The New Science of Designing for Humans

via The New Science of Designing for Humans | Stanford Social Innovation Review

Beyond Human Centred Design methodologies using behavioural science is proposed as more rigorous way to extend solution based design

The days of privileging creativity over science in design thinking are over. The rise of behavioral science and impact evaluation has created a new way for engineering programs and human interactions—a methodology called behavioral design.

(Illustration by Mike Austin)

Today the design of things that involve human interaction, such as programs, product delivery, and services, is more art than science. Here is how it typically works: We use our creativity to brainstorm a few big ideas, experts decide which one they like, and then investors bet on the winner, often with billions of dollars at stake.

This way of design thinking should be replaced by a superior method that can enable us to innovate with more success and less risk. Specifically, we can use scientific insights to generate new ideas and then systematically test and iterate on them to arrive at one that works.

Advances in two academic fields afford this opportunity. The first is behavioral science, which gives us empirical insights into how people interact with their environment and each other under different conditions. Behavioral science encompasses decades of research from various fields, including psychology, marketing, neuroscience, and, most recently, behavioral economics. For example, studies reveal that shorter deadlines lead to greater responsiveness than longer ones,1 that too much choice leads people to choose nothing,2 and many more observations, often counterintuitive, about how people react to specific elements of their context.

The second academic field is impact evaluation. Economists have used randomized controlled trials (RCTs) and other experimental methods to measure the impact of programs and policies. Such impact evaluations are becoming more and more common in the social sectorand in government. These methods allow us to test whether an innovation actually achieves the outcomes that the designer sought.

Taking a scientific approach also solves another common problem: Sometimes we do not even realize that there is something in need of rigorous, thoughtful design. When we look carefully, the success of most of what we design for people depends as much, if not more, on the human interaction as on the physical product. For example, the first iPhone offered essentially the same functions (phone, calendar, address book, etc.) as a BlackBerry, but it totally changed the experience of using those functions.

In the social and public sectors, programs and services are made up largely of human interactions. And yet anything involving human interaction can be designed more scientifically, and more successfully, when behavioral science and impact evaluation are applied. For instance, a vaccine is a technological product, but how and when parents get their children vaccinated, and how they are reminded to do so, is as much a part of the innovation as the vaccine itself. Poorly designed interactions make products less successful and can also underlie serious social problems.3

By putting behavioral science and impact evaluation together—a methodology we call behavioral design—we can design more like engineers than like artists. We can use behavioral science to develop ideas that are much more likely to work than those relying entirely on intuition. And we can rigorously test those ideas to determine which ones truly work. Following the model of engineering and scientific progress, we can build on prior success to make enormous advances that, under previous approaches, would not be possible.

A Better Methodology

At ideas42, the behavioral science innovation lab I co-lead, we encounter many different approaches to innovation among our partners. I have also spent considerable time comparing notes with experts in design thinking, attending design workshops, and reading about design methodologies. The typical approaches for innovation range from quickly brainstorming some ideas in a boardroom to using some version of human-centered design (HCD). Fundamentally, all of these approaches aim to generate “big ideas” that appeal to the intuition of a few decision makers considered experts in the area where the idea is to be implemented.

HCD appears to be the methodology of choice for a significant, and growing, number of organizations. The most advanced version begins with defining the problem or design mandate, and then conducts qualitative research with potential users and proceeds through a series of structured exercises to promote creative thinking. The design team may also test some crude prototypes to get feedback along the way. This approach is called “human-centered” because it focuses on users’ and other stakeholders’ needs and preferences.

In the qualitative research phase, designers use ethnographic techniques such as qualitative interviewing and observation. They not only interview potential users but also may talk to others, such as program administrators and front-line staff involved in delivering a program or product. In the design phase, HCD employs several techniques to enhance creativity (which remain useful in the next-generation behavioral design methodology as well). Finally, HCD ends with trying a few prototypes with a handful of potential users. Some ethnographic research methods are incorporated into HCD, but on the whole the approach is still much closer to an art than a science.

It is time to build on HCD with a better method. Let us begin our investigation by comparing how engineers invent new technology. Two features stand out. First, engineers rely on a rich set of insights from science to develop new ideas. Every invention builds on countless previous attempts. For example, the Wright brothers are credited with inventing the airplane, but the key parts of their design leaned on previous inventions. The wing was based on science that went back to 1738, when Daniel Bernoulli discovered his principle about the relationship between pressure and the speed with which a fluid is moving. The engine design was borrowed from automotive engines invented more than 25 years earlier. They were able to test model wings in a wind tunnel thanks to Frank H. Wenham, who had invented that critical apparatus 30 years before that, in 1871.4

Second, contrary to popular belief, inventions do not come simply from a single flash of insight, but rather from painstaking refinement in small steps. Sir James Dyson, the famous vacuum cleaner tycoon, went through 5,126 failed iterations of his new wind tunnel design to separate dirt from air before he landed on the right one.5 Inventors sometimes iterate only on particular components before working on the complete invention. For example, the Wright brothers tested some 200 wing designs in a wind tunnel before settling on the right one.

Why do engineers work so differently from those of us who are designing for human interactions? Until recently, we did not have a sufficiently large body of scientific insights that describes how humans interact with their environment, and each other, under different conditions. True, the field of user-experience design offers some insights, but it is very new and is still restricted to certain elements of digital interactions such as Web-page layout and font size. Direct marketers within for-profit businesses have experimented with letters and phone scripts for years, but those findings also cover a very narrow set of interactions and are often not public.

