Department of Design

Curated by Timoni West.

Primarily focused on product design, technology, cognitive psychology, and the brain. Also—pretty pictures, sometimes moving.


Posts about psychology
October 3rd, 2014
Cultural imprinting is the mechanism whereby an ad, rather than trying to change our minds individually, instead changes the landscape of cultural meanings — which in turn changes how we are perceived by others when we use a product. Whether you drink Corona or Heineken or Budweiser “says” something about you. But you aren’t in control of that message; it just sits there, out in the world, having been imprinted on the broader culture by an ad campaign. It’s then up to you to decide whether you want to align yourself with it. Do you want to be seen as a “chill” person? Then bring Corona to a party.

Ads Don’t Work That Way | Melting Asphalt

Yes, yes, yes. In the end, we’re all motivated by identity: external and internal. This article nicely illustrates how identity ties into marketing and purchasing: it’s not the emotional manipulation that gets you, but the social implications.

Identity and motivation have been my key themes of 2014, it seems.

August 28th, 2014

Ever seen Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs? Forget about it. Marketers still learn it in school, but psychologists left it behind a long time ago.

There are 14 things that humans will always be motivated to gain or protect: Avoiding death, avoiding pain, air, water, food, homeostasis (bodily functions), sleep, sex, love, protection of children, status, affiliation, justice, and understanding each of those things better.

All of those things will have an audience — and trigger emotional responses to different degrees — but on the internet, Status, Affiliation, Justice, & Understanding are particularly useful because they are just ideas. They are also unlimited, and you can create them from scratch, for free.

August 22nd, 2014

Why has recognising the deep future been so difficult for humanity?

…The first, and most obvious reason, is simple human self-preoccupation. The line of evolution reaches us, and we find it hard to imagine it moving further. Hugely impressed with our own accomplishments, including those just listed, we give little thought to beings who might come after us or to ideas not yet a twinkle in evolution’s eye. There is also a more practical reason. Most human goals, including altruistic ones, rise or fall over the short period of a human lifetime. And although we might look back – even far back – with interest, perhaps to learn from our kind’s history, there is nothing in the far future that is similarly tied up with our goals. As a result, we haven’t developed the habits of mind necessary to consider it carefully.

August 19th, 2014

I study excellence, and I know that it doesn’t matter what domain a person who is excellent at what they do is in—there is always a meditative quality to their training and their performance. They may not train like you train at a monastery or at a retreat center, but certain qualities are there: right effort, wisdom, concentration, and faith or confidence.

I think we do ourselves a disservice when we predicate everything on this dualistic approach of sitting practice and then the rest of life. I think we’re limiting what meditation means. Dr. Dre says in one of his songs, “I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind”; whatever is on your mind, that’s your meditation.

August 13th, 2014
Sometimes I’ll get a call or email from someone five years after the last contact and I’ll think, oh right, I hated that person. But they would never have known, of course. Let’s see if I still hate them. Very often I find that I don’t. Or that I hated them for a dumb reason. Or that they were having a bad day.

How to Be Polite, by Paul Ford.

I was musing on this recently, reminded of a person I have met once or twice that I’ve mentally earmarked as ‘that asshole’. Yes, he was an asshole those few times I met him; yes, I heard bad things about him later from friends, too. But he’d be surprised to know a near-stranger has taken such a dim view of him.

So I wonder: are there people out there who think that about me? Innocent folks I was rude to, purposefully or not, who later heard anecdotal evidence to support their nascent opinion?

June 19th, 2014
Cooking is not for people who simply “want to cook” - you can do that on your own. Cooking is something for people who have mental problems, social problems, legal troubles, or any combination of the aforementioned. If you’re an adrenaline junkie, we’ve got a spot for you. If you’re a perfectionist who hates people? Come on in. If you despise bullshit that exists in most other working environments, give it a try. If you just like cooking, then think long and hard - it’s secondary to many other things that make a good cook, well, good.

cool_hand_luke, responding to I’ve always wanted to cook, but…, on Reddit.

May 21st, 2014
It’s the realization that persistently false beliefs stem from issues closely tied to our conception of self that prompted Nyhan and his colleagues to look at less traditional methods of rectifying misinformation. Rather than correcting or augmenting facts, they decided to target people’s beliefs about themselves. In a series of studies that they’ve just submitted for publication, the Dartmouth team approached false-belief correction from a self-affirmation angle, an approach that had previously been used for fighting prejudice and low self-esteem. The theory, pioneered by Claude Steele, suggests that, when people feel their sense of self threatened by the outside world, they are strongly motivated to correct the misperception, be it by reasoning away the inconsistency or by modifying their behavior. For example, when women are asked to state their gender before taking a math or science test, they end up performing worse than if no such statement appears, conforming their behavior to societal beliefs about female math-and-science ability. To address this so-called stereotype threat, Steele proposes an exercise in self-affirmation: either write down or say aloud positive moments from your past that reaffirm your sense of self and are related to the threat in question. Steele’s research suggests that affirmation makes people far more resilient and high performing, be it on an S.A.T., an I.Q. test, or at a book-club meeting.

Why Do People Persist in Believing Things That Just Aren’t True? : The New Yorker

Identity and belief has been my recent academic obsession. This article is a nicely lays out some key fundamentals.

