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Visual complexity is frequently studied, and previous research on this topic has been discussed several times in Research Design Connections.  A study conducted by Wang and team confirms the benefits of designing in moderate levels of visual complexity.  They learned that for web design “Product images with higher background complexity attract greater attention. . . . Higher background complexity distracts more attention away from the focal product. . . . Moderate background complexity can best promote product information processing. . . . Moderate background complexity can best facilitate consumer purchase intention. . . . Product images with moderate background complexity best promote consumer processing of product information, thereby increasing purchase intention. . . . consumers with a field-dependent cognitive style are more susceptible to being influenced by background complexity.”  Field dependence is discussed here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_dependence.

Qiuzhen Wang, Da Ma, Hanyue Chen, Xuhong Ye, and Qing Xu.  “Effects of Background Complexity on Consumer Visual Processing:  An Eye-Tracking Study.”  Journal of Business Research, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2019.07.018

How food is plated influences how it is perceived; this finding may be applicable in settings that don’t involve those tested. Researchers evaluated “how the plating (i.e., visual composition) of a dish influences people's hedonic preferences and their perception of portion size. . . .  the centrally-plated dessert was rated as a larger portion than the offset version of exactly the same dish. The food was also liked more and the participants/diners were willing to pay more for it when . . .  centrally arranged. These results provide important guidelines for enhancing the visual arrangement of a dish, in order to increase enjoyment, and possibly also nudge consumers toward better food choices.”

Jessica Rowley and Charles Spence.  2018.  “Does the Visual Composition of a Dish Influence the Perception of Portion Size and Hedonic Preference?”  Appetite, vol. 128, pp. 79-86, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.appet.2018.06.005

Associations identified between shapes and tastes can realistically be extended to other contexts.  Investigators report that “We replicated the results of previous studies showing that round shapes are associated with sweet taste, whereas angular shapes are associated with sour and bitter tastes. . . . These results were consistent across cultures, when we compared participants from Taiwanese and Western (UK, US, Canada) cultures. Our findings highlight that perceived pleasantness and threat are culturally common factors involved in at least some crossmodal correspondences.”

Nora Turoman, Carlos Velasco, Yi-Chuan Chen, Pi-Chun Huang, and Charles Spence.  2018. “Symmetry and Its Role in the Crossmodal Correspondence Between Shape and Taste.”  Attention, Perception, and Psychophysics, vol. 80, no. 3, pp. 738-751, doi:  10.3758/s13414-017-1463-x

Casner shares important insights into the occasionally baffling ways that humans’ fallible minds interact with the world that surrounds them.  His neuroscience-based focus is on situations during which humans injure themselves, and sometimes others, primarily via everyday behaviors of some sort gone wrong.  The material in this very readable text can be applied by people developing environments at varying scales, from places/objects to be used by one person to those utilized by groups.  Suggestions for improvement shared by Casner are useful to designers with a wide range of skills and experience.

Steve Casner. 2017. Careful:  A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds.  Penguin; New York.

Research by Naz and colleagues confirms that our experiences in real and comparable virtual worlds are fundamentally equivalent.  They report that “The emotional response a person has to a living space is predominantly affected by light, color and texture as space-making elements. . . . we conducted a user study in a six-sided projected immersive display that utilized equivalent design attributes of brightness, color and texture in order to assess to which extent the emotional response in a simulated environment is affected by the same parameters affecting real environments. . . . Data from the experiments confirmed the hypothesis that perceivable emotional aspects of real-world spaces could be successfully generated through simulation of design attributes in the virtual space. The subjective response to the virtual space was consistent with corresponding responses from real-world color and brightness emotional perception.”

Asma Naz, Regis Kopper, Ryan McMahan, and Mihai Nadin. 2017.  “Emotional Qualities of VR Space.” IEEE Virtual Reality Conference, March 18-22, Los Angeles, CA https://ieeexplore.ieee.org/document/7892225/authors

Hoendervanger and colleagues continue to study the experience of working in activity-based offices.  They determined via field and lab studies that “Activity-based work environments are widely adopted; however, research shows mixed findings regarding privacy issues, satisfaction with the work environment, and task performance. . . . The results from both studies confirm that perceived [person-environment] fit is a function of activity, work setting, and personal need for privacy, with indirect effects on satisfaction with the work environment . . . and task performance. . . . Across both studies, a misfit was perceived particularly among workers high in personal need for privacy when performing high-complexity tasks in an open office work setting. Hence, we recommend that organizations facilitate and stimulate their workers to create better fits between activities, work settings, and personal characteristics.”

