Design and Neuroscience

Alexa Piotte is a graphic designer living in Montreal. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Fine Arts majoring in Design and minoring in behavioural neuroscience psychology from Concordia University. In this exclusive interview she discusses her work relating design and neuroscience, including her collaborative project, ‘BDL: Mapping out the Genetic Blueprint of the Fruit Fly Visual System’, with Hunter Shaw, a Ph.D. candidate in biology at McGill University.

Alexa Piotte (Photo credits : Kevin Jung-Hoo Park)

Richard Bright: Can we begin by you saying something about your background?

Alexa Piotte: I am passionate about everything I learn and set my mind to, so my background is quite diverse. Starting from an early age, I always had a fascination for the arts, which led me to dabble in graphic design and in music quite a bit before my schooling. However, education-wise, I was put in the path of science. I studied in the Arts and Science program at Marianopolis College, which pushed me towards the sciences and motivated me towards the goal of applying for architecture in University. Upon graduation, despite having thoroughly enjoyed an intensive program in the science realm, I decided to take a completely different and turn back to arts. The change was difficult for me because having zero education in the field, I was required to work extremely hard to put together portfolio and get into the program of Design at Concordia University. I succeeded and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Major Design and minor behavioural psychology. The addition of the minor was a decision I made upon realizing that I had missed my science schooling and was always hungry for more scientific knowledge. My aptitude for the arts along with my curiosity for the sciences allows me to open my mind to different ideas and concepts throughout my work.

RB: Have there been any particular influences to your art practice?

AP: I think the major influence to my art practice has been this multi-faceted background of mine. Arts and science are often thought as separate entities, as two radically different fields. However, the influence of science, particularly my studies of the brain and behaviour in the public sphere (why people walk, talk, act and see things the way they do) on my art practice has brought to my awareness that they are connected in a way in that they share fundamental thought processes and patterns and learn from one another. It is these thoughts processes and patterns inherent in the field of science that good design should analyze in order to develop insights into looking at and interpreting good “designerly” solutions.

RB: What is the underlying focus and vocabulary of your work?

AP: As a designer, I strive to bridge the gap between arts and science. Design needs to remain relevant to the society, which constantly grows and adapts as a product of the natural sciences. Strengthening the relationship between these two fields will better human experience. As a previous student of the behavioural neurosciences, I hold a deeper understanding of scientific methods and theories. Having both a scientific and designer mind pushes me to ask more interesting questions as I am more comfortable with the intuitive nature of design than a scientist who has no basis in design. Being more aware of scientific methods puts me as the designer in a position to challenge the assumptions of the science and to reinterpret these assumptions in innovative ways. There is both a scientific and a design basis to every “thing”.

BDL: Mapping out the Genetic Blueprint of the Fruit Fly Visual System (Photo credits : Kevin Jung-Hoo Park)

RB: Can you say something about your exhibition design, BDL: Mapping out the Genetic Blueprint of the Fruit Fly Visual System?

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