The second engineering feature—experimenting and iterating—is also hard to replicate, because measuring whether something “works” in this case is more complex than simply turning on a piece of technology and playing with it. We must first clearly define what outcomes we want from the design, devise a way to measure them, and finally run a test that reliably tells us whether our design is achieving them

More Rigorous Testing of Ideas

The problem with HCD and similar approaches to innovation is that they depend too much on intuition. Research has repeatedly shown that our intuitions about human beings are often wrong. Take the commonsensical idea that penalties always help prevent people from engaging in bad behaviors; this notion may have intuitive appeal, but it has proven false. For example, in a study of Israeli day-care centers that sanctioned parents for being late to pick up their children, researchers found that penalties made parents even more likely to be late.6 This is because they viewed the penalty as a cheap price for the option to be late, versus feeling bound by a social obligation to be timely.

Not only do the social and behavioral sciences give us better starting points, but it also enables us to prototype and test ideas more readily, because we can measure if they are working using impact evaluation methods as well as lab testing procedures from experimental psychology. We can then iterate and improve on the idea until we have a solution ready for implementation.

The behavioral design methodology incorporates HCD’s fundamental approach of being human centered and thoughtful, but adds scientific insights and iterative testing to advance HCD in three significant ways. First, it applies observations about people from experimental academic research. HCD’s reliance solely on self-reported and intuitive insights presents a risk, since so much human behavior is unconscious and not transparent. Also, psychology research shows that people’s self-perception is biased in several ways.7 When we do supplement academic insights with qualitative research, we can use behavioral science to make the latter less vulnerable to bias. For example, we can get more unvarnished answers by asking subjects what their peers typically do rather than what they themselves do. When asked about themselves, subjects may be embarrassed to admit to certain behaviors or may feel compelled to give what they assume the interviewer thinks is the “right” answer.

Second, behavioral design can enhance HCD in the design phase. The behavioral science literature can contribute ideas for solutions based on previously tested interventions. As behavioral design becomes more widely used, more and more data will become available on what designs work and under what conditions. In filtering ideas, we can use behavioral science to anticipate which solutions are likely to suffer from behavioral problems such as low adoption by participants or misperception of choices.

Third, this new approach improves upon HCD by adding more rigorous testing. Many HCD practitioners do test their ideas in prototype with users. While helpful, and part of behavioral design as well, quick user testing cannot tell us whether a solution works. Behavioral design leverages experimental methods to go much further without necessarily adding considerable cost or delay.

Using this approach, we test whether something works—whether it triggers a desired behavioral result—rather than whether the subject thinks something works. We can also test a single component of more complex designs, such as whether a particular piece of information included on a Web page makes a difference, in a lab setting with subjects from our target audience. This is analogous to aeronautical engineers testing wing designs in wind tunnels. By testing and iterating in the field, we do not need to bet on an untested big idea but instead can systematically develop one that we know works. Testing is also what makes it possible, in the design phase, to build on previous successful ideas.

ideas42’s work includes many examples of using behavioral design to invent solutions to tough social problems. For example, we recently worked with Arizona State University (ASU) to encourage more eligible students to apply for a special federal work-study program called SEED. In fall 2014, before we started working with ASU, only 11 percent of eligible students were applying for SEED jobs, leaving nearly $700,000 in financial aid funds unused. ASU wanted our help to increase this proportion.

Diagnosing the problem through a behavioral lens, and interviewing students and staff, we learned that students mistakenly believed that SEED jobs were menial and low-wage. Some thought that a work-study job would interfere with their education rather than complement it. Others intended to apply but missed the deadline or failed even to open the e-mail announcing the program. We designed a series of 12 e-mails to attempt to mitigate all of these barriers. The e-mails dispelled the misperceptions about workstudy jobs by stating the correct facts. They made the deadline more salient by reminding students how many dollars of aid they stood to lose. Behavioral research shows that losses loom larger than gains, so the loss framing promised to be more impactful than telling students how much they stood to gain. The e-mails asked students to make a specific plan for when they would complete the work-study job application to reduce the chance that they would forget or procrastinate past the deadline. These behaviorally informed e-mails were compared against a control group of 12 e-mails that contained only basic information about how to apply to the SEED program.

With the redesigned e-mails, which ASU has now adopted, 28 percent more students applied for jobs, and the number of total applications increased by 56 percent. As we were sending 12 e-mails, we used the opportunity to test 12 different subject lines to try to maximize the number of students who opened the e-mail. In five out of the 12 cases, the rate of opening increased by 50 percent or more, relative to a typical subject line. A subject line that increased the open rate from 37 percent to 64 percent made students feel special: “You have something other freshmen don’t.” The control in this case was commonly used language to remind the recipient of impending deadlines: “Apply now! SEED jobs close Thursday.”

The Behavioral Design Methodology

Efforts like this one may sound like nothing more than trial and error, but a systematic and scientific process underlies them that tracks the success of engineering or medicine more closely than HCD. It begins with defining a clear problem, diagnosing it, designing solutions, testing and refining the effectiveness of those ideas, and then scaling the solutions.8 It also starts from a body of knowledge from behavioral science, rather than intuition and guesswork, so that the solutions tried are more likely to succeed.

