Mental Model Traps

Mental Model Traps result from an erroneous representation of how something works.

Information in the Age of ICT: the Guardian Newspaper 3 Little Pigs Ad

The 2012 Guardian newspaper ad really captures the flow of information in the age of ICT (Information Communication Technologies). The ad retells the story of the 3 little pigs, their houses, and the big bad wolf. It shows how stories change with spin and through propagation through social media: twitter, Facebook, email, etc. Well done!

Cultural Differences through Time

Bottle of Heroin (1890-1910) by Bayer, sold as a non-addictive substitute for morphine

There’s been a shift in our culture (at least in US) towards seeing medication as a sign of weakness from one of alleviation of suffering that predominated out society some 100 years ago. Some people I know are even proud of the fact that they’ve never taken a painkiller or were treated for cough. Stoicism became a virtue all in itself — “I’m a good person because I don’t take medicine, preferring to suffer the illness and/or the symptoms of the disease.” And it’s not just the patients that feel this way. Medical professionals routinely prescribe to the “complain 3 times” rule: their patients have to mention being in pain on multiple visits prior to getting a prescription that would deal with it. A friend told a story of a doctor visit during which he was told that “he didn’t want to appear to be complainer.” Several weeks later, he was having back surgery and remains in a wheelchair to this day, a decade later! How did we get here? This is a very complicated question, but it might help to examine how things use to be. Below are medications as they were packaged and sold all over America in the…

Design for Emotion, for Empowerment

Aimee Mullins legs collection

I use a cane to get around, a consequence of an unfortunate encounter with a taxi many years ago. I have many different canes (each heel size, for example, requires its own cane). All are cool. Some have animal carvings, some have silver, some have gold, some are complex in design, some are very Deco in style, and one has a sword (another a compass and a secret compartment). I get stopped on the street all the time — people love my canes and always comment. I was even told once that my limp is sexy — whatever… What I don’t have is an “old woman” cane — the kind you buy at a pharmacy. I’m just not that old, and plan never to be that old. I want funky, I want things that match my outfits and my moods. And I want them functional: the right hight, the right feel of the cane handle, the stability of the tip, the light weight, the structural security. I want it all and I want it sexy. Cane is a product — a very personal one. But most are stuck with poorly designed, boring, ugly, you-make-me-feel-like-an-invalid cane. Why? Aimee Mullins is a…

Intel i5 Core Commercial: When a company just doesn’t get it

Sometimes, a company just doesn’t get it: it’s not about what a product can theoretically do, but what it can do for the user. Intel has a history of making a particular type of commercials — “the power inside” commercials, I call them. Intel marketing people use the following mental model: people/men like muscle cars; people like powerful things; thus if we emphasize the power “on the inside” people would like our computers. And so their current commercials for Intel i5 Core look like this: So what’s wrong with this? It’s all about them, it’s not about me. I don’t care what’s inside the machine, I care what it can do for me. Or, more accurately, what I can do with it. It’s about my performance. Imagine going to a car lot and the car salesmen tells you: “It got huge pistons. I mean HUGE. You’ve got to see those pistons!” Perhaps some car buyers would get inspired by such language, but I bet most would find it puzzling. Why should I care? Does it drive well? What’s the performance like? Maneuverability? Intel’s commercials about its chips are just like a car manufacturer’s fetish remarks about pistons. Sure some would…

Socially Constructed Beliefs

American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) came out with a strong recommendation against the use of bumpers in cribs. The September 2007 issue of The Journal of Pediatrics examined deaths and injuries attributed to infant crib bumper pads: “Twenty-seven accidental deaths reported by medical examiners or coroners were attributed to bumper pads. The mechanism of death included suffocation and strangulation by bumper ties. Twenty-five nonfatal injuries were identified, and most consisted of minor contusions. All retail bumpers had hazardous properties.” AAP has finally announced that it is formally against bumpers. That certainly took a while. And, amazingly, the bumper pads are still for sale by all major baby room outfitters, and parents are still buying them and using them with their beloved offspring. Why? Why would parents knowingly endanger their children? This is an interesting case of Mental Model Traps, Mirroring Errors, and Cognitive Blindness. Mental Model Traps Let’s start by Mental Model Traps that parents fall into in this particular case. To do this, we need to back up in time a bit. The design of children’s beds had undergone considerable evolution over the last few centuries. Cribs used to be just large baskets with tightly woven sides. The weave…

Innovation 2.0

In my book on product design,, I talk about a shift from evolutionary product design to the current model of version numbering. There has been a murmur of disappointment this last week when Apple issued iPhone 4S instead of the expected iPhone 5. The new features of iPhone 4S are exciting, new, and unexpected (think Siri). So what’s the problem? Is it really that the version number is too low for our expectations? In the days of yore, no one has ever heard of version numbers. What hammer do you own? Is it version 1.0 or 5.0? Do you care? We have many different types of hammers in our garage, but we don’t think of them in terms of version numbers, rather we focus on what they were designed to help us do: hammer a nail in the wall; pull out a nail; tack in the a little staple in the floor boards; create a hammered copper art piece. Each task requires a different approach and a different tool. And each tool was carefully and systematically honed to perfection by thousands of years of human use: from stone hammers to our tools in the garage a continuous progression of…

The Cultural Context for Product Design

Nothing exists in isolation. Design divorced from the context in which the product is used is of little value to its audience. Cognitively, this makes sense—most designers agree that they have to consider the environment, culture, and situation as part of the process of developing a new product (or redesigning an old one). But practically, context and culture get little play in design meetings. This post is aimed at relieving some of designers’ mirroring errors—helping see alternate ways their products might be used in the real world. Enjoy! Cultural Difference in Car Use: livestock Cultural Difference in Car Use: large loads Cultural Difference in Bike Use: large loads Notice the little bike on the left… Cultural Difference: people movers