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Nov 03, 2016

Why some designs are better than others, and what can you do about it

Michael Hendrix

About this video


If you've ever described a poster as heavy, a website as dense, an app as clumsy or an object as whimsical, you probably already know the answer. Recent psychology research is showing that experiential metaphors are key emotional drivers that impact our perception of the world. Applying these findings to design confirms what designers have learned throughout their careers—good design is subconscious first and rational second. Michael shares stories from this research and the IDEO portfolio, along with tools to help you be more consciously subconscious.


Michael Hendrix

how is everyone I know you're near the end of the conference and um you got David

Carson next is that right it's pretty awesome all right um I'll I'll try to make this uh interesting so you stay

awake and know it's tough this time of day so why some designs are better than others

and what you can do about it so you know uh design thinking is uh

something AIO is known for at this point and and normally when we do talks we

talk about the methodologies you know the the process we go through our you know prototyping and failing quickly

that sort of thing um I'm not going to talk about any of that today I'm going to give you um the other side of design

thinking which is the sensibilities side all right so hopefully gotten a lot of methodology talks you know over the last

few days or you've read books um this is the thing I don't think any everyone talks about so the methods are really

awesome for uh telling you what and why you should make something right and and so

you go through that Discovery process of working with uh people understanding their needs defining those needs um

identifying different Technologies or business models to meet those needs and you kind of figure out what you need to

make right but then once you figure out what to make you still have to make it right and

that's the how side of it and and this is the I think the hard thing that uh

most companies can't figure it out yet is like the how side of design thinking now thankfully since I'm I'm assuming

most of you are designers the how actually comes naturally to you um and so I want to dig into today is how to

talk about it all right it's going to give you some tests and I'm going to see how you guys really are at this all

right there's two chairs on the screen I think one design is better than

the other design I want to know which one do you think is better A or

B it's consensus all right we're going to try another another one

here whoa A or B

B now what why is that why are you guys all agreeing we had do we have coffee mug

experts in the room all right this is going to be

harder I don't know it sounds split I I'm I'm personally divided on

this one too to say actually I have a whole presentation on these posters from 1968 to

present they they for some reason actually I don't know why I explain it in the talk but they coincide with

protest movements and National crisis all right all right how about

these Rebels all right we'll talk about this

more so I I think in this room anyway there's an intuition about what is good

and what is not good right and it's things we've honed through our careers I I would say it comes naturally to most

of us um but to be able to explain it is a whole another ball game right um and

so I have struggled with that during my career like how do I how do I help persuade a client or even a colleague

that one particular design is better than another particular design you know and you get into this this uh world of

subjectivity where you're you're actually you know the worst thing you wouldn't want to hear in a in a crit

would be well it's just your opinion right that's that's probably the that's it's all over at that point you can't go

anywhere or on the flip side I I remember at different points early in my career I would have you know present

something and I might have you know the the client say well I have a cousin who's a graphic designer and he looked

at your work and said it wasn't that good you know and you should do this instead so

um it's bothered me for a long time and so I started to try to find a way to talk about the sensibilities of

design and I came across Ross George Nelson who knows George Nelson great I can teach you something

all right so George Nelson uh he's a iconic mid-century designer actually he

was the creative director for Herman Miller whom you probably do know and he's the guy that actually ended up

hiring all those great designers at Herman Miller like saronin and Ian and

um but he he actually had a career as a Furniture designer an industrial designer and a graphic designer

and he was hired by the US government in n in the I guess 1977 it was to create a

manual to help government employees see the world uh better and

design more beautiful things that's kind of hard to believe isn't it um I it it

blows my mind that that was actually um commissioned and approved by Congress but I love it so he went on this mission

to to help create visual liter literacy and try to try to help people learn good

taste right and he wrote a whole book about it it started out as a government man manual then it got released as this

book how to see um so his premise was that if

Government and ultimately Society could learn to see

better it would be a happier world to be a more beautiful place um and it might even lead to peace

and social Joy all right so that's kind of kind of a crazy idea but that was his idea that

and he really believed in it so he suggested things he he I I believe he was actually the guy that came up with

