Tag Archive for anxiety

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…

Knowledge, Context, & Expectation

These are three necessary components of any product design: Knowledge: the background information that forms the foundation of product design Context: the ecosystem in which the product will be used Expectation: the alignment of goals between product creators and the users for which it was designed A failure to fully understand any of the above variables results in errors that propagate throughout the product system. But what if the product is disaster preparedness? Consider the design of an evacuation plan ahead of a disaster. You would need to understand the what kinds of damage the disaster is capable of wrecking; the probabilities for each outcome; the people and the ecosystem in which the disaster will occur; and expectations of all the participants in the evacuation plans. Tsunami and The Zoo A few years ago, I was teaching a fifth grade science class where we were discussing the possible damage from a tsunami in San Francisco (we just visited the Bay Model). The problem I posed to the students was to design a reasonable evacuation plan for The San Francisco Zoo animals. The Zoo lies on the tsunami flood plane, and as far as we knew there was no plan for…

Bullying in a Workplace

On Valentine’s Day, February 14 2011, New York Times ran an article “Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying” by Tara Parker-Pope—recent research shows interesting patterns in bullying and victimhood distribution in the school student body. As I was reading the article, I realized that much of what is being described there had a direct parallel in a workplace. I don’t have the data to back this up, but I had personal experiences giving me some anecdotal evidence. Perhaps you have had similar experiences as well (academia is ripe with them). To make my point I’ll quote part of the article below and use bold on text that I’ve replaced in the article: students to co-workers; student body to employees, and so on. Enjoy! Web of Popularity, Achieved by Bullying By TARA PARKER-POPE For many employees navigating the social challenges of a workplace, the ultimate goal is to become part of the “popular” crowd. But new research suggests that the road to workplace popularity can be treacherous, and that employees near the top of the social hierarchy are often both perpetrators and victims of aggressive behavior involving their peers. The latest findings, being published this month in The American Sociological Review,…

Multitasking Myth

I’ve been noticing a lot of praise and demand for mutlitaskers: “We are looking for a talented individual who is [insert a laundry list of qualifications here] and is also a great multitasker!” or “Women are naturally better at multitasking.” or “Not only is he gifted, but he is able to work on all these projects simultaneously. If only we had a dozen more just like him!” (—probably just to get anything done!) The interesting aspect of this increased demand for multitasking is the rise of ADHD diagnosis. So I thought it would be an interesting exercise to pin down what exactly is being praised and diagnosed. A Curious Case of ADHD Let’s start with formal diagnostic criteria for ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). What are the symptoms of ADHD? Below is a list of attributes that is adapted from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 4th ed. (DSM-IV). When you read this list the first time, imagine an eight year old boy trapped in an elementary classroom. On the second reading, consider an 80-year-old woman in a nursing home. On the third, visualize a soldier just back from Afghanistan. And finally, when you read the list for…

Cultural Differences or Child Abuse?

Sometimes, it’s in the eye of the beholder. Consider the images below: Is this child being physically tortured? The little girl is the photo is about 5 or so. The temperature of the air around her seems to be about the same: 5 F°. The temperature of the water is below freezing. The child is freaking out and is in serious danger of hyperthermia. So how do we judge the adults in this photo? The winter-coated men dunking the girl into the ice-cold water think they are doing good by this child! This is the right of Epiphany–a religious act meant to help the girl. How do we evaluate the social value of such act from the comfort and warmth of our computer lit rooms? How do you feel about this photo? If you’re not sure yet, follow this link: http://video.mail.ru/mail/mimozachina/2688/2690.html My personal feeling is that if zoo keepers saw this kind of behavior in the primate house, the baby ape would have been taken away due to its mother’s lack of parenting skills. But then again, I’m just imposing my cultural views and norms on someone else…or am I? The Call of Mother Tigers, Mother Grizzlies, Mother Dolphins… There…

Alternative Medicine, Placebos, and Rasputin

In the last few weeks there has been several articles and studies published on the effectiveness of alternative medicines and placebos: “Placebos Help Patients Even Without Faking It, Scientists Say“; “Sugar Pills Help, Even When Patients are Aware of Them“; and “Alternative remedies ‘dangerous’ for kids says report“; “Doctors warn over homeopathic ‘vaccines’“. The gist of these beliefs derives from several factors: People Tend to Get Better: most of us get well over time even without medical intervention. Colds pass; flues do too. Most infections heal with time without the aid of antibiotics. Evolution have provided the human race with a great immune system. Medicine helps, we get better faster with treatment. But in most cases, we survive. So when you hear someone recommend an alternative medicine and predict that a cold will go away in three days, chances are you will get better. And over time, we the people develop p-prims (folksy wisdoms) that link health with alternative tratments. “Natural Chemicals” p-Prims: there is a strong belief among industrialized societies, at the present time, that “natural” is better for us than “artificial”. There are many sources of this belief, too many to cover in this short article. And somehow,…

TSA: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

There has been a lot of stories lately about the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), and most have been less than flattering (to say the least). How can an agency that was designed to “serve and protect” the citizens of the United States from harm evoke such wrath from ordinarily shy and non-vocal travelers? This blog is about product design, and so my analysis of the situation will treat this as a failure of product design. Where are the failures? Mistake #1 TSA Conceptual Design: Blocking There are bad guys out there that want to do us—citizen travelers from US—harm. There are the box-cutter carrying terrorists, the shoe-bombers, the liquid explosives bandits, the underwear-bombers, the printer cartridge explosives engineers. TSA installed airport security measures that would counteract each of these threats as they revealed themselves. The basic conceptual design strategy here is blocking: identify a threat and find an effective block. This is a strategy based on hindsight: if we knew that people could sneak bombs in their underwear, then we would have had a way to block it. We didn’t know, but now we do, and so we created systems to block this threat in the future. TSA Game Plan: Escalating…