Yes No

Designing perfection

Merel Bekking is on a journey towards creating the Perfect Everyday Design. Using scientific research in the form of test persons and an MRI scanner, the project should show our true desires. 

By Cassandra Pizzey / 23-01-2014

When Dutch designer Merel Bekking claimed she was going to create “the best design ever”, it soon came time to put her money where her mouth is. But how do you go about creating the perfect everyday design?

Instead of looking at sales figures and modern classics, Bekking opted for a research method that could be scientifically proven. Neuro science seemed like the perfect place to look for answers as it would allow her to look inside the brain. Tools needed: one MRI scanner. Bekking: “I though it would be difficult to get access to a lab and an MRI scanner but when I approached the The Spinoza Centre for Neuroimaging – a neuro-scientific research facility linked to the Amsterdam Medical Centre – and explained my idea, they were immediately enthusiastic.”

Together with scientist Steven Scholte, Bekking came up with a research method that would reveal people’s inner desires. Test persons were asked to come in for a brain scan, not knowing what the goal of the research was. Once inside the MRI scanner, they were shown a set of stimuli; images of certain shapes, colours and materials.

Before showing the test persons any stimuli, first a set of base values were established. This is done by showing a series of paintings themed ‘cosy’, ‘extreme’, ‘food’ and ‘erotic’. Different parts of the brain react to different emotions, “so a painting by Goya [Franciscus] will stimulate a different part of the brain than one depicting an erotic scene,” explains Bekking. These base values are a guide to compare the test results. Scholte was then responsible for analysing the outcomes using a set of scientific formulas and methods.

“We told the test persons to press a button if they saw the same image twice so they had no idea what they were being tested on,” explains Bekking. “Only afterwards did we ask them to fill out a form, listing their favourite colours, shapes and materials. Blue, round open shapes, and wood came top of the list.” So was this reflected in the results? “No, surprisingly red, organic shapes, and plastics were the group favourites.”

With this information, Bekking set to work and is currently in the designing fase of her project. She decided which objects she would create beforehand: a series of useful everyday designs such as chairs, vases and lamps.

As this research project took only 20 individuals, all with higher education and aged between 20 and 30, the results of this project will hardly reflect the tasted of everyone in the Netherlands, let alone in Milan, where the project will be presented during the Salone del Mobile. Yet Bekking explains her project isn’t so much about that, “even though I’m claiming to present the perfect design, this project is much more about creating a dialogue about science and design.”

She continues: “I hope to show through my work that science isn’t always necessary within design, and that context is an important factor. Take the Coca Cola new Coke fiasco back in the 1980s. 200.000 people were asked to blind pick their favourite coke flavour, and when it was finally launched, people reacted negatively.” A classic case of marketing failure, or did science miss a crucial element in people’s perception?

What exactly can we expect from Bekking’s own presentation at Ventura Lambrate this April? “Hopefully I will be able to furnish some kind of living room with my red, plastic organically-shaped designs but I’m still working out the details.” We can’t wait.