this term visual pollution so he brought this into the to the discussion around

design and around Urban environments he pointed out that all the power lines are

actually causing some kind of internal friction a subconscious friction that

people don't people aren't aware of but are having their worlds colored um and he gave examples of you

know photographic examples showing you know one neighborhood in one state and one neighborhood in the other he talked

about uh typography and the personalities of typography this is a little test in the

book now the test I gave you earlier was harder but I know you would all pass this test right match the capital S with

the rest of the the mass head would anybody here fail that because anyone not see the difference

all right in 1977 people could not see the difference world we know we've we've

all improved um so he's trying to teach people how to see he's trying to teach

government employees how to see um but if you read the book and you get to the end of the book he says you

know I titled it how to see but honestly it's how I see and I don't have any evidence for

I'm just an awesome designer believeing so it kind of like I was with

them all the way to the end I was like yes yes yes and then there it is again who knows all right so I'm pleased to tell

you that after 40 years there's actually science starting to help back this up to

back up his book or to back up your opinion about the coffee mug all right I started I started

noticing these tests a couple years ago that were showing up in the news just stories in the newspaper um there were psychology test

so there was this one uh two professors one from Hong Kong and one from Colorado work together and they found out that

when we rent uh we rent more romance movies when it's cold outside so they uh what they figured out

is that there was this feeling there was emotional warmth when we were physically cold right we were trying to we were

actually reaching for something to make us feel Cozier and feel warmer when we

were actually cold um so what they said is basically your brain is equating the two same the

same things your body understands them differently but your mind is equating warmth in the same way whether it's

emotional or physical and then I read this other this other um study from Yale and it was also

about temperature and said researchers found that momentarily holding a cup of uh warm coffee or tea causes us to judge

people as more generous or warm and the opposite is true and the

way they tested that is um they just had photos of people uh you know

unidentified people standing with a relaxed face and when people had the

warm cup they thought those people were kind of friendly nice and when people had the cold ice water they thought those people were kind of stand offish

it was the same photo same photo kind of wild and then then I read this study all

right so this was at the univ University of Amsterdam so there was two sets of

workers they were both given the same task and while they were doing that task they were both given

clipboards all right but one group had heavier clipboards than the other group and the group that had the heavy

clipboards took their job more seriously than the group that had the light clipboards it was the same job but the

weight the weight of that clipboard made the job more serious and you might be

queuing in on a few metaphors now right when we say something is weighty or

heavy we mean it's important right why is that

why did that why did we decide that was the way we talked about importance all right

so what's interesting these studies and more and there's lots of them now I'll mention more throughout this they're

pointing at this idea that metaphor is evidence of a link between our five senses and our

emotions all right now I had you know metaphor is something we all live with you learn about it in school not a

simile they're different um but I never thought of it as a design tool or a way to talk about

design all right so this really interested me and I'll tell you why because I've used metaphor to describe

my designs my whole career right haven't you you ever talk about like you talk

about a poster being uh aggressive that's aggressive typography on that

poster you know or you talk about um wow that

that um that photo set we created that was really humble I really like the way that that looked right those are those

are words we use or we'll talk we'll talk about a type face you and we'll say well that's a really friendly type face

that's a really welcoming type face or that's a very serious type face so those things queued for me and

then um I ran into this other interesting

body of work so during the same decade that Nel was writing how to see there was a debate

about the development of language between Nome Chomsky and George Lov so you may know gome chopski is famous

linguist LOF was one of his students the core of their debate was whether or not language developed independently of

experience and they argued about this for 15 years if you can believe that 15

years academic argument does language H is language intrinsic to humanity or is

language developed through the experience of of humanity and after 15 years Lov had

enough evidence to say actually it's from the experience of humanity all right and he wrote this book called

metaphors we live by and he published it in 1980 all right so it showed how language

is based on this visceral experience um it's not a disembodied

reasoning that's produced language is actually the physical body in the world that has produced language and created

the way we communicate with one another metaphor is the most elegant way of

explaining that and so when the two clicked for me I just wrote him I wrote George Loff and said iy I have this

