The Science of Interior Design & The Emerging Field of Neuroaesthetics

Austin Interior Designer Amity Worrel Examines the Emerging Field of Neuroaesthetics and Its Role in the Science of Interior Design 


Interior design may not be rocket science, but it is a science! Thanks to recent attention on the emerging field of neuroaesthetics, folks are finally starting to take the science of interior design seriously. At my Austin interior design studio, we’ve taken a “scientific approach” for years. We know our job is so much more than picking out pretty colors and art. It’s listening to client needs, researching their space, and developing functional solutions that will affect their mood, behavior, and lifestyle for years to come. 

Designers hold a lot of power. We can change your emotional outlook with a coat of paint. And like a moth to a flame, we can lure you to an unused corner with a cozy chair and a lamp. Designers have known how aesthetic choices can affect human behavior for decades and now neuroaesthetics gives some validity to our industry. It’s becoming a big part of our field and how we work. Would you question a furniture layout knowing it’s backed by science? Would it be easier to decide on a color you know would make you feel happier, calmer, or more energized?  

I’m taking a deeper look into neuroaesthetics and how it affects the science of design. Consider your class now in session! 


What is Neuroaesthetics? 

Neuroaesthetics (also neuroesthetics) was coined by Semir Zeki in 1999 and received its formal definition in 2002. It is a subfield of cognitive neuroscience that studies the biological reactions to visual arts and aesthetics, including interior design and architecture. Essentially, the newly emerging field studies how our brain is affected by art and how the visuals around us influence our behavior, mood, and emotions.  

How Our Brain is Affected by Art

Neuroarchitecture: How Design Makes Us Feel  

Neuroscience is making its way into design more than ever before. The substudy of neuroarchitecture specifically focuses on how the spaces where we live, work, and play make us feel. One neuroarchitecture study examined how people felt in different waiting rooms. The results suggest that these spaces affect psychological and neurophysiological levels, even raising stress levels. 

To an interior designer, it’s no surprise that design affects human behavior. Would you feel more relaxed in a waiting room with harsh fluorescents, stiff-backed chairs, and a sterile all-white color palette or in a room that featured soft ambient lighting, plush rugs, and chaise loungers? These are two very different spaces, and we react accordingly. 


Interior Design Has Always Been a Science

The science of interior design is complex. It requires a deep knowledge of spatial planning, color theory, lighting design, and architectural history, paired with an understanding of human psychology and an eye for aesthetics. It seems silly to me that some folks could even question the importance of what designers do when it’s so obvious how interior design affects our mood and the way we function.  

A comfortable home isn’t created by chance. It’s designed with a proven scientific framework. Everything needs to be considered, from lighting design and seating to sound control and the feel of textiles. Neuroaesthetics puts tangible data behind these components, measuring our reactions to colors, art, and furnishings. 

How Our Brain is Affected by Art

I’ve been in the field for nearly 30 years, studying how people behave in their homes. When a client experiences a space specifically designed for them, the effect on their life is hugely impactful. It completely changes how they live! You don’t need a degree in neuroscience to understand what makes you feel good in your home. But you do need to pay attention to how you respond to the space around you. And a designer can help lead you through the process of learning what resonates. 


Interior Design Choices Matter

I take my job as an interior designer very seriously. I know that the decisions we make for our clients will affect their lives, their moods, their behaviors, and even their futures. What would a more productive home office do for your career? How would a more peaceful bedroom affect your sleep? Interior design choices matter. 

Lighting design is a science in itself. We could go so much deeper, but humans really are drawn to and affected by light. The right balance is needed to truly utilize your space. For example, we won’t naturally venture into a dark corner. However, placing a floor lamp and an armchair suddenly turns the space into a relaxing reading nook. Similarly, area rugs signal a landing zone and invite us to spend more time in that area than one with hard flooring. Furnishings affect how we use the space too. A counter with barstools is much more likely to attract a gathering than one without. 

By now, most folks know the difference color can make. Whites and blues feel more peaceful, browns and beiges more grounded, and warm reds and yellows more energized. However, the sounds of a home also come into play. Some architects have even designed newly built homes to creak so they feel more comfortable. Every choice makes a difference in how our homes feel and function, greatly affecting how we carry out our daily lives.  


Better Design Creates a Better Life

Neuroaesthetics prove what interior designers have known all along. Aesthetics affect our lives, and good design choices can actually improve our health and well-being. While interior designers don’t need a neuroscience degree to get the job done (but how cool would that be?), we should make an effort to understand the research and incorporate it into our designs. Our field is a science, and we should treat it as such. 


Time to do our research! 

Austin Interior Designer