Let us take a closer look at these steps:

1. Define. The first step is to define the problem carefully to ensure that no assumptions for causes or solutions are implied and that the desired outcome is clear. For example, organizations we serve commonly ask: “How do we help our clients understand the value of our program?” In this formulation, the ultimate outcome is not explicitly defined, and there is an assumption that the best way to secure the outcome is the program (or product) in question. Say the relevant program is a financial education workshop. In this case, we do not know what behaviors the workshop is trying to encourage and whether classroom education is the best solution. We must define the problem only in terms of what behaviors we are trying to encourage (or discourage), such as getting people to save more.

2. Diagnose. This intensive phase generates hypotheses for behavioral reasons why the problem may be occurring. To identify potential behavioral hurdles, this approach draws insights from the behavioral science literature and what we know about the particular situation. For example, in the ASU work-study project, we hypothesized that many students intended to apply but failed to follow through because they procrastinated past the deadline or simply forgot it. Both are common behavioral underpinnings for such an intention-action gap.

After generating some initial hypotheses, the next step is to conduct qualitative research and data analysis to probe which behavioral barriers may be most prevalent and what features of the context may be triggering them. Here, “context” refers to any element of the physical environment, and any and all experiences that the consumer or program’s beneficiary is undergoing, even her physical or mental state in the moment.

Qualitative research usually includes observation, mystery shopping (purchasing a product or experiencing a program incognito to study it firsthand), and in-depth interviews. Unlike typical qualitative research that asks many “why” questions, the behavioral approach focuses on “how” questions, since people’s post-hoc perceptions of why they did something are likely to be inaccurate.

3. Design. Having filtered down and prioritized the list of possible behavioral barriers via the diagnosis phase, we can generate ideas for solutions. Here many of the structured creativity techniques of HCD prove useful. When possible, it is best to test a few ideas rather than to guess which solution seems best. Solutions also change during their journey from the whiteboard to the field, as numerous operational, financial, legal, and other constraints invariably crop up. Such adaptations are critical to making them scalable.

4. Test. We can then test our ideas using RCTs, in which we compare outcomes for a randomly selected treatment group vis-à-vis those for a control group that receives no treatment or the usual treatment. Although RCTs in academic research are often ambitious, multiyear undertakings, we can run much shorter trials to secure results. An RCT run for academic purposes may need to measure several long-term and indirect outcomes from a treatment. Such measurement typically requires extensive surveys that add time and cost. For iterating on a design, by contrast, we may only measure proximate indicators for the outcomes we are seeking. These are usually available from administrative data (such as response to an e-mail campaign), so we can measure them within days or weeks rather than years. We measure long-term outcomes as a final check only after we have settled on a final solution.

When RCTs are impossible to run even for early indicators, solutions can be tested that approximate experimental designs. A more detailed description of these other methods is outside the scope of this article but is available through the academic literature on program evaluation and experimental design.

If the solution is complex, we first test a crude prototype with a small sample of users to refine the design.9 We can also test components of the design in a lab first, in the way that engineers test wing designs in a wind tunnel. For example, if we are designing a new product and want to refine how we communicate features to potential users, we can test different versions in a lab to measure which one is easiest to understand.

5. Scale. Strictly speaking, innovation could end at testing. However, scaling is often not straightforward, so it is included in the methodology. This step also has parallels with engineering physical products, in that designing how affordably to manufacture a working prototype is, in itself, an invention challenge. Sometimes engineers must design entirely new machines just for large-scale manufacturing.

Scaling could first involve lowering the cost of delivering the solution without compromising its quality. On the surface, this step would be a matter of process optimization and technology, but as behavioral solutions are highly dependent on the details of delivery, we must design such optimization with a knowledge of behavioral principles. For example, some solutions rely on building a trusted relationship between frontline staff and customers, so we would not be able to achieve a cost reduction by digitizing that interface. The second part of scaling is encouraging adoption of an idea among providers and individuals, which itself could benefit from a scientific, experimental process of innovation.

A Closer Look at the Methodology

To be fair, it is sometimes impossible to go through the full, in-depth behavioral design process. But even in these cases, an abridged version drawing on scientific insights rather than creativity alone is always feasible. Notice that the define, diagnose, and design stages of the behavioral design process apply the scientific method in two ways: They draw on insights from the scientific literature to develop hypotheses, and they collect data to refine those hypotheses as much as possible. The first of these steps can be accomplished even in a few hours by a behavioral designer with sufficient expertise. The second component of data collection and analysis takes more time but can be shortened while still preserving a scientific foundation for the diagnosis and design. Field testing with a large sample can be the most time-consuming, but lab tests can be completed within days if time is constrained.

Two sorts of hurdles typically confront the full behavioral design process: lack of time and difficulty measuring outcomes. In our experience, time constraints are rarely generated by the problem being addressed. More often, they have to do with the challenges of complex organizations, such as budget cycles, limited windows to make changes to programs or policies, or impatience among the leadership. If organizations begin to allocate budgets for innovation, these artificial time constraints will disappear.

