What you’ll like for dinner

Or: How persuasive design saved my lunch

While I was on route to Amsterdam for IXDA14, something struck me about the way the dinner options were presented to passengers. Here’s what was happening. The flight attendant delivered the menu in the same way to each row:

“Would you like barbeque chicken, beef strip, or vegetarian?”

I’ve been a vegetarian for twenty years now, and I’m a little sensitive to these moments. At first, my identity hackles were raised. “Hey!” I thought, “Why wouldn’t it be ‘Chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice?’ We eat food, not a category of food! Those options should be presented as equals because we’re equals…Blah blah blah…ramble ramble…”

Fortunately, as is my habit, I caught myself mid rant, and tried to consider what was good about it. And sure enough, on reflection it’s the exact right way to present these options. Cooper’s been paying more attention to persuasive design of late, so let me explain, because that’s exactly what’s going on. The flight attendants are using choice architecture to keep vegetarians fed.

You see, one of the problems that vegetarians encounter when eating buffet-style with omnivores is that when there is a veggie option present, if it’s too good, there’s a risk that the omnivores will eat all the veggie stuff before we get to the front of the line, leaving us poor suckers with empty plates and sad-trombone bellies.

If the attendant presented “chicken, beef, and spicy red-beans-and-rice,” that’s exactly what’s at risk. An omnivore hearing that might think, “Hey, I’m a huge fan of spicy red beans and rice! Cajun spice is awesome. Bam! Let’s kick it up a notch!”

But when hearing a menu consisting of two easy-to-visualize options and the category of “vegetarian,” omnivores are more likely to be turned off by that third option. “Vegetarian? Screw that. I’m not a vegetarian. I like my meat heaping and with a side of meat. Meat me up, attendant, with the finest, meatiest meatings you have!” They’re less likely to ask after the actual contents of the vegetarian option, as they’re busy thinking about whether they’d like chicken or beef.

Meanwhile the vegetarians (even if their delicate identities are a bit bruised) are relieved when they hear that their needs have been considered. The unlucky ones in the very back of the plane (who failed to arrange a special meal in advance) might even get to eat.

descriptive option categorical option
omnivores Might choose :) Less likely to choose, still :)
vegetarians Less to eat :( More to eat :)

It’s not foolproof, of course, but I’ll bet if we could do a plane-by-plane comparison of “vegetarian” vs. “red beans and rice”, the categorical option would result in much more of everyone being happy. And that’s one of the powers of well-done choice architecture.

Designs that change lives

The UX Boot Camp: Kiva

Kick off your spring at the Cooper studio with our upcoming UX Boot Camp with Kiva, held March 11-14, in San Francisco, CA. This deep-dive promises to be one of our most inspiring, as designers, developers and project managers work together to support Kiva’s mission to eliminate poverty worldwide by connecting people through microloans.

Sound like a high bar? It is. Wait until you hear your mission.

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Interaction14 – Is it Science, Art or something else?

While Friday’s talks seem to be quite level-headed compared Thursday’s design extravaganza, they weren’t any less provocative. Take a look at some of Friday‘s highlights (or sneak ahead to Saturday)

The De-Intellectualization of Design

Dan Rosenberg

Sketchnote by @ChrisNoessel

The De-Intellectualization of Design Big Idea:

Daniel Rosenberg, one of the old guard of Human-Computer Interaction, bemoaned the loss of a computer-science heavy approach to interaction design. He then shared his three-part antidote: Industry certification, employing Chief Design Officers, and better design education (read: computer and cognitive-science based). Guess which one of these was the audience’s “favorite”?

Hint:

Full description of The De-Intellectualization of Design here.

An excellent counterpoint to Dan’s observation was Irene Au’s early-morning mindfulness talk.

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Interaction14 – Food, Comics, and the UI of Nature

Interaction14 is off to a blazing start, and man if it doesn’t sound like a kaleidoscope of designers, thought-leaders, and crazy beautiful ideas. There’s everything from interactive skateboard ramps to talks about principles of user experience design learned from cats.

Exactly what kind of “conference” is this?

This year Cooper sent over a troop of people for inspiration, elucidation and to capture some of the creative spark that only happens when you put hundreds of brilliant people in a big room for 4 days. In between workshops, talks, and happy hours, they’ve been slapping together some pretty stunning sketchnotes for us local folks. Here are notes from 4 of the talks that went down on Thursday. See sketchnotes from Friday and Saturday too!

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Global Service what…?

and is there any peanut butter with the jam?

No, this is not that kind of jam. Think of a music jam, but instead of feeding off each other’s instruments to come up with interesting songs, we will feed off of each other’s ideas to come up with creative service solutions.

The Global Service Jam is a 48-hour design event that brings people from all backgrounds together to learn new approaches, tools, and methods for designing services. This isn’t a watch-and-learn kind of conference, the GSJ gets participants’ hands dirty, asking “jammers” to create services, not slide decks. A theme is announced on the first night of the Jam then for the next 48 hours jammers focus on exploring, iterating, and prototyping new service design ideas. One person introduces a ryf, or rhythm, and together you get the chance to build something that you couldn’t have built by yourself.

