Thursday, July 02, 2009

Design solves problems

In many cases, design is all about making a product look good. It also has to be functional. But sometimes, design can solve systemic problems that go beyond the product itself. If designers understand the context in which their design will be used, it is amazing what design can solve.

Here is an example.

In Nepal, airport personnel have a bad habit of accepting bribes. Nepal decided it would easier to use a design solution than a regulatory or police solution. They simply redesigned the airport uniforms so they don’t have pockets. If they don't have a place to put the money, they can't accept it. A simple solution that shows the elegance of design.

its easy to fool ourselves, even when our life depends on it.

Great example of confirmation bias yesterday on NPR. A small town in Texas has been receiving tons of money in royalties from a natural gas company that is drilling the Barnett shale. They are getting up to tens of thousands of dollars per person per MONTH!!

In June, they experienced the first earthquake EVER in the recorded history of this region. Then another. Then another. Six so far in just one month. If it weren’t for the royalty checks, I am sure that the townspeople would have jumped to the conclusion that the drilling is causing them. But because the drilling is their golden egg, they have jumped to the conclusion that it can’t be the drilling. Or that the earthquakes are too small to matter.

Either way, the townspeople are making decisions based on no real information. The interesting thing is how easy an unrelated fact (the payments) is impacted their cognitive processes. I don’t think that they are consciously deluding themselves. I think this is a natural manifestation of what cognitive science has known about for years. Cognition is not a logical process. We often start out with the answer we want and then collect and interpret information to fit that answer. And this is unconscious, so it’s insidiously hard to overcome.

Hurray for Simplicity !!

Hurray for simplicity.

One of my favorite authors, Nassim Taleb, just posted an excerpt from a book that really caught my attention. It’s a small excerpt that tells a story about a statistician who tried to prove that statistical short cuts were costing businesses a bundle. He wanted to prove that companies should use state of the art extensive econometric models. Horror of horrors, he found out that the simple methods actually worked better.

Hurray for simplicity !!