To better understand working under a time constraint, consider ideas42’s work with South Africa’s Western Cape to reduce road deaths during the region’s alcohol-fueled annual holiday period. The provincial government had a small budget left in the current year for a marketing campaign and only a few weeks until the holiday season began. The ideas42 team had to design a simple solution fast; there was no time to set up an RCT with a region-wide marketing campaign. The team instead used an abridged version of the first three stages to design a solution grounded in behavioral science. Quick diagnosis revealed that people were not thinking about safe driving any more than usual during the holidays, despite the higher risk from drunk driving. To make safe driving more salient, ideas42 designed a lottery in which car owners were automatically registered to win but would lose their chance if they were caught for any traffic violations. That design used two behavioral principles coming out of Prospect Theory,10 which tells us that people tend to overestimate small probabilities when they have something to gain, and that losses feel about twice as bad as the equivalent gain feels good.

Applying the first principle, we used a lottery, a small chance of winning big, rather than a small incentive given to everyone. Using the second, we gave people a lottery ticket and then threatened to take it away. Since an RCT was not feasible, we measured results by comparing road fatalities in the treatment period with road fatalities in the same month of the previous year; this showed a 40 percent reduction in road fatalities. There were no known changes in enforcement or any other policies. While ideas42 was not able to continue to collect data in subsequent years, because its contract ended, the program saw success in subsequent years as well, according to our contacts in government.

Adopting Behavioral Design

If you were convinced of behavioral design’s value and wanted to take the leap, how would you do it? There are resources available, and many more are still in the works. Behavioral insights are not yet readily available in one place for practitioners to access, but are instead spread out over a vast literature spanning many academic disciplines, including psychology, economics, neuroscience, marketing, political science, and law. Results from applications of behavioral science are even more distributed because many are self-published by institutions such as think tanks, impact evaluation firms, and innovation consultancies.

To mitigate this problem, ideas42, in partnership with major universities and institutions that practice behavioral design in some form, is building an easily searchable Web-based resource as well as a blog that will make it possible to find ready-to-use behavioral insights in one place. In the meantime, some of these organizations, including ideas42, also offer classes that teach elements of behavioral design as well as some key insights from behavioral science that practitioners would need in order to do behavioral design. As the practice of behavioral design is adopted more widely, and its use generates more insights, it will become more powerful. Like technology, it will be able to continue to build on previous discoveries.

Organizations and funders would also do well to adopt the behavioral design approach in their thinking more generally. Whenever someone proposes a new approach for innovation, people scour the methodology for the secret sauce that will transform them into creative geniuses. In this case, the methodology applications of behavioral science, in themselves, do have a lot to offer. But even more potential lies in changing organizational cultures and funding models to support a scientific, evidence-based approach to designing interventions. Here are three suggestions about how organizations can adopt behavior design:

Fund a process (and people good at it), not ideas. | Today’s model for funding innovation typically begins with a solution, not a problem. Funders look to finance the testing or scaling up of a new big idea, which by definition means there is no room for scientifically analyzing the problem and then, after testing, developing a solution. Funders should reject this approach and instead begin with the problem and finance a process, and people they deem competent, to crack that problem scientifically. To follow this path, funders must also become comfortable with larger investments in innovation. The behavioral design approach costs a lot more than whiteboards, sticky notes, and flip charts—the typical HCD tools—but the investment is worth it.

Embrace failure. | In a world where ideas are judged on expert opinion and outcomes are not carefully measured, solutions have no way of failing once they leave the sticky-note phase and get implemented. In a new world where ideas must demonstrably work to be successful, failure is built into the process, and the lessons learned from these failures are critical to that process. In fact, the failure rate can serve as a measure of the innovation team’s competence and their bonafide progress. To be really innovative, a certain amount of risk and courting failure is necessary. Adopting a process that includes failures can be hard to accept for many organizations, and for the managers within those organizations who do not want their careers to stall; but as in engineering and science, this is the only way to advance.

Rethink competitions. | The first XPRIZE for building a reusable spacecraft rekindled the excitement for competitions, which have now become common even outside the technology industry. However, competitions to invent new technology are fundamentally different: With a spacecraft, it is relatively easy to pick the winner by test-flying each entry. In the social sector, by contrast, competitions have judging panels that decide which idea wins. This represents a big-idea approach that fails to motivate people to generate and test ideas until they find one that demonstrably works well, rather than one that impresses judges. Staged competitions could work much better by following a behavioral-design approach. The first round could focus on identifying, or even putting together, the teams with the best mix of experience and knowledge in behavioral design and in the domain of the competition. Subsequent rounds could fund a few teams to develop their ideas iteratively. The teams whose solutions achieved some threshold of impact in a field test would win. Innovation charity Nesta’s Challenge Prize Centre has been using a similar approach successfully, as has the Robin Hood Foundation, with the help of ideas42.

Revolutionizing how we innovate presents a huge opportunity for improving existing programs, products, and policies. There is already sufficient scientific research and techniques to begin making the change, and we are learning more about how to better devise things for human interactions every day. The more we use a scientific approach to innovate, and construct platforms to capture findings, the more science we will have to build on. This immense promise of progress depends on changing organizational cultures and funding models. Funders can and must start to bet not on the right “big ideas” but on the right process for solving challenges and on the people who are experts in that process. They must also not just expect failures, but embrace them as the tried and true means for achieving innovation.

