Connect with us

NXTLVL Experience Design

Episode 57: Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross

“Your Brain On Art” with Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross, Co-Authors of “Your Brain On Art: How the Arts Transform Us”





The arts are a deeply rooted part of our humanity. The science of neuroaesthetics is uncovering the neurobiological basis for how the environment influences our mind body state. The environments we live in and our connection to artistic expression in all of the arts including dance, music, literature and visual arts have profound effects on our sense of health and well being, learning, and flourishing. Co-Authors of “Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us” Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross talk with Host David Kepron about the neurobiological imperative of creating and participating in the arts.


ABOUT Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross:

Susan’s LinkedIn profile:

Ivy’s Profile:


BIO – Susan Magsamen:


Susan Magsamen is the founder and executive director of the International Arts + Mind Lab (IAM Lab), Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics, a pioneering initiative from the Pedersen Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. Her body of work lies at the intersection of brain sciences and the arts—and how our unique response to aesthetic experiences can amplify human potential.

Magsamen is the author of the Impact Thinking model, an evidence-based research approach to accelerate how we use the arts to solve problems in health, well-being, and learning. In addition to her role at IAM Lab, she is an assistant professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins and serves as co-director of the NeuroArts Blueprint project in partnership with the Aspen Institute.

Prior to founding IAM Lab, Magsamen worked in both the private and public sector, developing social impact programs and products addressing all stages of life—from early childhood to the senior years.  Magsamen created Curiosityville, an online personalized learning world, acquired by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt in 2014 and Curiosity Kits, a hands-on multi-sensory company, acquired by Torstar in 1995.

An award-winning author, Magsamen has published eight books including The Classic Treasury of Childhood Wonder, The 10 Best of Everything Families, and Family Stories.

Magsamen is a Fellow at the Royal Society of the Arts and a strategic advisor to several innovative organizations and initiatives, including the Academy of Neuroscience for Architecture, the American Psychological Association, the National Association for the Education of Young Children, Brain Futures, Learning Landscapes, and Creating Healthy Communities:  Arts + Public Health in America.

BIO – Ivy Ross:


Ivy Ross is the Vice President of Design for the Hardware organization at Google.

Over the past six years, she and her team have launched 50+ products winning over 240 global design awards. This collection of hardware established a new Google design aesthetic that is tactile, colorful, and bold.

A winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, Ivy’s innovative metal work in jewelry is in the permanent collections of 12 international museums.

Ivy has held executive positions ranging from head of product design and development to CMO and presidencies of several companies, including Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel, Bausch & Lomb, and Gap. Ninth on Fast Company’s list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business 2019, Ivy believes the intersection of arts and science is where the most engaging and creative ideas are found.


Welcome to season five of the next level experience design podcast.


It’s kind of amazing when I think of it… now five seasons… wow.

This season will be no different than the previous ones where we continue to have great discussions with visionary leaders from various industries and professions.

These dynamic dialogues based on our acronym DATA – design, architecture, technology, and the arts crosses over disciplines but maintains a common thread of people who are passionate about the world we live in and human’s influence on it, the ways we craft the built environment to maximize human experience, increasing our understanding of human behavior and searching for the New Possible.

As we jump into this new season thanks go to VMSD magazine. You will find the archive of the NXTLVL experience design podcast on

VMSD is the publisher of VMSD magazine and brings us, in the brand experience world, the International Retail Design Conference. The IRDC is one of the best retail design conferences that there is bringing together the world of retailers, brands and experience placemakers every year for two days of engaging conversations and pushing the discourse forward on what makes retailing relevant.

Thanks also goes to Shop Association the only global retail trade association dedicated to elevating the in-store experience.

SHOP Association represents companies and affiliates from 25 countries and brings value to their members through research, networking, education, events and awards. Check then out on

OK, let’s dig in… With our first interview of the season with two remarkable women Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross whose recent book “Your Brain on Art has garnered huge attention since its recent release.

But first a few thoughts on art and making…


When I was about 9 years old and my mom had me in an after school art program at a local painting studio near my childhood home.

Thursdays, as it would turn out, became the single time of the week where the outside world disappeared and I entered into a place of pure creativity and innovation which many years later I would discover was called “flow.”

Even to this day Thursdays seemed to hold a special body memory for me of calm and an internal sense of both peace and joy. Thursdays somehow carry a different energy from me that I think was implanted in my body all those years ago where my creative passion was fully expressed.