May 12th, 2014
There seems to be a widespread presumption that writing is prescriptive (or proscriptive) rather than simply observational or meditative. Some people condemn or commend even memoirs and novels as though their purpose were to instruct or offer models. I suppose I can’t entirely fault readers for this misapprehension. Confident authority is an appropriate tone for straight reportage, but it’s become the default of columnists, essayists and bloggers, one that’s so reflexive that some of them seem to forget it’s a pose. To some extent this is a deformative effect of the space restrictions within which most of us work; in a thousand-word essay you can’t include every qualification or second thought that occurs to you or you’d expend your allotted space refuting your own argument instead of making it.

Tim Kreider: The Power of ‘I Don’t Know’, in the New York Times.

May 6th, 2014

Little is known about how discrimination against women and minorities manifests before individuals formally apply to organizations or how it varies within and between organizations.

We address this knowledge gap through an audit study in academia of over 6,500 professors at top U.S. universities drawn from 89 disciplines and 259 institutions…In our experiment, professors were contacted by fictional prospective students seeking to discuss research opportunities prior to applying to a doctoral program.

Names of students were randomly assigned to signal gender and race (Caucasian, Black, Hispanic, Indian, Chinese), but messages were otherwise identical.

We found that faculty ignored requests from women and minorities at a higher rate than requests from Caucasian males, particularly in higher-paying disciplines and private institutions.

April 16th, 2014

…In the decades that followed, Maltz’s work influenced nearly every major “self-help” professional from Zig Ziglar to Brian Tracy to Tony Robbins. And as more people recited Maltz’s story…people began to forget that he said “a minimum of about 21 days” and shortened it to, “It takes 21 days to form a new habit.”

…On average, it takes more than 2 months before a new behavior becomes automatic — 66 days to be exact. And how long it takes a new habit to form can vary widely depending on the behavior, the person, and the circumstances. In Lally’s study, it took anywhere from 18 days to 254 days for people to form a new habit.

(51) How Long Does it Actually Take to Form a New Habit, by James Clear

Good thing to keep in mind if you’re actively trying to change your behavior right now, and feel frustrated.

April 7th, 2014
If you feel defensive when talking about race with a woman of color or reading about race in a piece written by a woman of color, assume the other person is saying something especially true. That is: use your defensiveness as a Bat Signal, alerting you to your own biases. Sure, yes, of course, the other person may have said something insensitive or unreasonable. But if you want to change the dynamics of the world (reminder: you’re a feminist, so you do), assume your discomfort is telling you something about you, not about the other person. Then use those moments to listen more carefully.

Five Ways White Feminists Can Address Our Own Racism, by Sarah Milstein

Lovely piece full of practical advice. What Milstein’s talking about here is the confirmation bias, something that everyone has. The more aware you are that it exists, the easier it is to combat.

March 13th, 2014
I was just noticing that a professional acquaintance of mine just changed jobs for the third time in two years—going from startup to startup to startup without, ostensibly, accomplishing much at any of the companies. They certainly didn’t become huge successes. Yet, for some reason, everybody seems to think he’s really good at what he does. Why?

- - Who’s any good?

I think the answer to this question is: ‘he is really good at what he does, and his job does not directly involve making the company profitable.’ Either that, or he/she is great to work with—which, for most higher-level positions, is the same as being good at their job.

That being said, there is a certain bias assuming that one’s work can be judged by the companies they worked at. While it’s certainly not a bad indication, it’s always best to check out the portfolio —and go with your gut.

Peter maintains that telling lies is the No. 1 reason entrepreneurs fail. Not because telling lies makes you a bad person but because the act of lying plucks you from the present, preventing you from facing what is really going on in your world. Every time you overreport a metric, underreport a cost, are less than honest with a client or a member of your team, you create a false reality and you start living in it.

The Surprisingly Large Cost of Telling Small Lies

I post this because, particularly early on my career, I noticed a lot of number fudging on company presentations. I never saw the point of it: if things are bad, it’s time to consider change one’s focus or direction, not change the graph axis.

March 2nd, 2014
There’s 14 billion people in the world; how amazing would it be to get to know all of them, and to empathize with them so deeply that you could see the entire world the way they all see the world? Instead of our one subjective view of how we see reality, I could have 14 billion subjective views, and through that triangulation, really have almost a true objective view of reality.

Toughest Scene I Wrote: Spike Jonze on Her, in The Vulture.

The quote above is an earlier version of a line from Her, said by Samantha. It was cut: ‘too complicated’.

January 28th, 2014
I’ve often discussed with my partner, Erik, how interesting it is that I assume a personal baseline of insufficiency whereas he assumes a baseline of greatness. In each of our cases, there are deviations—there are days he feels less excellent, and there are days I feel more excellent. But our resting states are radically different. I wonder if my disposition is, by this point, simply too deeply embedded; I don’t know what “action steps” there are toward greater self-confidence.

Diana Kimball

This quote illustrates a variable that isn’t often discussed when people talk about meritocracy in the workplace, or (more importantly) address when product decisions are being made. When those people who have excellent ideas are naturally self-effacing, how does one make sure that their ideas get special attention? It’s easy to confuse a good idea with a good argument.