Theory then that we could be talking about design through this

metaphorical uh knowledge that you've learned through your science and he said yes that's true that would be a very

reasonable um hypothesis and I was like yeah that's awesome I'm going to really

dive into this this is what got me started on this path of like I I think I finally started to see that there might be some scientific basis for how we talk

about design but then there's back to you know

that's my Saturday weekend thing back to being at work right so when you're at work I pretty much ra

rational thinking and rational justification is the only thing that people respect right they want numbers

they want hard facts um and it's reasonable there's a lot of money on the line right and and money doesn't lie

so that's the general expectation people have but I think there's a there's a

cartisian trap in that idea and this is Renee Dart who created the cartisian

Trap um the cartisian Trap is the body and the mind are separate and that the

rationale that you have is somehow disembodied from the rest of your experience right and that's what he said

the the mind I am I am my mind the truth though is our subconscious is

informing all kinds of things that we understand about the world all our perceptions all the way we communicate

the way we understand and that's influenced turns out by our bodies right our Sensations

our five senses that is coloring some scientists say

97% of our understanding all right so there's a deep unspoken appeal of design

that is not rational it's absolutely sensorial it's visceral it's subconscious and

uh this is where lovf came back into it so lovf was struggling he said he had he

had created a circumstantial body of work that said language was invented through these experiential metaphors but

then he got into brain scans because he wanted he want ironically he needed empirical evidence

to prove subjectivity and subconscious understanding um so what he did is he they did a test

where they put people in uh the CAT scans and said all right we're going to

we're going to ask you to do certain things and then we'll test we'll see what lights up in your

brain and what happened when when people heard the word cold whether you know they were

imagining cold weather or they were imagining an unwelcoming situation the the same part of their

brain lit up so if he had the room cold certain part of the brain was lit up and if you talked about cold the C the same

part of the brain would light up um and if they talked about remembering

running the same part of your brain would activate that actually is activated when you're running right

that's kind of crazy thing it's like it's not telling your body to do different things but your brain your brain is just doing the same thing it's

just uh it has one place where it understands running right and it does it

tells your it commands your body to do different things with that one place where that's happening so if you think if you

understand that then you can think back to those tests I told you about earlier about the the weightiness of the clipboard or the the warm cup it makes

sense why our bodies are influenced through these these Sensational

experiences right why warmth would be would be triggered emotionally by a

romance film right or why importance would be be triggered by the weight of an

object all right so this is a body of work you can look you can go online and look about this is called embodied

cognition meaning understanding with your body it's really popular right now in robotics because we're trying to

figure out how to make robots think without using a a centralized network but having a distributed Network all

right um but I'm more interested in what it means to humans so if if metaphor whether they're

visual or spoken Tri perception and Imagination based based on Human

Experience then that means we can we understand that well enough that we can make designs better off that

knowledge so I'm going to give you some tools to try this out all

right so this is a couple years old um one of my colleagues and I decided we were

going to try to figure out how to map these things out so we could create some design tools in the

studio to explore the idea of body cognition and how we could trigger multiple senses to make a design

better and you can download you can download this tool I think it's an illustrator file so download it and do

whatever you want to it all right um if you make it really good send it back to me so I can see what you

did all right we wanted to explore how the five senses are are mapped to our

intuition and how they map to things we we use as design principles right so

we took we took the different the the uh five senses and then we mapped terminology to them that were

relevant so you have the syn and then you have what we call a root in the

rectangle and then from that you have um

Concepts so you can hear a sound a in metaphorically you'll know whether a sound is something aged or old or you'll

know whether it's fresh or new or you'll know if something think it's uh raw and you might have use other words to

describe that right same thing for quiet the way you see things you might say you know

something could be clear dark bright murky and then those mean other things like clear could mean honest exposed

informative these are the kinds of words when you're talking about design you use right when you talk about communication

being clear right it doesn't mean you're looking through a window it means I understand it all right so but it comes

from sight right it comes from be able to see the horizon or to see the mountain all right so stay with me I

know it's kind of complicated it'll get better all right so I'm going to focus in on

