Cognitive Design Overview
In this blog we will explore how recent ideas in cognitive science can be used to develop new products, services and organizations that enhance how we think and feel.
We want exciting, beautiful, easy-to-use things. We ask our artifacts (anything that is designed) to make us smarter, reflect our values, invoke the respect and admiration of others and involve our friends and family when appropriate. We want all of this on top of whatever it is they are suppose to do.
The basic functionality of any artifact is now table stakes. What designers must do is go beyond the basics and deliver the aesthetic, emotional, experiential, profound and even transformational. We must make the ordinary extraordinary in an authentic way. In many respects, that has always been the goal of design and exceptional designers achieve it (somehow) everyday.
But it goes beyond that.
There are things that we design that fail to achieve their intended purpose because they don’t reflect sufficient understanding of how the mind works. And the consequence can be dire. Take for example weight loss or chronic disease management programs that are designed to change our behaviors but fail to do so. The cost of that design failure is very high.
Over the last two decades there has been an explosion in what we know about how the minds works. Significant advances in the neuro and cognitive sciences and a wide range of emerging high-potential fields including neuroeconomics, cognitive ergonomics, behavioral finance, augmented cognition and others promise to provide the principles, models and tools needed to systematically design artifacts that not only support cognition but actually make it better.
Cognitive design seeks to paternalistically harness these insights and translate them into improved products, services, change programs, workflow, organizational designs, workspaces and any other artifact that impacts how we think and feel. Cognitive design, like human factors, interactive design and most other modern design movements looks to put the latest findings from the human sciences to work. But it goes further than that.
It goes further by insisting that the scope and orientation of the design problem itself must change. The central idea is in fact somewhat radical:
We need a new design stance that says we are not just designing the functionality of the artifact but we are also designing the mental states of the user.
In this sense the mental functioning and states of the end user are ever bit as much a part of the design problem and specification as are the more traditional considerations of feature, function and form. We seek to break down the distinction between an artifact and the user’s reaction to it by including both as the “thing to be designed”. Now it is feature, function, form and mental state. The fact that we have the science and soon the practice to do this is both exciting and worrisome.
We will cover both the promise and the peril (ethical considerations) of cognitive design in this blog.