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World’s Largest Study On Cyclist Behaviour: Copenhagen To Cape Town

Considering how cyclist actually use the road is key to organising how we design roads streets for all users -from Future Cape Town on T he Sustainable Cities Collective 

“We truly believe that well-designed infrastructure leads to better behaviour from cyclists

Copenhaganize Cycle Study 001

Desire Lines of cyclists turned into a permanent lane in Copenhagen

Copenhagenize Design Co, the international consultancy specialising in bicycle urbanism are launching a new project that will span continents and use their unique Desire Lines Analysis Tool.

Copenhagenize Logo

The Desire Lines of Cyclists– The Global Study – is described as “the natural evolution” of the original Desire Lines analysis of cyclist behaviour and how cyclists react to urban design called The Choreography of an Urban Intersection. The results of that analysis were unveiled by CEO Mikael Colville-Andersen at Velo-City 2013 in Vienna.

The study from which took place in Copenhagen in 2012 was based on video-recorded observations of 16,631 cyclists during a 12 hour period. Copenhagenize explored the anthropological details of bicycle users and how they interact with other traffic users and the existing urban design. Three categories of cyclists were identified: Conformists, Momentumists, and Recklists.

Choreography of an Urban Intersection and Copenhagenize fixesChoreography of an Urban Intersection and Copenhagenize fixes

Based on this study a new methodology to analyse urban life: the Desire Line Analysis Tool seeks to decode the Desire Lines of cyclists. The main purposes of the analysis is to get a thorough understanding of bicycle users and to rethink intersections to fit modern mobility needs. Like William H. Whyte, Copenhagenize want first to observe people and hence employ anthropology and sociology directly to urban planning – something they feel is sorely lacking.

With increasing focus on re-establishing the bicycle as transport in cities around the world, understanding the behaviour and, indeed, the basic urban anthropology of bicycle users is of utmost importance. Rethinking the car-centric design of intersections and infrastructure is necessary if we are to redesign our cities for new century mobility patterns.

For Copenhagenize there has not been any concrete way of mapping cyclist behaviour. Copenhagenize Design Company’s techniques utilise Direct Human Observation in order to map cyclist behaviour – and gather a motherlode of valuable data from it.

In the last two years at Copenhagenize, urban planners, anthropologists and urban designers have worked on testing, improving and realising new studies in Copenhagen. Using the city as an actual-size laboratory, they observed, analysed, mapped thousands of cyclists’ behavior.

They then went to Amsterdam, a city considered as a model for many urban planners, and in collaboration with The University of Amsterdam, Copenhagenize Design Co. worked on nine intersections and 19,500 bicycle users.

Watch the video here, and read the studies herehereherehere, and here.

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We’re Only Beginning to Understand How Our Brains Make Maps

All our instincts as “place” designers are well founded  it seems –  all of the fine details, ambiences and local differences we cherish are really important to how we navigate space and understand where we are and wether it is safe, dangerous or cool to be here – the latest neuroscience, albeit with rats,  is giving us new ammo in a our tangle with both virtual and the banal retail worlds. By Emily Badger at Atlantic Cities

The more scientists learn about how our brains construct cognitive maps of space, the more we may learn about how to design those spaces.

About 40 years ago, researchers first began to suspect that we have neurons in our brains called “place cells.” They’re responsible for helping us (rats and humans alike) find our way in the world, navigating the environment with some internal sense of where we are, how far we’ve come, and how to find our way back home. All of this sounds like the work of maps. But our brains do impressively sophisticated mapping work, too, and in ways we never actively notice.

Every time you walk out your front door and past the mailbox, for instance, a neuron in your hippocampus fires as you move through that exact location – next to the mailbox – with a real-world precision down to as little as 30 centimeters. When you come home from work and pass the same spot at night, the neuron fires again, just as it will the next morning. “Each neuron cares for one place,” saysMayank Mehta, a neurophysicist at UCLA. “And it doesn’t care for any other place in the world.”

This is why these neurons are called “place cells.” And, in constantly shuffling patterns, they generate our cognitive maps of the world. Exactly how they do this, though, has remained a bit of an enigma. The latest research from Mehta and his colleagues, published this month in the online edition of the journal Science, provides more clues. It now appears as if all of the sensory cues around us – the smell of a pizzeria, the feel of a sidewalk, the sound of a passing bus – are much more integral to how our brains map our movement through space than scientists previously believed.

And the more scientists learn about how our brains construct cognitive maps of space, the more we may learn about how to design those spaces – streets, neighborhoods, cities – in the first place. Or, rather, we may learn more about the consequences of how we’ve built them so far. How could any urban planner, for starters, not love the idea that “place” is embedded in the brain?

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Digital Maps – Is what is mapped what is “really there”?

A flush of blog posts on on the rise of digital maps and apps for location  based services via smartphones and GPS devices lead via my readings of Actor-Network-Theory  (ANT) and beyond to wanderings in the realms of ontology and epistemology to my backyard and garage where loads of junk left over from past ‘lives’ as sporting wannabee etc. and children’s-clearings-of-their-rooms-once-they-have-left-home-combine in strange ways to trying to picture what it means if the construction of these maps is actually responsible for the creation of “my” reality?

