Confusing Information with the Form

Information from MAYAnMAYA on Vimeo.

Lovely video from design and research consultancy MAYA on the difference between information and the form we give it.

I came across this on David Sherwin’s ChangeOrder blog in a post about moving beyond words for better brainstorming, which is also and interesting article. He asks why it is so hard to break people out of their regular ideation habits. Words are one problem, but it is also an issue of corporate and company culture, even within design agencies.

The rules of brainstorming are pretty much the opposite of what a usual business culture is. Working in a company that has a traditional hierarchy encourages sniping, competitive, uncooperative, pressured and role-based behaviour. It’s the way people “fight to the top”, create “creative competition” and so on.

It’s very hard to convince people to take suspending those habits seriously if they’re not taken seriously at a company culture level and we have come to consider that the normal way of working. Companies like IDEO or Pixar spend a lot of time and effort on not working this way. It’s no surprise that they are successful in this area and why so many other companies fail to bring ‘innovation’ into their culture, despite bringing in consultants who specialise in ‘innovation training’ or whatever the latest business buzzword is. The consultants, of course, are temporary blips, outside the main culture of the company, so easily dismissed after they have gone.

Much like MAYA’s video, you have to re-think what it is and means to work together, what the purpose and idea of a company is to really change its culture. A company is the form given to a group of people working together, but it is by no means the only, nor the best, form.

Interaction Design for Behavioural Change

Interaction design is all about changing people’s behaviour. Without the action > reaction part, there is no interaction. Whether you click one button instead of another or stop to play with an interactive shop window , the art of interaction design is about understanding that transaction. (And it’s the subject of my, hopefully soon finished, PhD. Sigh).

Taken to a broader context, these principles have been successfully applied in areas such as service design and sustainable design. It is something we tried to look at in the Visualising Issues in Pharmacy project too.

But what about economics? Robert Fabricant from Frog Design has written an insightful piece on Frog’s Design Mind blog called Design For Impulse. He makes a good point about interaction design education too:

“If I was starting an Interaction Design program (like Liz Danzico at SVA) or taking one over (like David Malouf at SCAD) the one academic subject I would be sure to cover is Behavioral Economics.”

He then goes on to quote David Leonhart’s New York Times article about behavioural economics and the Obama administration’s interest in it:

“Behavioral economics sprang up about three decades ago as a radical critique of the standard assumption that human beings behaved in economically rational ways. The behaviorialists, as they?’re known, pointed out that this assumption was ridiculous.”

To explain behavioural economics more simply, I’ll quote the next paragraph in the article:

“Would-be weight losers pay $100 a month to belong to a gym they rarely visit. Borrowers get fooled into taking out a loan with an appealing teaser rate. Patients fail to follow even a basic regimen of prescribed drugs — a failure that can leave them with serious medical complications and Medicare with big hospital bills.”

Essentially, we all do things that make no rational or logical sense, even if we say we wouldn’t. And we’re especially irrational with money – who hasn’t shopped around for a tiny saving on groceries and then stopped to drink an over-priced coffee afterwards, negating the savings? (Dan Ariely’s book, Predictably Irrational is a good starting point, apparently. I haven’t read it yet.)

As the world we interact with becomes ever more interconnected and our need to understand everything from the economics of what we are designing through to the life-cycles of everything we use, understanding this psychology becomes essential. For interaction designs (and, I would add, some product designer and architects), this kind of thinking is, or should be, built into what we do. As Fabricant says:

“Outputs, Outcomes and Impacts are VERY different things and clients often confuse the two. As an Interaction Designer you better know the difference.”

It seems to me that Obama’s administration understand the psychology of interconnectedness very well. It will be interesting to see if they can put it to work on such a large, messy problem.

Out with the economists, in with the interaction designers I say!

(Once again, thanks to the ever-excellent IxDA discussion list for the heads up).

The Network Generation is in The White House

obama.jpg

Photo: barackobamadotcom on Flickr

It is hard to overstate just how different these US elections were and what a shift in thinking Obama and his campaign signify. Is this the dawn of a fourth republic, whose cycles are “linked indirectly to stages of technological and economic development,” as Michael Lind argues? Or is this the rise of a kind of new informality or informalism, to bastardise a perfectly decent word into another -ism?

Just four years ago, at the time of the previous US election, the blogosphere consisted of around four million blogs, now it’s difficult to even count, but it’s possibly 133 million. In those four years we have, of course, seen blogging become and integral part of mainstream media culture. As The Guardian’s Jemima Kiss noted, this was a truly cross-platform election, with TV woefully slow to catch up with calling the election win for Obama compared to those online.

But what was impressive and very different about the Obama camp approach was how much they clearly get these new media forms.

Twitter’s election feed was – and still is – a torrent of posts and opinions, but during the voting we got to hear people’s accounts of waiting in line, the excitement the atmosphere. I’m not American, what should I care? And yet. And yet, it was hard not to be drawn into the sense of shared experience.

Obama has (or had – it’s been a bit quiet since the elections) a Twitter stream and being on Twitter during the vote was a shared experience. The Obama camp made great use of Twitter to push for support, to spread the message. The exit poll stats show just how much the 18-29 year old turnout had increased from 2000.

What is essential to remember here is that Twitter isn’t just a computer-based chat space, it is completely integrated into mobile devices too. That means Obama’s tweets, and those of his supporters, reached people on the way to or in the waiting lines of polling booths. It’s direct and intimate.

The world has become cynical of politicians who have long since appeared to ignore the protest and voices of the people who elected them. Whether Obama himself wrote his Twitter tweets we will probably never know, but the fact a presidential candidate is aware of it shows a much more direct connection with people – and not just US citizens. Even if there’s a lowly paid intern tweeting on his behalf, there is a sense that it might filter up. And, of course, there’s always the secret hope that Obama himself is doing the tweeting.

The Flickr photo set above show’s Obama with his family and aides watching the results of the election, watching McCain’s concession speech and being congratulated by his family. They’re intimate, often off-guard and in many he looks quite nervous as if he’s thinking “Oh God, now I actually have to be president”. It’s like looking at post-ceremony, pre-reception drunkenness photos of a freshly minted bride and groom.

The most striking thing about these pictures, though, is that they’re covered by a non-commercial Creative Commons licence. These photos (by David Katz) that picture editors all over the world would love to use to sell their papers remain out of their reach. But they remain usable by the millions of bloggers around the world.

The difference in approach is striking – these aren’t polished, selected, vetted images, tightly controlled by a PR office. They’re informal and out there for the world to see and use. It’s unthinkable that Bush – or any other major politician – would have done anything remotely similar on the “internets“. (The cynic in the back of my mind wonders if they maybe are vetted – there are no photos of Obama shotgunning a beer and flicking the Vs at McCain on TV, after all. But that doesn’t seem like his style.)

A day after the election, Obama’s campaign set up change.gov with, naturally, a blog. (Compare it to the stiffness of whitehouse.gov).

So, now we have a US President who blogs and twitters – or whose staff do at least – and appears to be open to opinions and voices from all over the world. In an age of increased surveillance and control, of clipped civil liberties, of an attempt by the previous generation to hang onto control at all costs, this different attitude and use of technology signifies a much bigger, generational shift. It is a shift to a mindset in which collaboration, conversation and the network mind are much more powerful than spin and top-down control ever can be.

It’s what anyone using Twitter, Facebook or writing a blog has known for some time, but now it’s as mainstream as it gets. The network has grown up. The network generation is in The White House.