A Cognitive Sciences Reading List for Designers

If you’ve ever done any contextual inquiry or usability testing, you’ve probably observed first hand the difference between what people say they will do and what they actually end up doing. Overlooked calls to action, bizarre navigation paths, mind-bogglingly irrational decisions — even the most sensible seeming users occasionally (or often) do things that “rationally” make little sense.

Which is to say that we all, on occasion (or often) do things that seem to make little rational sense.

And yet, on a day-to-day basis, this is how we successfully negotiate the complexities of our world. We use heuristics (aka rules-of-thumb) and limited information to make decisions about how we live our lives, and we do it continuously throughout the day — often without stopping to consider why we choose one thing over another ... continue reading

Language + Meaning + User Experience Architecture

There is an architectural concept called the “kitchen triangle” that I often use in talks and presentations. I use it to point out the difference between arguments and articulations of arguments. The gist of it is this: in order to create an effective kitchen, the sink, the stove and the refrigerator must each be placed no closer than 4 feet to each other, but no further than 9 feet apart. There must also be limited or no traffic through the center of the triangle.

In this example, the triangle is the argument: it presents a solution for how we use space to accomplish a task. It is based on the dimensions of the human body (the length of our arms, of our steps, of our ability to twist and pivot) and on the process of food preparation (which requires, among other things, that access to key areas not be disrupted by household traffic flows). ... continue reading