What is going on here:

When we are informed by The Economist that we can have The world in your pocket are we  being delicately suckered into believing that this is really in our interests – in the past when we have ventured out into the unknown local and not so local world in order to get the things we need to sustain our lives, we have consulted directories and maps to tell us where to get it. This is nothing new – but in terms of ANT we might  have brought these things into being by wanting them – our instruments i.e. directories and maps, by virtue of our consulting them, start to constitute the world  “in -here” before becoming reified (made real) by our acting on the information and “finding” them “out-there” !

These ideas explored from early beginnings in Science and Technology

Studies by among others Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon  are developed into challenges to the structure of our conceptions of reality ~(After method – mess in social science research Law 2004) and what it means to me and my perception of myself in relation to this “reality” – or more simply who am I really? – am I anything more than the sum of my “programs” which have been embedded into me from birth by the social world and culture I am embedded in? Is it even possible for me to discover “myself “, let alone break out from this “matrix” and lead a life apart from it?

Or, is my reality “made” by my interaction with the connections/relations that I have with people and things “out-there” and that I talk to myself about “in-here” – as such the memories and stuff that I identify with as important or I use to construct this version of myself and as my interests move – some become redundant and are left behind – but still exist in a materiality that includes the junk in my back yard and the “stuff “of children which is left in my garage while they, the children,  are “out-there” in  London and I communicate with them “in- here” on Skype. Or what is it like to be my mother who is 93 and gradually loses touch with the sequence of the days and the “reality” of her relationships with me as a son and is more present in her “in-here”  memories of her college years in Cape Town before she was married than my presence in the “out-here” nowness?

Which brings me back to the descriptions of “out-there” of maps and digital devices that are trying to guide me to the fulfillment of my  desires or help me make sense of the bewildering density of data that floods my now disassociated “in-here” world and aims to fulfill my every desire ? Open-air computers;Cities are turning into vast data factories

This works if “I” live in part of the digitally engrossed world and I have been culturally modified to accept these programs. The ongoing project of this thinking seems to relate to a pre-existing structure that can manipulate me into doing what it wants – or at least provide so much stuff that I might want while I am searching for what I need that I will buy it- but does such a structure in fact exist?  – or is it too the result of the program we are wielding/writing  as we scribe and leave our traces in this “ether” or plasma”? Can I choose what I want or am I a helpless “ant” biochemically programmed to follow traces across the perilous ground of the “out-there” world? Your friendly neighborhood app: The internet is going local

Fynbos at Cape Peninsula

So, as I was walking with few friends and family across the top of our local mountain at Silvermine Nature Reserve,  I was in my usual reverie caught between what it means to “be-here-now-in-the-moment”- “out-here” and wondering “in-here” what it must have been like to be the first person to wander onto this mountain top and have no staked-out and stabilized paths to follow, let alone know from memory the names of countless fynbos plants that are endemic to this  place alone and that are dependent on the local ecology and interaction between the climate of mountain mists and the geology of  Table Mountain Sandstone. To have wandered around without any of the trappings of an “advanced civilization” and its technologies which seem to have been instrumental in both the “discovery “, mapping and then permanent modification of these very mountains and their occupants. Actually, unimaginable, to be a “stone-age” inhabitant  like one of the “San” or “bushmen” that lived or passed through and over these places “before” colonization by Western Europeans – what did a “Sans” maps look like – what was he/she thinking when they ….

“Suddenly I am jerked back  “into -being-here-in-this-very-very-

Not the baboon who took our bag -also having fun with technology

nowness” by becoming aware of troop of baboons on the side of the path- one of them – a very large male- has red tags on his neck and a radio receiver collar – not a good sign here where these baboon troops have become habituated to walkers as easy targets for food and sweets ! Very alert now – internal reverie recounting “don’t be afraid – they can smell if you are afraid” – flood of thoughts – reassure the rest of the party behind   that they should just walk past – nonchalantly! Not so easy -shouts – our guest walker has had his bag grabbed off his back by the dominate male baboon who has proved his trouble maker status as indicated by his red tags and is busy ripping the bag to shreds in search of delicacies! Stand back – “wait till he has finished – careful!!”

Anyway we made it back – he lost interest – important keys to cars and expensive rain gear are unharmed – opportunity too buy nice new hiking gear in mind ( use for smartphone app) – and we are on our way!

Whose reality now?

More of more later.

Q&A: Finn Butler on wayfinding design

Investing in evidence based design is far from common –  retail business’ mantra that “the customer is always right” is not yet firmly entrenched in the design professions way of thinking – yet – but I am sure its coming – here is an interview with a firm that believes firmly in following the evidence to promote ease of way-finding in notoriously difficult to negotiate environments – from smart planet By 

MELBOURNE – At SmartPlanet, we’ve written about wayfinding from all different angles; as environmental graphic design, operating system, cognitive map and even as an iPhone app. But as a professional practice, it’s still relatively unknown and arguably undervalued.

Pioneering wayfinding as a new discipline is Finn Butler, a specialist with over 20 years of international experience in designing for complex built environments.

Since joining the Melbourne design studio Buro North in 2008, Butler has executed strategies for some of Australia’s most public projects including the Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne, Melbourne Convention Exhibition Centre and Westfield in Sydney.

Butler’s early career focused on transport wayfinding systems for Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport, Delhi Metro in India, and the U.K.’s major rail stations.

We recently caught up with Finn Butler to discuss wayfinding semantics — what it is, why it’s important and where it’s headed as an industry.

