Does Neuroscience have a place in design?

I recently read a blog post named Who moved my (virtual) Cheese?: The power of understanding mental models when designing websites, on the UX magazine site . It harked back to my days at university completing my degree in Neuroscience.

Neuroscience is what sparked my interest in user experience, after spending time specialising in the complexities of the communication languages between primates. My senses lead me to believe that these principles had a similar application as to how humans interacted with computers. It seems that we develop our own languages and responses to certain patterns in design.

Most of us will have experienced the behavioral responses that the human brain builds over time, such as automatically putting on your seat belt when sitting in a car, or looking both ways before crossing a road. We learn to adapt to our environment form learning patterns of cause and response.

The Science

Operant conditioning was first observed by Pavlov in the 1890’s, when presented with specific conditions, dogs responded to the stimuli by salivating. This idea was then supported by Skinner, a behavioral psychologist who experimented with rats pressing levers to deliver food. These experiments went on to explain the basis of all learning, that was outside normal instinctual behavior. Research has shown that the hormone Dopamine in medial fore brain bundle is extremely important to this learning, during experiments that block Dopamine, this learning capacity is suppressed.

With this level of response in the human brain when learning and experiencing interaction with the world, we need to remain mindful about the way in which we structure products. User experience design should be formulated so that it works with this internal response rather than against it. Humans build the same behavioral pathways when using things like internet browsers, buttons, keyboards and any type of technology.

Recognizing the Norm

During my experience as a User experience designer, as a neuroscientist and just a generic ole human being, I have come to notice that when we change the designs away from those that people recognize as the norm, we disturb the learning patterns humans have developed over the years. This can be a real supportive argument as to why implementing regularity and repetition in our products makes them easier to use and produces a more enjoyable overall experience.

Frustrating Designs

Scientists have investigated the Neuroscience behind frustration and have found that "frustration is experienced when goal-directed activity is blocked”. This is an important fact to keep in mind when designing a product, if we physically cause a blockage for an individual to achieve their goals it will actually physiologically cause a feeling of frustration within them. Often this can be overlooked and it seems like ethnographic research can give real insight into the way in which features cause intrinsic human reactions. Many times I have struggled with explaining this to customers, when they suggest wonderful looking features, that seem fantastic from a marketing perspective however would impede the user journey.

But, is good design founded on Neuroscience? I believe so, I would like to see fundamental scientific ideas used by the wide spread design community so that cognition, hormones and memory are understood just as much as aesthetics.