100 Things Every designer needs to know about people

People make Mistakes

Errors are one of those things that I try very hard to avoid when designing whatever it is that I am working on. I use tactics of creating constraints so that the user can only choose a valid option. To me, it makes sense that a system that has a limited acceptable type of inputs, that we establish a limited manner of choosing them. For example, using a drop-down list rather than a text field on a website.

However, I’ve also discovered that people can find ways of breaking things and changing the outcome. There are the errors that are created by accident, but there are the purposeful errors designed to find a way to break the system. Error handling is a difficult process and knowing all the potential opportunities for a person to do the wrong thing is difficult. This is where the user testing aspects come in.

Something that I have first-hand knowledge of is how errors can cause even larger errors in future work to occur. This is something that I’ve experienced in mathematics courses. It is fatal to one’s understanding to assume that what you’ve learned before is the correct and most accurate way of understanding the materials. When you move on and find out that the working knowledge you do have does not work any longer in the new situation frustration can occur. As a result of this sort of situation, a return to the previous lessons or information is often required.

The concept that errors are a way to learn as well is intriguing and is very true of any sort of situation that I have encountered. A famous Thomas Edison quote is that he didn’t fail in a hundred ways. He found a hundred ways in which it did not work. Knowing the limits of a situation or system is important to be able to understand what can be done. Many ancillary forms of knowledge can be formulated from the errors, even if they aren’t directly connected to the subject of study.

I found it interesting how stress creates errors. Even the thing that the person is working on can be stressful, and errors can start compounding themselves. I find this a lot when I have been playing a game. I work through the game in a progressive and methodical approach. Then I end up in a situation where I cannot figure out how to survive a situation or how to solve a puzzle. My stress levels rise and it becomes increasingly hard to overcome my errors. I take a break for a day and return to the game and find myself solving the situation or overcoming the challenge with little to no effort.

  • How can compounding errors be prevented?
  • Can errors be used to create new experiences within a system?

How people focus their Attention

The concept of multi-tasking has been one of those situations that have been misunderstood. People often take this term to mean that a person is doing multiple tasks at once. This is not possible given that our brains are wired to only focus on one thing. There have been studies that have analyzed the process of  ‘multi-tasking’. They have shown that when a person changes their attention from one task to another, the brain has to reset itself and re-align the neural processes to the new tasks. In essence, the brain has to drop one task and then pick up another. For people who actively switch from tasks to task within minutes of each other end up haveing a harder time concentrating on the minute details of the tasks. When the term multi-tasking comes up, I prefer to think of it as being able to keep track of multiple tasks as they are occurring. You don’t do them all at once. You are aware of them all at once. In the sense of when I’m running a kitchen, I am only one person having to complete multiple tasks at a time. However, I have built up a routine that has allowed me to be able to complete things in a methodical and well setup manner. While one thing is cooking, I work on this other thing. While that thing is mixing, I work on wrapping that other item. I know how long each task should take and can fit each thing into another task as I wait for something else to complete itself.

Something that I found interesting was the concept of High Multi-taskers versus low multitaskers. This makes a lot of sense to me, especially to my own experiences. I do not consider myself a high multi-tasker. I cannot sit in a room and have a TV going at the same time. I can’t have a conversation with someone in a noisy environment. It is hard for me to focus on one thing or the other. The distractions are too numerous and my brain wants to drift those distractions. I prefer to focus very specifically on one task at a time for a long period of time each rather than work many tasks for a short time each.

Two things that I found relative to each other is the concept of how a lot of practice reduces the amount of attention required, and the concept that expectations of a thing can reduce the opportunity to detect and error. These two concepts are interesting in that they go together and contradict each other at the same time. Is it possible to practice something to perfection that you loose sight of a detail, or does the process of perfecting an action reduce the chances of error?

Another two concepts that I linked together was how attention is very selective and how it can disappear in about 10 minutes. In a semi-related study, people have been found to have no sense of time after three minutes. For example, if a person is waiting in line to see a doctor and there was no form or manner of telling the time, they cannot accurately describe the amount of time it really took them to wait. Three minutes is the time in which they stop being able to tell the difference between five minutes to fifteen minutes, to even a half-hour. I relate this to the concept of disappearing attention because it shows just how short of a span of attention we have. I also found it to be a relief that, in order to hold someone long enough, I have to keep it under ten minutes.

  • Is it possible to practice something to perfection that you loose sight of a detail, or does the process of perfecting an action reduce the chances of error?
  • Is there a way of using the attention span of 10 minutes to create a two-day learning course?


How people Decide

Ah, the illusion of choice. This is probably one of my favorite aspects of society at large. It is obvious and hidden all at the same time. It is so well hidden that we unconsciously find ourselves trying to make choices between two things that we find repulsive. I think one of the best examples is in our voting system.

Not getting into the concept of political issues or specific candidates, but we suffer an illusion of choice as a voting society. The candidates that we as citizens choose to lead are actually chosen by another set of people who have self-interests in what they want to see. We choose from other people’s choices. Who controls the choices we have? People of money of course. So from the perspective of a voting body, we are presented with choices that we feel will change the course of the nation.

What if that course was already charted, and the choices that we are presented with are really answers to the same cause and destination. Would our voting for one canidate over another really change the course of events? Would we still be in the midsts of scandles and accusations? What if the goals of both people were exactly the same, just a different flavor? It would be like drinking two different flavored sodas. Same exact contents, just a different color to make it look different.

This relates to the concept of letting other people decide. In a sense, other people have already made the decision for them. The uncertainty of a situation can cause that person to follow other people rather than formulate a concept of their own. Much in the case of how leaders’ are chosen in a group. Usually, it is the first suggestion that becomes the only decision, even if other options are discussed.

Decision making is often an emotional process guided by our ‘reptile’ brain. We typically don’t realize the process is taking place and feel that we have already formulated a decision before even thinking about it. This is a scary set of waters to swim in as you are sure to gain a certain result by instilling a certain emotional atmosphere. People who live with the concept of fear everyday are more likely to choose an option to try and get rid of that fear. Rather then evaluate the facts and understand the issues involved, they can make decisions that result in snap-judgements. This is genearlly useful if you are trying to survive in a hostile enviroment. Where we have to react to situations and problems as they are occuring. In order to survive we have to think quickly. There were no facts to consider except for the sharp claws and vicious teeth.


One final concept that I appreciate is how time is a stronger connector then the monetary estimation of value. There is nothing that kills a decision faster for me then when I convert the price of a thing to how many hours I worked in order to gain that much money. When I look at a product and evaluate how much of my life is worth acquiring it, I find that I am less likely to buy it at all. If the item is inconsequential and is not a requirement, an entire day of work just doesn’t feel right for me. It is interesting that this difference exists despite that a well-known statement that ‘money is time’ exists. Have we separated the two so much in the modern culture that we don’t derive a sense of value from the time spent anymore?


  • Using the following term, “Time is money”, how is it that time and money are so different when making decisions?
  • Would our voting for one candidate over another really change the course of events? Would we still be in the midsts of scandals and accusations? What if the goals of both people were exactly the same, just a different flavor?

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