“We have been optimising for the cognitive, and leaving other things on the table,” was the warning from Ivy Ross, VP, design, at Google at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity this year.
A true design leader, having worked at brands as varied as Disney, Gap, Mattel, Bausch & Lomb and Calvin Klein, Ross emphasised the importance of ‘design feeling’ as well as ‘design thinking’ – warning against a reliance on interviews and survey data. “In this way, we can only get out of people what they’re able to articulate based on what they already know … we need a deeper understanding of people,” she said.
“Neuroscience is now proving that those things that designers intuit, do actually have an effect on our biology,” she added, before outlining what she termed a necessary ‘tension of opposites’: a need to embrace both digital and analogue, intuition and data, in order to ‘enliven our senses and feel our way into the future’.
Ross also revealed how her team at Google has successfully developed an aesthetic for its hardware; an overarching design language. She described how the brand sought to be ‘bold, optimistic and human in its forms, in its shapes and in its colours’.
“As technology progresses it will get closer to us, eventually becoming invisible. We need to make that process smooth,” she said.
As such, Google has set about to create ‘feel good’ technology, with products and services designed to fit into our homes and into our lives. This has resulted in the tech giant winning around 70 global design awards.
For Ross, the ‘secret sauce’ is the people, and the sense of trust and harmony when they work in a spirit of true collaboration. “The magic happens when people’s gifts are harmonised. I often get the team together in nature. Time seems to slow down. Nature does that to you. It’s the ultimate sensory experience – there is colour, texture, sound, and space,” she said. “Trust and connection is an important part of creating together. If you forget yourself and truly connect with others to focus on an audacious outcome, you can see unimaginable success.”
But when it comes to data versus intuition, Ross warned that, of the two, data has become ‘the more dominant default driver of decision’.
“On the surface, it’s the safe path,” she said “But it’s put our intuition at risk, resulting in ‘analysis paralysis’.
“Our intuition is our first instinct. Intuition often knows what your conscious mind does not. The amazing thing is that it can be thought of as a muscle and the more we use it the stronger it becomes,” she told the audience, before going on to quote neuro-anatomist, Jill Taylor: “Most of us think of ourselves as thinking creatures that feel, but we are actually feeling creatures that think.”
Indeed, as Debbie Millman, host of the podcast, Design Matters, said earlier in the week, while people think that we’re addicted to technology, “what we are addicted to is actually the feeling we get through it”. And Ross stressed that if design doesn’t ‘enliven the senses’, it won’t last.
“There is not enough emphasis on the feeling. We have become a bit flatlined as a society,” she said. “It’s important to be conscious of the neuro-aesthetics of a product, to think about how the interaction with it leaves you feeling. That’s what we have to pay attention to.”
Whether form, colour, feel, or utility; all these things have a profound effect, not only on our thoughts, but on our feelings and our instinctive, biological response, and Ross spoke of a ‘new consciousness’ in society that these things matter, thanks in part to advances in neuroscience.
“We have always known that these things matter,” she said, “but now by looking at the brain and seeing which parts light up when you touch a new material or see a piece of art and see how it communicates to your selves, it’s fascinating.
“We have to consider the heart – the mind and the heart, and not just the mind: Design matters. Now science is proving that it matters more than we even thought.”