For years I would paint on Thursdays and that turned into a passion that became a profession as an architect.

I wasn’t great at math or physics but I was pretty confident about my skills in art and I knew that there was something specific about the feeling that I had in going to this small art studio that was because of the things I was doing as well as the place that I was doing it in.

So studying architecture was always grounded in this idea for me of creating places that moved people emotionally.

It didn’t matter to me too much whether you loved it or hated it, although I would have preferred you loved it. But my goal was always to connect to people on an emotional level to find the right combination of materials and finishes space volumes and textures and all those other things that we have in our architects toolbox and how we moved through and experience space from a mind – body emotional perspective.

I think early on I developed an aesthetic mindset.

I seemed to have a high level of curiosity, a love of play and open-ended exploration, a keen sensory awareness and a drive to engage in activities as a maker or beholder.

Through my architecture studies at McGill University I discovered principles of experience rooted in ritual and that there was a very different physical and emotional feeling connected to participating in ritual versus simply watching them.

I was always very interested in how people participated in space. How they participated in the making of their experiences because I always believed that in making we brought something unique to the world that humans were capable of doing better than any other creatures on the planet.

I developed a keen interest in ontological design – basically put – that the things we make return the favor by in part making us who we are. Our neurobiology reacts to the environment around us and so our mind body state is directly influenced by what we experience in the built environment. Our brains are in a feedback loop of making and being made by experience.

The Irish poet John O’Donoghue once said “art is the essence of awareness” and I find that particularly relevant to how we experience the places that we build and how we interact with them.

What I learned as a young artist on Thursday afternoons was that somehow in the making of things I became acutely aware of my mind body state as well as my surroundings.

As I started to create and design retail places it seemed that everywhere I walked the world around me became more relevant I was tuning in to everything that I could see and hear. When in the middle of trying to solve a design challenge, I seemed to tune into things that might not have otherwise been apparent to me.

What I found interesting was that this attunement to the environment around me also grew a connection between my sensory experiences and my appreciation of art. As I engaged more fully in the environment around me and the various kinds of arts I also learned more about myself.

During the recent pandemic I turned to painting to help navigate the uncertainty and ambiguity of a global crisis that had left everything that I had believed to be true and a path that I had created for myself professionally in flux. Art it seemed became the grounding mechanism that calmed my nervous system that brought joy amidst uncertainty.

Over the past few decades as a creative architect I’ve become acutely aware that the environment around us has a profound effect on our mind body state, our sense of well-being, our feelings of joy, community, connection, belonging, relevance.

Being exposed to the arts provided context and meaning, a way for me to understand where I stood in the grand scheme of things. And art also gave me a sense of agency of being able to have a sense of control and to bring things into the world that had never been there before.

And so, because of all of these understandings I have a deep appreciation for the book recently published by Susan Magsamen and Ivy Ross called “Your Brain on Art: How the Arts Transform Us.”

This book is wildly successful because I believe it is a writing whose time has come. It brings forward the ideas that the arts are fundamental to who we are as people and that long before we had written language we danced around fires sang songs, made drawings on walls and shared the meaning of our lives with each other by being in community, in relationships, participating in rituals and making.

And so, it’s not surprising that the arts in all of its forms visual,  literary, dance, sculpture and others are part of who we are as individuals and as members of a broader human whole.

When I bought this book I thought that it would help me understand the neuroscience of what was happening in my brain as I stood in front of a painting. But it did more than that. It helped to unpack why I was led to feel certain ways about my experience of art in general including paintings, dance, musical theater, poetry, a good movie and a great book.

It was chock full of examples and great research on how the arts are used in healing practices and health care industry to augment patient recovery.

It looked at how the arts are being used in education, though not nearly enough, to enhance learning.

Your brain on Art also brought me greater understanding about making music and how memories are tied to our experiences of hearing music. That’s why it’s likely you can clearly remember tunes from your childhood and tag them to early childhood experiences. Or why your playlists from your high school years probably are still able to be recalled with ease. And why I can remember the high school dance and my girlfriend at the time and the song Lucky Man by Emerson Lake and Palmer and that kiss.

The book dives into understanding arts and the neurodivergent brain and play and how these are critical to our development.

And if all of that wasn’t quite enough it digs into the idea of how the arts support flourishing and asks the question – What constitutes a good life? I did not know that there is a burgeoning subfield of neuroscience and psychology now dedicated to identifying and understanding the neural mechanisms that contribute to a state of flourishing.

