Cognitive Blindness

Inability to really know how others think and how their cognitive processes are different from our own.

Using Positive Emotion to Change Behavior

Games can be used to change our behavior — make something fun, and we are likely to do it again and again. Psychologists call is positive reinforcement. Pleasure triggers our amygdalas — makes us make strong neural connections between the activity and positive emotion. Thrills are memorable and we seeks them out in our daily lives. Here are two examples of using fun to change people’s behavior, to make us do something we ordinarily don’t particularly want to: climb stairs and recycle. November 17th Update A fellow member of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES), David Watts, recommended the following:

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…

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

Community of Practice and Knowledge Propagation Circle

This summer my family and I travelled to Rome. While the temperatures didn’t reach the usual astronomic heights, it was rather warm. But we, and other visitors, didn’t have to worry about thirst. Rome has the best network of public drinking fountains that I have ever seen. Every few blocks, there’s a beautifully-designed basin with a spigot of continuously running water (I know, being from California, the never-ending stream made us very uncomfortable, too). There are two bits of information that have to be passed on to the first-time visitors of Rome: the water is potable—safe to drink, and how to use the fountain—there’s a bit of a trick to them. Above is my son demonstrating a little secret interaction. There’s a small hole on the top of the pipe that can serve as drinking fountain if the main hole at the end is plugged up (with a finger). While we learned about the great drinking water in Rome from many traveling guides (books, online sites, etc.), we obviously didn’t know about the trick until we watched a pro do it. Knowledge Propagation Circle Information propagates through communities. When we first encounter a novel bit of data, it tends to…

Lost in Translation: Cultural Differences in Advertising

“Lost in Translation” was a wonderful movie by Sofia Coppola, starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. It depicted the delicious confusion of Western tourists in total Japanese cultural emersion. In particular, the scenes where Bill Murray shoots a liquor commercial for the Japanese market are simply priceless. In retrospect, I see where Ms. Coppola got her ideas. Her cousin, Nicholas Cage, have been making wonderfully odd (to our sensibilities) commercials for years. He clearly had stories to share. Here are a few of his gems, courtesy the World Wide Web: and But it’s not only Japan that surprises our/my cultural biases. This morning, my husband and I went to a local grocery store in Rome, Italy. In the cheese section, there was a little paper bottle of parmesan cheese with a mouse of the package. The mouse didn’t work for me at all! So much for cultural differences. Here’s a small collection of ads for McDonalds from all over the world. Please compare it to the packaging and menus for this restaurant chain that I’ve posted here in the past: “Cultural World Domination”. Notice all of the anchoring errors, metaphor mistakes, cultural biases, mirroring errors, and general cognitive and cultural…

Empathy on the Brain

Empathy is a necessary component of product design. To design and make something that is comfortable to use for someone else, requires the maker of the product to imagine how another human being would feel while using it. This is a hard thing to do. Medical students have to take “bed side manners” classes that explicitly teach empathy for the patient. Some design schools do the same (check out this video in Product Design Resources). Fortunately, humans come equipped with a special region in the brain whose job it is to help us see the world from another’s point of view. Here’s a short introduction by Rebecca Saxe, “How we read each other’s minds.” So when we go to the movies, we relate to the characters and feel what they feel, and cry when they are sad, and laugh when they are happy, and cringe when things get awkward, because we have the Right TPJ (or RTPJ) region in our brain just behind and above our right ear. We aren’t born ready to use this part of our brain, as the experiments described by Dr. Saxe in the video show. It takes a long time for this social problem solving…