- We want ourselves
- We can build
- Few others see as worthwhile.
Psychology Press recently launched a Century of Knowledge in Cognitive Science, offering readers free online access to nearly 2000 titles for the month of June. Some of the titles will be useful to cognitive designers. For example, check out the practical insights in the areas of decision-making or anxiety, two major cognitive design challenges.
You get complete access to the book from your browser. Check them out and reply to this post with titles especially relevant for designers and innovators.
We watch a lot of movies. Collecting data on the movies we watch and how we react to them might provide some insights into preferences, mental models and psychological needs that are useful for cognitive designers.
So I am always on the look out for new studies on the psychology of films. For example, early this year, The Atlantic Magazine published an interesting article on How Netflix Reverse Engineers Hollywood. Through a combination of journalism and text mining the author claims to have discovered that Netflix uses nearly 77,000 genres to drive its recommendation engine. These place movies into extremely specific categories that represent a narrow but useful viewer psychographic. Some examples: Evil kid horror movies , visually striking nostalgic foreign dramas and gritty suspenseful revenge westerns. They also include a list of Netflix’s favorite movie subjects that include, at the very top of the list, movies about marriage and royalty.
Tagging (categorizing) all of these movies is a big investment for Netflix. They use a combination of human and machine intelligence to do the work. The article states:
“Using large teams of people specially trained to watch movies, Netflix deconstructed Hollywood. They paid people to watch films and tag them with all kinds of metadata. This process is so sophisticated and precise that taggers receive a 36-page training document that teaches them how to rate movies on their sexually suggestive content, goriness, romance levels, and even narrative elements like plot conclusiveness.”
This made me wonder if this would in fact be a great learning exercise for students of film. They could do the tagging work as a way to learn about films and at the same time generate a lot of commercially useful meta-data. I explore how this might work in general in my post on learning labor.
A systematic approach to cognitive design usually takes one of three forms: Look at what the science tells us, study design patterns that dazzle our brains or explore the implications of mind-intense philosophies or belief systems. My work has been focused on the first two approaches. After all, scientific insights into how minds actually work and products/services that push our emotional and intellectual buttons have proliferated wildly over the last 30 years. Behavioral economics, emotional design, serious games, neuromarketing and other areas have emerged as a result.
Over the years I have been challenged (usually by one of my students at Northwestern), to consider the third approach and explore how a particular mind-intense philosophy or belief system can inform cognitive design practices. Examples include Yoga, martial arts and religion. Such domains offer unique insights into cognition and promise powerful psychological experiences – for example alignment, clarity and faith – that are sought by millions.
Perhaps these ancient practices and sources of wisdom are just as rich of source of insights for cognitive designers as our modern sciences and marketing phenoms such as Harry Potter are.
Take Yoga for example. Yoga offers insight into the nature of specific types of mental states, how to achieve them and why they are important. This raises a number of interesting questions for cognitive designers:
How can yoga wisdom inspire the design of our products and services? Can it be used to inform employee and leadership development? How about the design of our workspaces and grounds? How does yoga fit in with your business ethics program?
A quick Google reveals clothes, jewelry, pottery, room interiors and other products and services that claim to be Yoga-inspired. And Yoga has clearly made some inroads into corporate wellness programs and retreats. But I suspect we have yet to really tap the design potential of Yoga to deliver unique think-and-feel experiences and improved cognitive performances into the mass market.
This belief was reinforced by a project I recently completed with Jamie and Maren Showkier to summarize their excellent book Yoga Wisdom at Work into a deck of NewHabits cards for the iPhone. The project gave me a small personal taste of the design potential Yoga wisdom holds. As the authors explain:
“Many people already know that yoga stretches and meditation can benefit them at work. This app centers on helping people create habits based on other yoga practices that strengthen ethics, self-discipline, focus, self-awareness, productivity, contentment, and taking individual accountability for the good of the whole.”
Several colleagues that have experimented with the deck asked: How can we combine design thinking with Yoga Wisdom? That is, how can we take a systematic yet creative approach to unleashing the insights Yoga has into the workings of our minds to reshape our products, services and organizations?
A question we will explore on the Cognitive Design Blog.
In cognitive design we spend a lot of time trying to understand what people are really thinking and feeling. We need to understand their mental models, cognitive biases and emotional states so that we can design products and services that meet deeply felt psychological needs. So I am always on the lookout for new scientific insights into how to read others peoples’ minds.