Jan Hoendervanger, Nico van Yperen, Mark Mobach, and Casper Albers.  “Perceived Fit in Activity-Based Work Environments and Its Impact on Satisfaction and Performance.”  Journal of Environmental Psychology, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jenvp.2019.101339

Herd and Mehta set out to learn more about how to encourage creative thinking.  They report that “Imagination visual mental imagery, a mental simulation process that involves imagining an end user interacting with an end product, has been proposed as an efficient strategy to incorporate end-user experiences during new product ideation. . . . The present work delineates the imagination visual mental imagery construct and argues that such mental imagery can take two different routes—one that is more feelings-based (i.e., feelings-imagination), and one that is more objective (i.e., objective-imagination). Further, we propose that although these two approaches will equally benefit outcome usefulness, they will have differential impact on outcome originality. Across five studies, we demonstrate that adopting a feelings-imagination versus an objective-imagination approach induces higher empathic concern, enhancing cognitive flexibility, which leads to higher outcome originality.”  An emotion-focused approach can be best when originality is important.

Kelly Herd and Ravi Mehta.  2019.  “Head Versus Heart:  The Effect of Objective Versus Feelings-Based Mental Imagery on New Product Creativity.” Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 46, no. 1, pp. 36-52, https://doi.org/10.1093/jcr/ucy058

Nearby greenery has again been linked to mental wellbeing.  Houlden and colleagues report that their “study was designed to examine whether the amount of greenspace within a radius of individuals’ homes was associated with mental wellbeing, testing the government guideline that greenspace should be available within 300m[eters] of homes. . . . [statistical analyses] revealed positive and statistically significant associations between the amount of greenspace and indicators of life satisfaction and worth. . . .  an increase in 1 ha [hectare] of greenspace within 300 m of residents was associated with a statistically significant . . . increase in life satisfaction . . . [sense of self] worth and happiness. . . . This therefore provides some support for the inclusion of greenspace within 300 m of homes.”

Victoria Houlden, Joao de Albuquerque, Scott Weich, and Stephen Jarvis.  “A Spatial Analysis of Proximate Greenspace and Mental Wellbeing in London.”  Applied Geography, in press, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.apgeog.2019.102036

Features of neighboring homes influence what we think about our own house.  Kuhlmann investigated “whether the size of one’s home relative to others in their [resident’s] neighbourhood influences their housing satisfaction. . . . [and found] evidence that relative position matters. Those living in comparatively small houses are more likely to express dissatisfaction with their home than people living in units that are large relative to other houses in their neighbourhood cluster.”

Daniel Kuhlmann. “Coveting Your Neighbour’s House: Understanding the Positional Nature of Residential Satisfaction.”  Housing Studies, in press, https://doi.org/10.1080/02673037.2019.1651832

Schmidt and colleagues wanted to learn more about how nonverbal messages influence how people think and behave.  They “recorded participants' EEG brain responses while they played a risk game developed in our laboratory. . . . we predicted that cognitive control would be reduced in the helmet group [that is, people playing the game while wearing a bicycle helmet although they were not near a bicycle], indicated by reduced frontal midline theta power, and that this group would prefer riskier options in the risk game. . . . we found that participants in the helmet group showed significantly lower frontal midline theta power than participants in the control group, indicating less cognitive control. . . . Our results suggest that wearing a bike helmet reduces cognitive control, as revealed by reduced frontal midline theta power, leading to risk indifference when evaluating potential behaviors.”  It is likely that the effect observed, tying feeling protected/safe and lower levels of cognitive control, is likely to be found in contexts beyond those tested.

Barbara Schmidt, Luisa Kessler, Clay Holroyd, and Wolfgang Miltner.  “Wearing a Bike Helmet Leads to Less Cognitive Control, Revealed by Lower Frontal Midline Theta Power and Risk Indifference.”  Psychophysiology, in press, https://doi.org/10.1111/psyp.13458

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