Salus journal

Healthy Planet. Healthy People.

Science & research / Healthy Cities

Healthy City Design 2017

Culture, neuroscience and design

By Sally Augustin, PhD 23 Oct 2017 0

Does our culture influence how we process sensory information and the sorts of spaces where we live our best lives? Neuroscientists have shown that it does, and designers can increase user wellbeing by applying what these researchers have learned about culture and place-based experiences.


Studies have linked how the physical environment is experienced to parameters of national culture, identified by Hofstede, Hofstede, and Minkov (2010). Scientists have also tied national culture to preferred physical environments. Neuroscience indicates that curvilinear elements are significantly more likely to be preferred by people from more collectivistic cultures, while people from more individualistic ones find angular shapes significantly more attractive than people from collectivistic ones do, for example (Zhang, Feick, and Price, 2006).

Designing for preferences is important because when the space we’re in aligns with them, our mood is more likely to be positive (Veitch, 2012), which has beneficial implications for problem solving, creativity, socialising with others, and health, for example (Fredrickson and Branigan, 2005; Isen, 2001; Isen et al. 1985; Segerstrom and Sephton, 2010). In addition, neuroscientists, including Park and Huang (2010), have linked neural function and culture.

The design of public spaces that are iconic among particular populations will be examined to illustrate how place form should recognise and respond to users’ national cultures. Structures in Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands, the UK, Italy, the USA, Japan, China/Hong Kong, and Turkey will be featured. Applying neuroscience research to inform the selection of specific, culturally-appropriate design elements will be the focus of the presentation.

Topics to be covered will be useful to all designers – whether they’re developing spaces to be used by people from a different national culture or creating spaces for people from their own. It will detail the crucial ways that design should align with users’ national cultures – regardless of what’s trendy in design in other parts of the world. 

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