physiology and put us into a more peaceful state.”

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A Space for Being. Image courtesy of Google.

According to Magsmane, the scientific community is also investigating how aesthetics can be leveraged as treatment: “Over the last 20 years, neuroscientists have really begun to look at how the brain changes with aesthetic experiences, looking at vision, smell and touch,” she said. The Arts + Mind Lab is interested in better understanding “how you can use the information to solve problems. Increasingly we are trying to get at personalized neuroaesthetics for health, wellbeing and learning.”

At a time when technology is being disparaged for its negative impact on mental health, A Space for Being hopes to reverse this, using technology as a healing medium and reconnecting modern society with their humanity. “Art and design have been used as healing tools since the beginning of humankind. Research is really just catching up and providing the why,” Magsmane explained. Ross agreed: “I believe technology can amplify our humanity. It’s what we do with it that matters.”