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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Free Access to World Class Cog Sci Books in June!

Tuesday, June 24th, 2014

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.



Considering a Yoga Design Experiment

Friday, April 25th, 2014

In cognitive design we seek insights into how minds work so that we can create features and functions that motivate, inspire, inform, entertain and otherwise deliver positive mental performances.

 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.


Good Designers Read Your Mind – But How?

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

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.


Will Baby Watson Trigger a Cognitive Revolution?

Monday, June 17th, 2013

Watson, IBM’s room-sized super computer that beat the world’s best human Jeopardy players in 2011 has given birth to a much smaller and more serious offspring.  According to Bending the Knowledge Curve with IBM  Watson, the new version is now just 9″ x 18″ x 36″ inches, weights about 100 pounds and is focused on answering questions in healthcare, finance, call centers and the government.

Will Watson reach and exceed top level human performance in these domains? There is reason to think so. For example, after just 18 months in healthcare, Watson is already showing promise towards completing a version of the US medical licensing exam. We could see big things in a 3-5 year time frame.

IBM believes success with Watson in multiple domains will trigger a new computing revolution, one focused on cognitive computing systems. Such systems will do for knowledge work what the early data oriented systems did for transactional work.  The goal is not to replace human experts but to vastly amplify their reach and effectiveness.   This is not an idle claim. Remember, you could consult with the current Watson and wipe out any other human player in the game of Jeopardy!

And IBM is not the only one that thinks technology is poised to bend the knowledge curve. McKinsey’s Global Research Institute calls Watson out as an example of one 12 technological disruptions (automation of knowledge work) that will transform life, business and the global economy.   They estimate a multi-trillion dollar global impact in 2025 by technologies that automate knowledge work.

What does this mean for cognitive designers?

We should see a wide range of new options for shifting the cognitive load of knowledge work from humans to machines.

To gain more insight check out the free chapter in the forthcoming book, Smart Machines: IBM’s Watson and the Era of Cognitive Computing.  The section, How Cognitive Systems Will Help Us Think, is especially relevant for cognitive designers.   It is also worth your time to watch IBM Watson: The Science Behind the Answer.  While this won’t make you an expert in deep analytics and natural language processing, it does give a good overview of the 4-steps the Watson uses to answer an open domain question. Something a computer has never been able to do before!


Innovate by Proposing Unexpected Meanings

Tuesday, November 6th, 2012

Roberto Verganti has some important insights into how innovation works for cognitive designers.  If you don’t know his work check out, Design Driven Innovation. He emphasizes innovations produced by changing the deep psychological and sociological meanings we attach to products and services rather than more traditional technology/capability or market driven innovation methods.  Examples include how Artemide reframed the meaning of lamps from something beautify that casts light into something that lifts your mood and makes you feel better. Likewise Sony’s Wii reframed playing video games into a full-body social experience. In both cases these new meanings were proposed to customers rather than crafted in response to perceived needs.

Creating new meaning is one route to psychological impact and is therefore very relevant for cognitive designers.   Instead of turning to a scientific understanding of how minds make meaning, Verganti focuses on the designers approach and stresses listening, interpretation and addressing.  I  especially like his discussion of design circles where a small group of like minded individuals work together and support each other to nurture truly innovative approaches.   To quote:

“Within this environment members are more likely to survive skepticism and criticism of the dominate culture. They realize they are not alone and they sustain each other in the early experiments through frustration and failure.”

An example of an innovation nurtured in a design circle is Slow Foods. Focused on small-scale sustainable food production (good, clean, fair food). the organization:

“….was founded in 1989 to counter the rise of fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interest in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes and how our food choices affect the rest of the world. “

Definitely a meaning-driven innovation.

What new and compelling meaning can you propose?


Top Quality Cognitive Design Resources for Free

Friday, August 10th, 2012

The Francis & Taylor publishing group offers many books and journals relevant to cognitive design.  Checkout their new digital catalog that provides easy access to their behavioral science journals including access to 100 free articles.

Interested in taking a cognitive design oriented class from a world class university and instructor? How about doing it online and for free? Check out these options from Coursera:

and more.

I am interested to hear from readers about other free (and top quality) resources for learning about cognitive design.


Design Contest: The Neuroscience of Pleasure

Monday, June 11th, 2012

The BrainArt project has a call out for submissions that use art and design to compellingly illustrate the neuroscience of pleasure.    They are looking for explorations or reactions to the theme “Life Pleasures & the Brain” cast in media that ranges from illustrations and digital art to sculptures or music and that are grounded in the neuroscience of the reward circuit and dopamine.

The contest includes a top prize of $5K, participation in an exhibit and other benefits.  Innovators keep the copyrights to their work the deadline is September 1, 2012.

This is a natural contest for cognitive designers as it seeks to translate the neuroscience and psychology of pleasure into the construction of an artifact. The reward circuit and attending cognitive psychology plays a fundamental role in savoring, wanting, liking, learning, habit formation and many aspects of motivation, decision-making and behavior.  If you are a bit rusty on the scientific background, I recommend  The Compass of Pleasure.  It is an easy read, provides nearly complete coverage and is current.