For example, the new book, Mindwise How we Decide What Others Think, Feel and Want, challenges some commonly held assumptions. More specifically, the author argues that popular techniques of reading gestures or body language and trying to put yourself in the other person’s shoes (imagine their situation) are not useful. Indeed, he argues that we are wildly over confident in our belief that we can know what other people are thinking and feeling.
While the book does not present an alternative for effective reading other minds, it will help you avoid some common pitfalls and provides justification for using the more scientific approaches (e.g. metaphor elicitation and protocol analysis) that we write about in the Cognitive Design Blog.
Let’s turn our corporate training/development efforts and university classrooms into learning communities that create structured content and computable knowledge with immediate economic and social value.
Imagine combining brain-computer interface technology, transcranial direct current stimulation, emotion sensors, eye tracking. other physiological sensors and augmented reality gear with interactive game play. What a brew for cognitive designers! Well that’s what you will get at the NeuroGaming conference and expo, May 7 -8 in San Francisco at the Metreon.
Using brain signals to control game play opens up many possibilities beyond entertainment. There are specific panels at the conference that will explore how neurogaming can accelerate wellness, learning and other cognitive functions.
Best of all you can go hands-on in the expo and experience:
* A brain controlled light and sound show
* Throwing trucks with your mind
* The latest brain wave reading headsets and devices
* Virtual reality and full immersion environments
* Haptic, motion and gesture control
* Neurocmodulators that electrically change brain states.
There is even a two day hackathon the weekend before the conference where you can design, build and show off your own neurogaming concepts.
I hope readers that attend will share their insights here on the Cognitive Design Blog.
So we all know that first impressions are created quickly and can be very hard or even possible to reverse. Most of the natural logic we use to form first impressions is unconscious and automatic. It can lead to some bad outcomes and may even sit at the center of our long-standing failure to make hiring and employee evaluation decisions well.
Given its importance in organizational decision-making and interaction, the natural logic of first-impressions is of concern to cognitive designers. That’s why I am always on the look-out for new scientific studies that offer actionable insights for innovators.
For example, several studies presented at the annual conference for the Society for Personality and Social Psychology offer insight into the natural logic of how we form first impressions using descriptive versus visual information, when searching for a romantic partner and through on-line or otherwise passive means. The results are summarized nicely in the blog post even facts will not change first impressions.
Of special interest is the study that compares the natural logic of how we form first-impressions in person versus more passively by watching a person, reviewing Facebook photos or watching a video tape. The researchers found:
“In all cases, the passive means of making impressions were as accurate as the active ones. “However, there is an extremely large difference in the positivity of impressions,” he says “More passive impressions are substantially more negative.”
Bottom line for designers: First impressions made passively (virtually) have a strong negative bias.
Perhaps we have an inherent and deep distrust of things we don’t experience first hand.
In one of my cognitive design workshops I have participants work with commercially available brain-computer interfaces and try to move an object on the computer screen with their mind. This frustrates most participants but for the 25% that can do it well it is a transformational experience. By relaxing or giving a thought command (e.g. “go up”), a mental state is translated into an action of the computer screen. Through trial and error they learn to adjust their mental states to get the desired outcome on the computer screen. For the first time a multi-media representation of an internal thought or feeling is used as a feedback signal to drive learning.
This simple exercise (when it works) demonstrates how the latest brain science can revolutionize our approach to learning, decision-making, creativity and other cognitive and mental performances.
This is basic neurofeedback but until you do it you lack the direct experience that is so valuable for excellence in design and innovation work.
Neurofeeback is not the only experience a cognitive designer needs. Others include plasticity, mirror neurons, cognitive illusions, magnetic stimulation, electrical stimulation (e.g. transcranial electric stimulation) and other forms of neuromodulation that are informed by the latest brain science. For readable review of some of the recent research check out Education and Neuroscience: An Expert Review on the ThInk blog.
While the promise that neuroscience holds for improving education and all brain-intense human activities is tremendous, progress has been slow and is likely to remain so. As one of the researchers points out:
“Realistically, on current trends, future development is likely to be slow, especially given the ethical and safety concerns”
One way to speed things up is to make creative use of approaches that have already proven to be safe and effective. That is why I spend my time creating experiences for designers and innovators. With simple brain computer interfaces, neuromodulators and magic kits we can already disclose new worlds.
Once seen there is no going back. Learning to move a cursor (or any object) with your mind is a gateway experience for would-be cognitive designers. How many design and innovation courses or programs offer that?