This year, Cooper is excited to host the SF Service Jam, March 7-9.

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Man’s Best App

How do you design an engaging and educational application that prepares a user with short-term memory loss for a lifestyle change?

For the November UX Boot Camp, designers, developers, and product managers from around the world teamed up to answer that very challenge for Canine Companions for Independence, the largest non-profit provider of service dogs.

Led by senior designers from Cooper, UX Boot Camp participants got their hands dirty learning new UX design techniques, collaborating with new teams, and working closely with stakeholders from Canine Companions.

From kickoff to design delivery, UX Boot Camp participants took a hands-on role in the generation, exploration, and synthesis of five distinct and fully-developed design concepts.

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New Peers, Practices, and Perspectives

Takeaways from Cooper U in Philadelphia

A guest post by Cooper U alumni, Hanna Kang-Brown

As a career changer and the first UX Designer to be hired at my company, there’s a lot of self-learning I do on the job. Reading books and blogs have been essential to developing my UX process, but when I had the opportunity to attend Cooper U’s Interaction Design Training in Philadelphia this past December, I jumped at the chance. I wanted a week of hands-on training, and the opportunity to learn a thorough interaction design process with a group of other professionals. Some highlights from the week and my biggest takeaways are below.

My Biggest Takeaways

Clarifying Process
I was already familiar with the interaction design process, but the course helped deepen my understanding of it through hands on activities. I discovered ways in which I had cut corners in my design process and how I could have a better end product if I spent more time initially considering business stakeholder goals, personas and sketching out scenarios.

Speaking of Sketching
I’ve always been a reluctant sketcher because I never thought I was very good at it. We did a lot of sketching, from user profiles to storyboards and wireframes, and it helped me gain more confidence and a better appreciation for its usefulness as a lightweight prototyping method.

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From Superman to the Avengers: Rethinking Bruce Mau Design

[Excerpt from a UX Magazine article written by Teresa Brazen. Full article here.]

Everyone loves a hero. But what happens to

organizations when their heroic leaders retire?

Four years ago, Bruce Mau Design (BMD) faced this dilemma. The company’s infamous founder, Bruce Mau, left so that he could create a platform to address bigger global issues that were meaningful to him called the Massive Change Network. Those who remained at BMD and its new President and CEO, Hunter Tura, were presented with an interesting opportunity: reinvention. Curious about the culture of BMD today, I interviewed Tura in his Toronto office. Here are some takeaways for teams and organizations from their evolution.

Rethink Your Mental Model

Bruce Mau Design was founded upon what Tura describes as the “Superman model,” which meant the founder was seen as the “creative auteur” of the company. Mau’s exit gave the BMD team an opportunity to rethink how they positioned themselves, what services they wanted to offer, and how they wanted to work together. Read the rest of the article here.

Your Flat Design is Convenient for Exactly One of Us

Illustration built on creative commons 2.0 Portrait of a Man by Flickr user and photographer Yuri Samoilov

I’m OK with fashion in interaction design. Honestly I am. It means that the field has grappled with and conquered most of the basics about how to survive, and now has the luxury of fretting over what scarf to wear this season. And I even think the flat design fashion of the day is kind of lovely to look at, a gorgeous thing for its designers’ portfolios.

But like corsets or foot binding, extreme fashions come at a cost that eventually loses out to practicality. Let me talk about this practicality for a moment.

In The Design of Everyday Things, Donald Norman distinguished between two ways that we know how to use a thing: information in the world, and information in your head.

Information in the world is stuff a user can look at to figure out. A map posted near the subway exit is information in the world. Reference it when you need it, ignore it when you don’t.

Information in the head is the set of declarative and procedural rules that users memorize about how to use a thing. That you need to keep your subway pass to exit out of the subway is information in your head. Woe be to the rider to throws their ticket away thinking they no longer need it.

For flat design purists, skeuomorphism is something akin to heresy, but it’s valuable because it belongs to this former category of affordance: it is information in the world. For certain, the faux-leather and brushed-aluminum interfaces that Apple had been pumping out were just taking things way too far in that direction, to a pointless mimicry of the real world. But a button that looks like a thing you can press with your finger is useful information for the user. It’s an affordance based on countless experiences of living in a world that contains physical buttons.

Pure, flat design doesn’t just get rid of dead weight. It shifts a burden. What once was information in the world, information borne by the interface, is now information in users’ heads, information borne by them. That in-head information is faster to access, but it does require that our users become responsible for learning it, remembering it, and keeping it up to date. Is the scroll direction up or down this release? Does swipe work here? Well I guess you can damned well try it and see. As an industry now draped in flat design, we’ve tidied up our workspace by cluttering our user’s brains with memorized instruction booklets for using our visually sparse, lovely designs.

So though the runways of interaction design are just gorgeous right now, I suspect there will be a user-sized sigh of relief when things begin to slip a bit back the other way (without the faux leather, Apple). Something to think about as we gear up our design thinking for the new year.