Wayfinding expert Finn Butler

SmartPlanet: Where did the term ‘wayfinding’ come from?

Finn Butler: I think Kevin Lynch first used the phrase wayfinding in his book Image of the City to describe the process of designing and organising space to facilitate navigation, so in its modern sense the term has been around for about 50 years. As a design discipline, wayfinding is still in its infancy and is still evolving.

SP: Is there an agreed definition?

FB: Many practitioners describe wayfinding design in terms of the navigation of physical space with a strong focus on signage. I personally believe that wayfinding design is the design of navigational behaviour and not signage, which often combines the navigation of physical space as well as processes. This requires the consideration of a broad range of measures, including the development of operational processes, environmental changes and staff training as well as information delivery in the form of signage.

This approach differs from a purely graphic or signage response, as it requires an understanding of fields and ideas that usually exist outside the design field, such as semiotics, affordance and syntax modelling.

Quite often the best wayfinding strategists come from operational backgrounds or from the sciences rather than from a design background

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How Motherhood Changes the Brain

If you wonder what motherhood has to do with  cities, then think – well where did you come from and how happy were you with your childhood/family experience – many didn’t have one! I think understanding more of what makes people happy , sad, successful, adapted, creative etc is essential knowledge for anyone who intends to cater fro peoples needs within the urban or any other environment. From my health news via Scoop.it! Urban Life

Chocolate treats and sentimental cards may sweeten mom’s belly and heart this Mother’s Day, but it turns out motherhood also goes right to the noggin, with plenty of research showing how having kids, and even the process of childbirth, can change a mama’s brain.

Recent research has revealed some of the changes that take place in women’s brains during motherhood, and experts say that understanding how a mom’s brain works could help them figure out what motivates moms to care for their babies.

“With this research, we hope to better understand how to support moms who don’t naturally experience a brain reward response when they interact with their baby,” said Dr. Lane Strathearn, a developmental pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, Texas.

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Facial Monitoring: The all-telling eye

Pervasive surveillance is now becoming extremely personalized – is there an infringement of our private space – are we even aware of all the body language we imply in a brief glance at  a piece of chocolate cake, a shiny new bauble in a window display or an attractive woman’s breasts in a magazine or in person! from The Economist

Webcams can now spot which ads catch your gaze, read your mood and check your vital signs:

IMAGINE browsing a website when a saucy ad for lingerie catches your eye. You don’t click on it, merely smile and go to another page. Yet it follows you, putting up more racy pictures, perhaps even the offer of a discount. Finally, irked by its persistence, you frown. “Sorry for taking up your time,” says the ad, and promptly desists from further pestering. Creepy. But making online ads that not only know you are looking at them but also respond to your emotions will soon be possible, thanks to the power of image-processing software and the ubiquity of tiny cameras in computers and mobile devices.

Uses for this technology would not, of course, be confined to advertising. There is ample scope to deploy it in areas like security, computer gaming, education and health care. But admen are among the first to embrace the idea in earnest. That is because it helps answer, at least online, clients’ perennial carp: that they know half the money they spend on advertising is wasted, but they don’t know which half.

Advertising firms already film how people react to ads, usually in an artificial setting. The participants’ faces are studied for positive or negative feelings. A lot of research, some of it controversial, has been done into ways of categorising the emotions behind facial expressions. In the 1970s Paul Ekman, an American psychologist, developed a comprehensive coding system which is still widely used.

Some consumer-research companies also employ goggle-mounted cameras to track eye movements so they can be sure what their subjects are looking at. This can help determine which ads attract the most attention and where they might be placed for the best effect on a web page.

This work is now moving online. Higher-quality cameras and smarter computer-vision software mean that volunteers can work from home and no longer need to wear clunky headgear. Instead, their eyes can be tracked using a single webcam.

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Sunni Brown’s visual persuasion – Doodling & Creativity

Being a user of mind-maps, fast sketches and doodles  the translation to mainstream use and the removal of the frustration people experience with drawing you all know,  or are people who say “I can’t draw” this should open your mind to how you can use words and sketchessquiggles and lots of interesting colours to find and make your ideas communicable and fun. From DAILY MAVERICK

In the beginning there was the word and the word was good. Better than good in fact, it was aloof, if not arrogant and proud. Written language was deemed to be a sign of elitism and intellect, and so it became de rigueur that if you were a child you went to school, and learnt letters and words and sentences. And when you doodled in your work book, your teacher told you to stop making a mess and get back to the real business of learning.

Photo: Examples of doodles Sunni has done for corporate clients. 

Sunni Brown is a visual revolutionary who wants to change all that. Why do words inevitably get the upper hand, Brown asks. “There are a lot of different takes on why we have verbal dominance. Historically, literacy, verbal and spoken language has been associated with a certain level of status and economic class. If you are educated, have the capacity to communicate and interpret language, this somehow makes you more intelligent than other people. You become part of an elite group of people,” says Brown.

Human beings are moreover heavily visually orientated, but despite this, for the longest time text has dominated visuals. “People haven’t made the connection between doodling and thinking, or sketching and problem solving, or visual language and creativity. I don’t think we understand how to apply visual language, and this misunderstanding is a consequence of having a cultural aversion to visual language, which is perhaps related to the historical classism. But that’s just a theory – I haven’t done enough research to offer a definitive answer.”