these so let's let's look at these two apples which one do you want to

eat the fresh Apple I hear fresh all right that's good I think that's normal

I I I grew up in a house where I would be forced to eat that wrinkly one because it's gonna spoil but but I think

most people in you know uh growing up in a different place would eat the fresh one I think that's right so a couple of

years ago we ran into a challenge with one of our clients who was uh producing mattresses now mattresses are

not very exciting to design but we took it on uh because there's a whole a whole

holistic problem there we saw with the brand with manufacturing process with the marketing strategy with the retailing and all of that was

interesting we said we'll take it on so they had they had this mattresses they're really unappealing they're really ugly and the problem the really

the problem in the market was I mean mattresses are mattresses right they're ugly but um the promise of the brand was

like it's Hightech you know it's it's going to improve your health and you look at it and it's like this you know

saggy crappy old mat mattress that doesn't look like it had any consideration but to it so we said well

you have a problem where you know your the actual design of your product and the promise of your brand are totally

misaligned and and people are smarter than that they don't they're not going to buy in so you have to actually make

the product match the promise of your brand or just start promising crappy mattresses

right so we redesigned the mattress and we we did we did it in a way that

actually did live up to the brand promise all right it had a lot of features that um made it easier to to

move the the seams were taut they were aligned like a a nicely tailored

garment and of course it costs more to make something like that right so we we

presented this to them and we had all the all the consumer rationale like we had been in the market we had been in

people's homes we had talked to the retailers we knew everybody preferred this design over the the design that

they um had currently in the market but when he went to the boardroom back to

what I was saying earlier the the conversation totally ignored the research and was all about

cost so you know we left that meeting feeling really disappointed that wow we have

this design we believe in it we know it's going to work for them we know improve their business but they can't

see the rationale for the Capital Improvements they have to make to their manufacturing process I mean basically

what we were asking for them to do is spend roughly $100,000 across their manufacturing to make these

better so we thought about it for a week and then one of my colleagues came up with a

slide and uh we said that's genius that's exactly what we need to take back and talk to them about so our next

meeting with the board we actually took this slide in and we asked them the same question I just asked you earlier which

Apple do you want to eat and everybody in the boardroom said the same thing they they didn't want the

old saggy shriveling dying nearly Ro gotten piece

of fruit they wanted the plump fresh nutritious sweet Juicy Fruit

right and then we said that's that's this that is the exact problem you have with your product and they said you're

right and so we were able to go from what you see there on the far side to

something new and fresh that had you know tighter Corners uh a

plumper top uh more defined edges more features now that's kind of crazy that

we could make get them persuaded to make such a big Financial investment over a photo of two apples but it worked it

actually happened and so this really convinced us that we had um a good framework here to work with let going to

try another one here now this time let's see the root stop no come

back the rout I want to use is uh old okay so I just I just showed you old

in a way that's negative right something that's sping but there's actually you can think about old in different ways

too and so we have we put some different words up here like you know old things old things can be good right old

things like the Rocky Mountains are pretty awesome right they

persist over time the elements can't destroy them we admire that all right so there's a

side of old that you can also use to talk about a

design sorry I think I made my transitions wrong there it is all

right who wears Chuck Taylor's Converse yeah all right good number of

you if you've ever had them you know this is actually one of the cool things about Chuck Taylor that they wear

out that's what that's what we love about them they they they're like a personal diary um so Converse hired us to to uh

design their flagship store in 2009 so they didn't have any Flagship stores and

um as as we got into uh the consumer research this is one of the things we discovered that people loved about

