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    Muuto’s first collaboration with Ivy Ross and Google was on the “A Space For Being” exhibition during Milan Design Week in 2019. It explored how elements such as color, tactility, and light affect our feelings and experiences in a space, a subject we have continued to develop ever since. She is also currently heading the jury of the Muuto Design Contest, launching in June.  

    We recently sat down with Ivy to discuss color and collaboration, design philosophies, and the immense potential of neuroaesthetics in the fields of arts, architecture, design, and beyond. This conversation highlights how technology and traditional design can complement each other to create objects and spaces that are more attuned to our bodies and minds. 

    Muuto: Having worked extensively with neuroaesthetics in the context of design, what are some of your insights from your work on neuroaesthetics? 


    Ivy: One of the key insights from our research is that our brains are wired to respond to aesthetic experiences. When we engage with art, whether it’s viewing a painting, listening to music, or experiencing a beautifully designed space, our brain's reward system is activated. This response is similar to what happens when we experience other pleasurable activities, such as eating good food or being in love.

    For instance, studies have shown that looking at art can increase blood flow to the brain by up to 10%, which is equivalent to looking at someone you love. This response isn't just about pleasure; it has real implications for our health and well-being.

    Ivy Ross "Engaging with art and aesthetics can reduce stress, improve mood, and even enhance cognitive function."

    We also discovered that different sensory elements can have specific effects. For example, certain colors can evoke specific emotional responses. Blue and green hues tend to be calming and can lower heart rate and blood pressure, while red and orange can increase energy and excitement, affecting our heart rate and arousal levels. Understanding these responses allows us to design spaces and products that support the desired emotional and physiological states, whether it's creating a calming environment in a healthcare setting or an invigorating atmosphere in a workspace. 

    Muuto: How do you apply these principles in your own work? 


    Ivy: Understanding how sensory elements affect human physiology helps us create products that enhance well-being. For example, we explored the idea of neuroaesthetics in our Milan exhibition with Muuto in 2019 by letting visitors monitor their physiology as they walked through different spaces. This approach helps us design products that not only look good but also make people feel good. 

    At Google, we apply these principles to our hardware design. We carefully select materials, colors, and textures that are not only aesthetically pleasing but also enhance the user experience. We consider how a device feels in the hand, how the colors might affect the user’s mood, and even how the design can encourage more mindful and positive interactions with technology. 

    Ivy Ross “Moreover, we believe in creating products that foster well-being by integrating elements that promote relaxation, focus, and joy. This might include the use of natural materials to create a sense of calm or designing interfaces that reduce cognitive load and enhance ease of use.”

    By incorporating principles of neuroaesthetics, we aim to create technology that not only serves functional purposes but also supports the emotional and psychological well-being of our users.

    Muuto: What was the idea behind Google’s much talked about exhibition “Making Sense of Color” during this year’s Milan Design Week?


    Ivy: The exhibition focused on neuroaesthetics, exploring how various sensory elements like textures, colors, shapes, lighting, and art impact human physiology and emotions. This year's theme was color, examining its multifaceted effects on human perception and physiology.

    Ivy Ross “Color is a vibrational wave frequency like light, so it is the pulse of life in some ways.”

    We wanted to immerse visitors in a sensory experience that highlights the profound impact of color on our well-being, designing several interactive installations where visitors could monitor their physiological responses, such as heart rate and skin conductivity, as they moved through different color environments. The goal was to provide a tangible demonstration of how color influences our emotions and physical states. 

    Muuto: How did you demonstrate and manifest these ideas in the interior space? 


    Ivy: One of the standout features was a series of rooms, each dedicated to a specific color. For instance, the blue room featured calming music, cool lighting, and smooth textures to evoke a sense of tranquility. In contrast, the red room had vibrant art, dynamic lighting, and stimulating textures to create an atmosphere of energy and excitement. These environments allowed visitors to feel firsthand how different colors can evoke various emotional and physiological responses. 


    We also collaborated with several artists and designers to create installations that blended color with other sensory elements. For example, one installation combined fragrance with color, showing how scent can amplify the emotional impact of visual stimuli. Another installation used tactile elements, inviting visitors to touch surfaces and objects to explore how texture and color together influence their sensory experience. 

    Muuto: What was the reaction from the public? 

    Ivy: The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, with many visitors expressing newfound awareness of how their environment affects their mood and well-being. This success reaffirmed our belief in the importance of designing with a deep understanding of neuroaesthetics.

    Ivy Ross “It’s not just about making things look good; it's about creating spaces and products that enhance people's lives on a fundamental level.”

    Last year, Ivy published the book “Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us” alongside another frequent Muuto collaborator, Susan Magsamen, founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab), Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at Johns Hopkins. 

    Muuto: How did you and Susan decide to write a book together? What questions does it delve into? 


    Ivy: Susan and I connected and had a deep conversation about the intersection of art and neuroscience. We hosted a series of salons with artists and neuroscientists, discussing the impact of art on human physiology. This broad and multifaceted exploration of the subject led to us co-authoring "Your Brain on Art," which aims to provide scientific grounding for the intuitive understanding that art and aesthetics significantly affect human well-being.

    Susan and I were both passionate about the idea that art and aesthetics are not merely about decoration or superficial beauty but have profound effects on our mental and physical health. Our discussions centered on how sensory experiences influence our brain function, emotions, and overall well-being.

    Ivy Ross “We wanted to bring this knowledge to a broader audience, bridging the gap between scientific research and everyday understanding.”

    In our salons, we explored various facets of neuroaesthetics, from the impact of visual arts and music on mood to the role of architecture and design in shaping our emotional and physiological responses. These gatherings were incredibly insightful, providing a rich exchange of ideas between artists who intuitively understood the power of their work and scientists who could explain the underlying mechanisms. 


    Muuto: How do you view the role of interdisciplinary collaboration in design? 


    Ivy: Cross-disciplinary collaboration is crucial for solving today's complex problems. Designers, engineers, and scientists need to work together to create innovative solutions. For example, making a round speaker like a river stone instead of a box was challenging, but the pride in the team after solving the problem was immense. This collaborative process is beautiful and necessary for innovation. 

    This approach not only leads to more innovative solutions but also ensures that our designs are grounded in a deep understanding of human needs and well-being.

    Ivy Ross “We believe that the future of design lies in the integration of multiple disciplines. By bringing together insights from neuroscience, psychology, and design, we can create products and environments that truly enhance human experience.”

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