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Beauty and the brain: why it’s impossible to take your eyes off an iPhone

There is an inherent paradox in the title of this article: While beauty does not need “reason” to make an impact, there is still so much we can learn from exploring why it impacts us.

When humans experience beauty, the brain’s default mode network (DMN) activates and begins interacting with other brain regions. Together, these regions process emotion, perception, memory, imagery, and language — it’s no wonder beauty is so deeply moving to us. As such, the more senses involved in a beautiful experience, the greater the chances are of complex neurological interactions and brain growth.

Now, think about the iPhone and how it has become a ubiquitous appendage for so many people. It dazzles multiple senses (eyes, ears, and touch), and though it also boasts an impressive set of technical capabilities, Apple knows there is more to the puzzle than that.

The company believes “that a phone should be more than a collection of features … above all, a phone should be absolutely simple, beautiful, and magical to use.”

When Technology Becomes Us

As a sleek and slim smart device, the iPhone possesses both beauty and brains — an overwhelmingly attractive combination that pulls at our heartstrings and holds our minds and bodies hopelessly captive. Similar to German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s master-slave dialectic, the phone is at our beck and call every moment of the day, yet we have wittingly become its slaves.

In the midst of a beautiful experience, the boundaries between an admired object and your sense of self become blurry. The DMN has some serious cross-wiring — it represents both the self and the other — thus explaining why and how external beauty (in the form of people and things) can validate, define, and drive us as individuals; it becomes a part of us.

The iPhone reminds us of who we are, and in so doing, it helps us stay oriented in an increasingly confusing world. It’s more than just eye candy; it makes us feel beautiful. That’s why we can’t put it down.

Beauty and the Brain

Tech products that stimulate the senses, portray compelling aesthetic ideals, help users feel smarter, and seamlessly become part of their daily lives are most likely to become irreplaceable appendages like the iPhone.

In that respect, I’ve created the “Beauty and Brain Tech Scale” to help tech developers create products that are impossible for users to put down. To assess the beauty of your invention, rank the below categories on a scale from one to five — with one meaning “not at all,” and five meaning “I’ve got it covered.” The mnemonic spells “SUPERB”: S(imultaneous), U(ser-friendly), P(outpourri of sensations), E(ssential), R(avishing), B(rilliant).

  • The product can simultaneously (S) stimulate two or more senses. (For example, can users watch videos on it? If so, it stimulates both sight and sound at the same time.)
  • The product easily integrates into daily life. It is user-friendly (U). (Does it fit into a pocket? Is it possible to quickly pull it out and use it for its intended purpose?)
  • The product has the ability to stimulate more than one sense — it includes a potpourri (P) of senses. (Does it emit sound, react to touch, display visuals, etc.?)
  • The product is indispensable, and users will be devoted to it. It is essential (E). (If someone realizes he forgot it at home, will he turn around to retrieve it?)
  • The product helps users feel more beautiful. It is ravishing (R). (Is it visually appealing? Does it come in different colors? Is it sleek?)
  • The product helps users feel smarter; they feel brilliant. (B). (Can it teach them anything? Can they access Google on it?)

These categories represent the brain-based foundation of the next generation of tech products. The higher your score is, the better your chances of success will be.

As Oscar Wilde said, “Beauty is a form of genius.” If you create a beautiful product, the user doesn’t need to justify its existence. Instead, the technology will justify itself.

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