Converse was this idea of a diary this idea of being able to look down at your shoe and talk about the time you were

staying up you know out late with friends and you were running down the sidewalk and you got that rip right or the time you were board in class and

you're writing that thing and so that became a very important aesthetic we we had this kind of idea that things need

to needed to age and wear in the store itself so we came up with this concept

of wearing in but not wearing out um and we brought that into the

story you can see it in the the way the concrete floor is done you can see it in the broken in nature of the leather

around around the the beams you can see the the wear and the old bleachers these

are all some of the same elements that were in the shoe they're not things that devalue because of their age they

actually bring they bring character and story because of their age right so it

it's just like the pair of shoes and if you look at how other companies are doing this now it's it's actually a a

pretty big industry so I'll show you a few examples these are new these are new guitars from Fender

they're called The Relic series and so if you want to buy a guitar that looks like it's from 1957 and played you know

by a band for 40 years you can um the nice thing about it is it

still it still will stay in tune all the electronics are okay it won't short circuit but it looks old right so people

are buying this um and it's not just looks I mean there's a lot of care going into how these are aged you know how the

Frets how the Fret boards are aged how the paint is aged um here's another one

who buys jeans that are worn in nearly everybody right we we don't

want except for a rare occasion we don't want the fresh hard jeans we want

something worn in something that has a story in it already something that looks like it's already Blended

in or here's another one from Timberland makes these boots they don't look new do they except

for the they're missing you know the the breaking in points from walking but otherwise the leather is aged they've

aged that on purpose um to give a sense of Heritage all

right now you can do this in graphic design too I I pulled a few posters from from our studio in

Cambridge and you can see in these posters we you know we make posters for internal events all the time so

each of these has an aged component of some kind right and and I I think the reason we personally do this we we'll we

build a lot of this stuff by hand we like to we like collage art we like hand

drawing um but it's also a way to kind of pull the sheen out of the computer

isn't it I think we all struggle with that like the Perfection of of the

screen is so strong that many times you want to break away from that you want to try to bring some sense of

humanity and so you you age your typography I mean we we do you know we do things for

like uh you you you create your layout you print it out you shrink it down to

10% you scan it you blow up your scan back up to 100% and you've got some

well-aged type it's almost like having a letter press and you've just you've worn down the wooden blocks over

time so here here's another here's another thing um

if you think back to those apples those apples were a visual experience um but

deeper than that they're really a shared Human Experience that the whole world understands fruit and the freshness of

fruit and it really turns out we're just we're surrounded by cues like this all the time that that have really uh shaped

our perception of the world so on the sidewalk you see a puddle

right it's a shiny surface you know and maybe when you were a kid you were really attractive that puddle right

you're you want to go jump in it um but it's reflective it's a mirror you know

it shows up in mythology as a mirror all the time um it's the visual effect of an oasis

where you know there's water just ahead and you're trying to get to that it turns out it's a

mirage um it's a signal for for hydration and for Relief and

hope all that in a puddle right we know that we all inherently know that what's

interesting is how we take those things that we subconsciously know and then apply them to new things

so how do they think what do these things signal right like why why are engagement rooms Rings bright and shiny

and attractive and drawing versus muted and dark right they're actually drawing us

to them just like that petal draws us across the desert

or why is the Apple Mouse so bright and shiny you it's it really is it's the

Oasis on your desktop with all the paper and pencil and posits and whatever stuff

you have there you have this bright shiny beautiful object right there asking you to touch It Isn't that cool

it's just like the puddle right so there there's a lot of things like this that you could start to queue in on and build

upon that will make the make your designs a lot stronger so I pulled some packaging

from uh the food world so eggs in a nest you think about care

you think about youth nourishment I found this

package that's really genius isn't it um it's using coconut case as the

metaphor for the nest and it has this this kind of sense that they're going to be safe right

these eggs will be safe they'll be get home with you all right here's another cue a bunch of grapes

the grapes are awesome right they're the most one of the most convenient snack foods in the world because it's like a

you know a big bag of chips that never falls apart you can just grab a piece off um we pop them into our mouths and

there's a natural intuition to actually pull off a grape so I thought this was pretty great this little individual

thumb drive pack right it's queuing off this exact same concept of picking the

fruit all right now here's a here's a more this this is uh next I'm going to show you

is uh design fiction we just did this for fun but you know bananas are great because banana bananas basically are

teaching you about their age right they're one they start out one way and as they age they give you signals you

know so one of designer said we could be inspired by that and they applied it to

um medication bottles and said what if the expiration was obvious what if

your bottle started to take on some of those same characteristics all right and then you know just throw it

