The common wisdom about intuition is that it emerges without conscious control. Psychology Today refers to our intuition about intuition (see what I did there?) as no less than a magical phenomenon.
Merriam Webster adds that it is knowing something without any proof or evidence. It is not exactly correct that we have no evidence, it is just that we don’t have a conscious link between the evidence and our intuition. Intuition emerges from a large volume of experience that aggregates and intermingles so that we don’t have a distinct memory of specific events but rather an amalgamation of them all together.
But what if we could be more methodical in our use of intuition? What if we can intentionally apply this process to our information processing? That is what is suggested in a new paper by Tonetto and Tamminen. They apply the idea to the design process, but we can think more generally as well.
In the cognitive sciences, intuition is described as a way of processing information based on automatic, affective and personal standards, but it is not the opposite of rationality. Designers generate solutions to daily issues, which forces them to make decisions that cannot be always understood rationally. Designing for experiences is a delicate practice in a rational perspective, since the designer’s interpretation on how to trigger particular experiences can be highly influenced by intuition.
The paper has a lot of background literature review on current theories of information processing and decision making, so it is a good primer if you are not familiar. They also present the concept of a design affordance. Just as a functional affordance is a signal on a product/system that triggers the capability in the user’s mind, a design affordance is a signal in the design space that triggers a design approach in the designer’s mind. When I did something similar with the idea of motivational affordances we got a lot of pushback in the comments. So I suppose that those of you who disagreed with that extension will disagree here too. But rather than getting bogged down in semantics, let’s move right into the idea of intentional intuition.
In order to be intentional about one’s intuition, it is important to develop one’s metacognitive skills. Intentional intuition draws from a similar idea that I raised here about System 3 thinking. If we are aware of how intuitions are formed and how they are evoked, we can concentrate on developing a set of useful amalgamated schema in our chosen field (such as design) and then bringing them up when needed. We can be aware of the cognitive heuristics that could lead us to think of the wrong schema (e.g. design solutions) and avoid mistakes. They suggest the availability heuristic and the representativeness heuristic as two prime candidates. They also mention self-reference bias for designers who are not effectively using persona-based design. Groupthink and premature commitment also get a mention.
The solutions that they recommend are clearly generalizable to other domains. We can design training programs that help practitioners (e.g. designers) learn the most diagnostic attributes of a problem space and which solution (e.g. design) approaches are most effective to solve that problem. We can teach them metaawareness of their personal biases and preferences and the cognitive control to overcome (or at least mitigate) them.
What do you think? Can we be more intentional in our use of intuition? In the design process or otherwise?
Also, what do you think about design affordances? Anyone who commented on the motivational affordances article, feel free to repeat your thoughts here.
Image credit: HCI for Peace