While this contest is more about art than design, there are several media categories of special interest to cognitive designers, most notably the one on communication design:

“Identify an opportunity, and envision a complete rethink, or new approach, to a campaign or consumer experience in relation to this year’s theme “Life Pleasures and the Brain”. Create an emotionally driven brand that is visionary and disruptive in its thinking. It’s about generating a journey that is unique, rational and that has the energy and drive to transform opinions and to allow people to make a deep connection which will in turn incite participation.”

Consider for example, designing an experience to ignite a movement to improve brain health, achieve positive behavior change or celebrate the existential pleasures of work.

Other media categories of interest to cognitive designers include the written word and space design.  Of course this contest is a great opportunity for cognitive designers to partner with artists or visual designers and compete in any of the 10 media categories.

Judges are looking for how well you communicate a concept with respect to the contest’s theme (life pleasures & the brain) but are most interested in unique personal experiences and expressions. That is where a lot of good design and art comes from.


Magic Reveals Insights for Cognitive Designers

Sunday, June 3rd, 2012

I’m often asked for good examples of cognitive design.  Some of the best are:

Powerball (multi-million dollar jackpot lottery tickets), Angry Birds (a mobile game), the Dom Zu Kohn (cathedral in Germany), your favorite piece of art, using the placebo effect to heal, pictures of cute baby animals, the alert tone on a cell phone and magic tricks you can’t see even after they are explained.

The success of all of these artifacts turns on the fact that they generate far  more mental energy than it takes to interact with them. They deliver a powerful think-and-feel experience because features and functions are optimized for how our minds actually work.  Said another way, they reveal the secret sauce for how to design for psychological impact . They are a laboratory for applied cognitive scientists and a potential design pattern for innovators.

 So far our attempts at applying the lessons learn from these artifacts to other design problems has seen little success.   For example, serious games (i.e. application of game mechanics to education, health and and business) have yet to produce a block buster and lottery-based savings products have yet to make a dent in our need to prepare for retirement.

Cognitive design needs to mature.  One strategy is to get much better at translating the results of cognitive science and engineering into innovations that authentically move our hearts and accelerate our minds.  What we need are scientific studies of artifacts with high cognitive impact that are specific enough to offer design insights. For example, actionable research on the visual neuroscience of magic has come out of the Barrow Neurological Institute. In a recent press release they shared these  findings:

“The researchers discovered that curved motion engaged smooth pursuit eye movements (in which the eye follows a moving object smoothly), whereas straight motion led to saccadic eye movements (in which the eye jumps from one point of interest to another).”

“They studied a popular coin-vanishing trick, in which King tosses a coin up and down in his right hand before “tossing” it to his left hand, where it subsequently disappears. In reality, the magician only simulates tossing the coin to the left hand, an implied motion that essentially tricks the neurons into responding as they would have if the coin had actually been thrown. “

These have very specific implications for designers.  For a deeper dive into the neuroscience behind magic check out Sleights of Mind and the Best Illusions of the Year Contest.

It is interesting to note that magic was developed through experimentation and tradecraft.  Neuroscience is trying to catch up but once it does we should see a new type of magic emerge. The same it true for games, art and much of architecture, marketing, education and entertainment. Tradecraft trumps science’s ability to generate breathtaking think-and-feel experiences but for how long?


The Psychology of New Media’s Influence

Thursday, February 9th, 2012

The best communications and media turn on excellence in cognitive design. So I am always on the look out for scientifically grounded work on the psychology of advertising, marketing and new media.  One very useful source for designers is Media Effects. Also just read an announcement that a new version of  The Psychology of Entertainment Media has been released.

I am reviewing these materials and looking for others to include in my cognitive design class for the Summer of 2012 at Northwestern.   Interested to hear from readers that have good design-oriented references on the psychology of new media.


Progress Can Trigger Relapse in Behavior Change

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

Sometimes progress and success messes things up.   For example,  demand for a start-ups product or service grows so fast they cannot meet it. Quality slips and promised delivery dates are missed.  Or a successful company becomes complacent and arrogant because they dominate the market and starts making mistakes.

According to an interesting post by Dr. McGonigal on her Science of Willpower Blog, this can happen during the behavior change process. As we make progress our executive function exerting the self control becomes satisfied and our impulse for the old behavior can kick in. Focusing on the progress we have made actually sets us up for a relapse.  Indeed, celebrating success, the way we traditionally do with a minor indulgence, may be the worse thing to do.

What to do? One way is to reframe what progress means so it maintains emphasis on the executive function of self-control:

“Progress can be motivating, and even inspire future self-control, but only if you view your actions as evidence that that you are committed to your goal. You need to look at what you have done and conclude that you must really care about your goal. So much so, that you want to do even more to reach to it. This perspective is easy to adopt; it’s just not our usual mindset. More typically, we look for the reason to stop.”

The goal is to reflect on the why or reason for your self-control, not just the accomplishment.  Using your accomplishment to stay focused on the psychology of commitment avoids success-related relapse.

Clearly a good insight into how  minds actually work and it is actionable enough for cognitive designers working on behavior change challenges.  The post in the Willpower Blog is sneak preview of one of the chapters in Dr. McGonigal’s  new book,  The Willpower Instinct.  I have it on pre-0rder and will do a review.