One of my all time favorite films – Rob Reiner’s timeless Princess Bride (1987) – has many memorable lines. One of my favorites is the title of this blog post. The group’s leader, Vizzini (Played by Wallace Shawn) is a the self proclaimed ‘brilliant’ Sicilian. He keeps exclaiming “inconceivable” whenever something happens that he didn’t expect. Finally master swordsman Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin) says “You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.” The same thing can be said of many descriptions of consumer products as “ergonomic.”
By what I think is coincidence, I came across many examples of design that have as part of their missions to help users either develop a stronger self-identity or display and reinforce the identity they have. I am a huge proponent of using identity resonance as a design tool, so I really enjoyed selecting a few good examples for this article.
That’s why the Lottie Doll looks, well, just like a typical nine-year-old girl. She doesn’t wear makeup, high heels or jewellery, she’s ethnically diverse with tactile hair and clothes, and she can stand on her own two feet. Lottie is feisty. She occasionally makes mistakes. She loves adventure and the outdoors. She has a wild imagination – just like a real child. Even her clothes are made to get dirty.
I came across this design case by Edward Wilson from Aymmetrica Labs and it got me thinking. He makes a convincing pitch about how to craft an engaging and convincing narrative around a product design. But the description is clearly of a deceptive approach, what seems to me like an example of black hat design.
In the past I spent far too long trying to sell people on excellent, but complicated, unintuitive, unfamiliar narratives. I competed with others who offered the same stuff I did but they dumbed it down, they made it less effective, but they made it easier to understand. The other guys always won. It took a while (15 years) but now I get it. My job is to take the excellent content I am working with and try to make it intuitive, obvious, and familiar. If I don’t make it intuitive, obvious, and familiar, I won’t have an audience.
Mindfulness. It seems to be the holy grail for everything these days. From productivity improvement to psychotherapy. It also seems to be something we are not particularly good at, as this episode of South Park hilariously illustrates (skip forward to minute 10). A 2010 study by Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert found that we are mentally absent for half of our waking hours.
In Howard Rheingold’s 1993 book Virtual Communities, one of the earliest works to chronicle the reality of life online, he laid out two rules for the coming age: “Rule Number One is to pay attention. Rule Number Two might be: attention is a limited resource, so pay attention to where you pay attention.”
Last month, there was a piece that caught my eye because of its implications for user experience. They highlight the great convenience of the packaging on this delicious looking meal of spaghetti with basil and buffalo mozzarella. We have spoken before about why convenience is such a powerful feature. It is amazing how much we will give up in product functionality and efficiency for a little bit of convenience. Face it, we are lazy.
To hold up to the hustle and bustle of New York streets, owner Emanuele Attala and his partners developed a sturdy, no-spill carrier with a lid. The curved sides help guide the strands of spaghetti around the fork, facilitating twirling and lessening the risk of losing even a single caper on the ground, Attala says.
Defining curiosity is the first challenge because so many experts from the fields of education, philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience define it differently. The simplest, and the one that I personally prefer, is the one used by Celeste Kidd and Benjamin Hayden at the U of Rochester “a drive state for information.” This is independent of any tangible reward. The information is the desired reward.
Philosopher Thomas Hobbes called it “the lust of the mind.” Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt said it was “the most useful gift.” And, yes, we all know what killed the cat. But ask a group of scientists to define curiosity and you’ll get a rousing debate, and a lot of unanswered questions about its biology. No more, argue two University of Rochester researchers in a review of curiosity science published November 4 in Neuron. They propose that it’s time for researchers to organize and focus on curiosity’s function, evolution, mechanism, and development.
This is a great example of affective design. For the unfamiliar, affective design is the integration of emotional considerations into user experience design. It can go in two directions:
- Using biometrics or facial recognition to model the user’s emotional state and to customize the UX accordingly. For example we know that users who are angry have narrower scope of attention so we can provide more salient cues for peripheral indicators.
- Using design techniques that intentionally induce a particular emotion in a user to evoke a behavior associated with that emotion. For example we can use design patterns that are associated with anger if we want to narrow the user’s attentional scope.
The secret of success, they believe, is not just to devise furnishings that will do what they are told, but to give them personalities, convincing their owners that communication with them is a two-way process
If you haven’t seen it, Don Norman co-wrote an article in Fast Company decrying the collapse of Apple’s commitment to usable design. Then Anthony Franco (from UX Magazine) pilloried him in a Pulse piece on LinkedIn.
No more. Now, although the products are indeed even more beautiful than before, that beauty has come at a great price. Gone are the fundamental principles of good design: discoverability, feedback, recovery, and so on. Instead, Apple has, in striving for beauty, created fonts that are so small or thin, coupled with low contrast, that they are difficult or impossible for many people with normal vision to read. We have obscure gestures that are beyond even the developer’s ability to remember. We have great features that most people don’t realize exist.
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.
Sanjay Batra brought up a fantastic example of inclusive design during the Accessibility Panel at the HFES Annual Meeting this year. For someone who is visually impaired, it is very hard to judge if their meat is sufficiently cooked. Because of the health risks of undercooked meat, this is both a perception challenge and a high anxiety context.