away um or go the other way this is a a

former ID or n fukasawa he a amazing Japanese industrial designer he has a

lot of work for Muji this is his Juice Box banana juice box um man you really want to open that

don't you I me you can't resist the urge to open this thing so this is real literal way of approaching this all

right so here's a here's a less literal way so we we did a job with this company called pillpack um now pillpack actually uses

the same um it has basically the same goals as the banana so the packaging is

essential and it communicates its use and place and time but it's doing it through typography and communication

here right it's saying hey these pills are for this dosage at this time of day for this particular date and then

they're using the grape model all right so you pull it off and you can pull off your dosage for the day for morning

afternoon evening take your rooll with your trip all right really cool they're tapping into those longstanding

experiential things that we understand through nature through this design and you may have not talked about it like

that when you first saw these ideas it may have not even been in your conscious but now that you see it you can't unsee

it all right so one more test we're doing great all right on the next slide are

two shapes you may have done this before one is named

BBA and the other's Kiki all right BBA and Kiki and I want you to tell me which one is which all

right tell me which shape is BBA and which shape is

Kiki who is a

what wow all right you're right

so this this psychological test was started in 1929 all right it's been it's since been

done in Spain um under scientific conditions in Spain in the United States and in

India and in those three places everyone has said the same thing that's kind of crazy isn't

it there's something going on where you understand like those sharp sounds in Kiki are matching with the sharp sound

the sharp shapes that you're seeing there all right so we designed a new form language

for a public utility in Germany and this is the way we started to teach them about the form language we took those

principles like you saw in the chart earlier there were our design principles and we started talking about how the form related to the concept right so

what what is the shape of safe and positive how do you communicate that through soft edges how do you show

transparency well you show the interior too right um how do you show safety well

through protection through through shielding um how do how do you show smart well through something that's

simple and reveals upon demand like a light on demand so we apply that to the final

form factor which you see here and you have a a pretty frilling design and if it

doesn't seem frilling to you yet when you see it in the lineup with all the other electric

meters it's actually very crli it's assuring it's safe um you're not worried about it like

you might be worried about or intimidated at least by these other meters

right so this leads to my final story this is about a researcher at MIT

her name is PIP motheral you can see her name there if you if you're interested in her work and she's building upon

these ideas that I've just shown you she's codifying the formal language of emotion for use in 3D modeling and 3D

printing and I think her work is really interesting because she's trying to use the embodiment of metaphor this concept

in the three-dimensional World she's really seeking for a universal form language and this is

based off not only her research but a lot of other research so these are in her lab these different forms that are

being somehow communicating in Emotion so she's actually working on a

software that plugs into 3D printing a 3D design like CAD design software for 3D

printing because she feels like if if we can start helping people start help people understand how to make form and

great create shape and put emotion in that shape will be in a a better

position as design is more and more democratized which we all we've all experienced through graphic design right

so I think about it a lot like desktop publishing and when that became when it

really broke I mean it really broke in the 80s right when the computers like the Vic 20 and the Commodore 64 suddenly

you could print your own greeting cards right and if you if you go back then and you look at your font choices You' have

the spooky font right and the happy font right

you're just like yeah happy like the fonts I don't know if they even had names they were just like birthday fun

or you know sorry fun right so she's doing the same thing now with

form I think it's pretty radical all right so it's this next step to unlocking the subconscious

um through design um and with the tools that we actually use on a regular basis

of design so we might learn that over time

that you know these things that we've been doing subconsciously or through our experience are are

actually uh true right and I think if there's anything you get out of this talk today I hope it's confidence I hope

that you as a designer start to have confidence in your choices as of design

and your communication of them and I hope you use some of these tricks all right

so we've come come full a circle here you've learned about George and how George saw the world and you learned

about the other George George Loff and how how he saw the world they connect

these two ideas these Visionaries have come together in Art and Science and visual literacy

so I hope it meant something to you I hope the things that stood out to you uh as important were probably in the heavy

fonts not the lighter fonts right um and I hope you have more

confidence as you go out and design thanks