And Your Brain on Art brings to light some of the neuroscience related to creativity, awe and wonder.

Your Brain on Art is a collaborative effort between two remarkable women who together combine neuroscience and creative vision into a must-read book.

Susan Magsamen has over 35 years of experience in developing effective learning programs rooted in the science of learning and is an active member of the brain sciences research, arts, education and social impact communities.

She currently serves as Executive Director of the International Arts and Mind Lab, Center for Applied Neuroaesthetics at the Brain Science Institute at Johns Hopkins University where she is also a faculty member. She is also the senior advisor to the Science of Learning Institute at Johns Hopkins University. She works with both the public and private sectors using arts and culture evidence based approaches in areas including health, child development, workforce innovation, rehabilitation and social equity.

Ivy Ross is the Vice President of Design for the Hardware organization at Google. Over the past six years, she and her team have launched 50+ products winning over 240 global design awards. This collection of hardware established a new Google design aesthetic that is tactile, colorful, and bold.

She is a winner of a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and her innovative metal work in jewelry is in the permanent collections of 12 international museums.

Ivy has held executive positions ranging from head of product design and development to CMO and presidencies of several companies, including Calvin Klein, Swatch, Coach, Mattel, Bausch & Lomb, and Gap. Ninth on Fast Company’s list of the 100 Most Creative People in Business 2019, Ivy believes the intersection of arts and science is where the most engaging and creative ideas are found.



LinkedIn Profile:

Websites:    (personal website)  (Blog)


Twitter: DavidKepron

Personal Instagram:

NXTLVL Instagram:


David Kepron is a multifaceted creative professional with a deep curiosity to understand ‘why’, ‘what’s now’ and ‘what’s next’. He brings together his background as an architect, artist, educator, author, podcast host and builder to the making of meaningful and empathically-focused, community-centric customer connections at brand experience places around the globe.

David is a former VP – Global Design Strategies at Marriott International. While at Marriott, his focus was on the creation of compelling customer experiences within Marriott’s “Premium Distinctive” segment which included: Westin, Renaissance, Le Meridien, Autograph Collection, Tribute Portfolio, Design Hotels and Gaylord hotels.

In 2020 Kepron founded NXTLVL Experience Design, a strategy and design consultancy, where he combines his multidisciplinary approach to the creation of relevant brand engagements with his passion for social and cultural anthropology, neuroscience and emerging digital technologies.

As a frequently requested international speaker at corporate events and international conferences focusing on CX, digital transformation, retail, hospitality, emerging technology, David shares his expertise on subjects ranging from consumer behaviors and trends, brain science and buying behavior, store design and visual merchandising, hotel design and strategy as well as creativity and innovation. In his talks, David shares visionary ideas on how brand strategy, brain science and emerging technologies are changing guest expectations about relationships they want to have with brands and how companies can remain relevant in a digitally enabled marketplace.

David currently shares his experience and insight on various industry boards including: VMSD magazine’s Editorial Advisory Board, the Interactive Customer Experience Association, Sign Research Foundation’s Program Committee as well as the Center For Retail Transformation at George Mason University.

He has held teaching positions at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology (F.I.T.), the Department of Architecture & Interior Design of Drexel University in Philadelphia, the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising (L.I.M.) in New York, the International Academy of Merchandising and Design in Montreal and he served as the Director of the Visual Merchandising Department at LaSalle International Fashion School (L.I.F.S.) in Singapore.

In 2014 Kepron published his first book titled: “Retail (r)Evolution: Why Creating Right-Brain Stores Will Shape the Future of Shopping in a Digitally Driven World” and he is currently working on his second book to be published soon. David also writes a popular blog called “Brain Food” which is published monthly on


The next level experience design podcast is presented by VMSD magazine and SmartWork Media. It is hosted and executive produced by David Kepron. Our original music and audio production by Kano Sound. 

The content of this podcast is copyright to David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design. Any publication or rebroadcast of the content is prohibited without the expressed written consent of David Kepron and NXTLVL Experience Design.

Make sure to tune in for more NXTLVL “Dialogues on DATA: Design Architecture Technology and the Arts” wherever you find your favorite podcasts and make sure to visit and look for the tab for the NXTLVL Experience Design podcast there too.





Most Popular