Photo: Sunni Brown teaches us to make the connection between doodling and thinking, sketching and problem solving. Applying visual language to life.

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Invisible Fields

From Domus An interview from Barcelona by Ethel Baraona Pohl

I  see this exhibition, which I will only be able to see by means of its representation in images from cyberspace, as a tangible sign of the distorted relationship we have the technologies which both bind and isolate us. A the very time we see this massive increase in invisible wave and electromagnetic fields filling all the available space we are made aware by microbiologists that we were always surrounded by fields of the microbial clouds that make up our atmosphere and the rhizosphere below it and permeate our bodies and all the objects that make up the biosphere. Ironically both these large scale urban electromagnetic fields and our fossil fuel  activities,  themselves the results of ancient sunlight stored by living organisms,  have polluted and killed off incomprehensible numbers of the very microbes we depend on for our livelihood in the soils and atmosphere and in our bodies (seeInteractivos? Garage Astrobiology – Microbes and EMF. 

Maybe it is time we became aware of this relationship – is it in fact not more important of our survival than these transient communication waves – after all when we examine what is being transmitted how much of it has any real value. In the words of Frank Zappa talking about Television : “I may be vile and pernicious , but you can’t look away! Don’t touch that dial folks, I’m the slime oozing out of your TV set,”

I s this what these fields contain and imply – our serfdom to the consumption system – or our empowerment to resist and reform it?

Clara Boj and Diego Diaz, Observatorio, Interactive installation, 2008

We inhabit intangible territories. The networks of invisible infrastructures which surrounds our world are extensive and growing day by day. In this context, Invisible Fields explores how the understanding of our world and our cosmos has been transformed by the study of radio waves. For a better understanding of this concept, José Luis de Vicente and Honor Harger have curated the exhibition starting with the invention of telecommunication technology at the end of the 19th century, and explaining how the radio spectrum became a tool for rethinking the world we live in. A world within an enigmatic landscape where there’s no geographical distance and is based on technologies of information and communication.

On this context of enigmatic topologies which has been there for more than a century, the projects presented at this exhibition simply makes visible the territories created by invisible waves. As Lucy Bullivant pointed in 2005 [1]:

“Electromagnetic space—also called Hertzian space—is physical and nonvirtual. It consists of a ghostly poetic ecology that exists just beyond our familiar perceptual limits.”

http://vimeo.com/17459171

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As brain pathways deteriorate, so does our memory

Memory loss with aging especially short term memory – the kind that makes us forget peoples names and that makes my 92 year old mom repeat her stories to us over and over, are common to us all as we get on in life, and research such as reported here from John Hopkins University is interesting, but I am concerned that the focus of research is on cures and mitigation with drugs, is there any work here or elsewhere that is investigating the role of use of the brain, memory exercises and even possibly dietary issues in reduction of brain pathway deterioration?

Image Spacesyntax.com

The role of memory in our experience of our interaction with the city and ability of older people to access the city and use it with confidence as well as how to design way-finding and legibility  within local urban areas and buildings is still a little explored area of research. As the average age of urban populations in urban environments increases it will become more essential for designers to build places that we can negotiate without fear in order to have the vibrant streets and safe cities of the future we desire , our initial understanding of way-finding and its importance in the urban context comes from Kevin Lynch ‘s  1960’s book  The image of the city”,  later research and similar work being done in urban environments is well documented in the article from UD E-World on Wayfinding,  which also lists the work of Bill Hillier, Julienne Hanson and colleagues at The BartlettUniversity College London and Space Syntax.com as well as IDeA Centre for Inclusive Design and Environmental Access : I would like to hear form anyone who can provide information or links to practical research in this field.

This article from smartplanet.com by Christina Hernandez shows the types of medical based research that is being carried out 
“Can’t remember where you parked the car? Blame it on your aging brain pathways.

Research out of Johns Hopkins University shows why our memory falters as we grow older
Pathways to the brain’s hippocampus degrade — by as much as 20 percent — as we age. I spoke recently with Michael Yassa, an assistant professor of psychological and brain sciences and lead author on the paper in PNAS, about the work — and how it could eventually help Alzheimer’s disease patients.

How did you conduct this research?

[These pathways are] how bits of the brain communicate with each other. If you have input coming in through your eyes or ears, it gets filtered through those pathways before it gets to the part of your brain that stores memories. Early on, we tried to look for evidence of this specific pathway that leads into the hippocampus because people haven’t been able to get an anatomical way to look at it [in humans]. It’s very small and tucked among other fibers going in different directions.

We tried to find a way to use technology called diffusion imaging. We were able to use a high spatial resolution to look at things in far more detail. Once we do that, we can see evidence of this pathway if we restrict our field of view to a specific direction. We know from anatomical studies in the rodent and some primates exactly where this should be. Using a bit of fancy math, we’re able to get a signature of that pathway. We were able to quantify this — basically use a measurement scheme to see what degree to which this pathway is intact in young individuals and older individuals. We found that, as you get older, there is a clear degradation in this pathway.”

Read the full article here:

Additional Resources: 

Integrating space syntax in wayfinding analysisAnna Maria Nenci, Renato Troffa, Lumsa University, Rome, University of Rome La Sapienza 

Architectural Wayfinding Design 

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