Keith Devlin, professor of mathematics at Stanford University says it’s simple. “We’re creatures who are genetically programmed to see patterns and to seek meaning,” he says. It’s not in our DNA to be comfortable with arbitrary things like aesthetics, so we try to back them up with our often limited grasp of math. But most people don’t really understand math, or how even a simple formula like the golden ratio applies to complex system, so we can’t error-check ourselves. “People think they see the golden ratio around them, in the natural world and the objects they love, but they can’t actually substantiate it,” Devlin tells me. “They are victims to their natural desire to find meaning in the pattern of the universe, without the math skills to tell them that the patterns they think they see are illusory.” If you see the golden ratio in your favorite designs, you’re probably seeing things.
Simple doesn’t just sell, it sticks. Simple made hits of the Nest thermostat, Fitbit, and TiVo. Simple brought Apple back from the dead. It’s why you have Netflix. The Fisher Space Pen, the Swiss Army Knife, and the Rolex Oyster Perpetual are some of our most enduring products. All are marvels of simplicity.
Yet while many mechanical marvels of simplicity remain true to their original form, most electronic ones do not.
Travel back in time to use your parents’ first microwave and you’ll likely see a box with three buttons (High, Medium, Low) and a timer dial. By contrast, one of LG’s current models boasts 33 buttons. Do I hit Auto Defrost or Express Defrost? And what the hell is Less/More? None of these make my popcorn pop faster or taste better. And it’s not easier to use. Why do products become more complex as they evolve? ….
This piece from Wired magazine had caught my attention a short while back. It is about this genre of writing that essentially claims that everything you have understood or believed to be true about a topic, has in fact, been wrong. And these “experts” often promise to reveal the secrets to this hidden “truth” — which you can know only by, well, reading more of their stuff. Very often it attempts to tap into the latest scientific findings or social research which is (supposedly) shedding dramatically new light on the topic in question.
Here’s the beginning of the piece to give you a taste:
Clive Thompson on the Hidden Truth of Counterintuition
Wander into the pop science section of any bookstore and you’ll be told—over and over again—a disturbing fact: Everything you know is wrong. About everything. Seriously, everything!
You’re familiar, no doubt, with this genre of book. It has metastasized in recent years, with a seemingly unending series of tomes claiming to upend everything we believe about talent (Talent Is Overrated), decisionmaking (The Upside of Irrationality), motivation (Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us), personality (The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement), and dozens of other subjects.
And not only are you completely wrong about something that seems totally obvious, but the real truth is some theosophical “secret” long “hidden” from you. It’ll take a renegade outsider—like, say, a “rogue economist”—to pierce these veils of ignorance.
The sheer durability of this trope is kind of bewildering. Can it really be true that there’s some gnarled mystery behind every facet of life?
Or is it possible that Everything You Know About Everything You Know Being Wrong is wrong?
It goes on to mention what journalist David Schenk years ago called data smog—with data smog being described as “living with an ever expanding surplus of research and factoids, which can paradoxically making you increasingly unmoored from what you actually believe”.
The particular reason why this resonated with me was that I had originally come across it while I was writing some longer original essays to appear on this blog. And as I was reviewing some of my notes on various aspects of design, there was a common theme throughout of my concern for how much we listen to (or—to say the least—are continuously confronted by) “experts”, “gurus”, etc.…
Of course, I’ll need adequate time and space to express myself appropriately (so please stay tuned). But for now, I’ll allow the brilliant George Carlin to take us all to school on this issue ….
It now appears far more interesting to understand color as an element of human evolution and survival, as opposed to merely an element of design.
“All his work attempts to understand the visual brain as a system defined, not by its essential properties, but by its past ecological interactions with the world. In this view, the brain evolved to see what proved useful to see, to continually redefine normality.”
—British Science Association
Beau Lotto is founder of Lottolab, a hybrid art studio and science lab.
What’s a remix? In Kirby Ferguson’s view, any piece of art that contains a recognizable reference to another work–a quote from a lyric, a borrowed riff, a filmic homage. Which makes almost everything a remix, from a Led Zeppelin song to a classic film from George Lucas. His deeply researched and insanely fun four-part web series, “Everything Is a Remix,” dives into the question: Is remixing a form of creativity, a production of the new on the shoulders of what precedes it, or is it just copying? He comes out firmly on the side of creativity, calling for protections for people who, with good intentions, weave together bits of existing culture into something fresh and relevant.
New findings released: Typeface style can affect safety
MIT AgeLab and the New England University Transportation Center partnered with Monotype Imaging Holding Inc. in research that showed certain typeface styles can shorten glance time for in-vehicle displays. Results suggest that changes to font characteristics in in-vehicle interface design may be helpful in moving towards a goal of reducing demand and improving roadway safety.
A white paper released today describes the results of two recent studies, in which drivers ranging in age from 36-75 interacted with a multi-line menu display similar to a vehicle navigation system menu. Across both studies there was a clear and consistent reduction in glance time away from the road among then men. When interacting with menus in a humanist style typeface as compared to a square grotesque typeface, men took their eyes off the road for 10.6% less. A more modest difference was observed in women.
What Caricatures Can Teach Us About Facial Recognition
Our brains are incredibly agile machines, and it’s hard to think of anything they do more efficiently than recognize faces. Just hours after birth, the eyes of newborns are drawn to facelike patterns. An adult brain knows it’s seeing a face within 100 milliseconds, and it takes just over a second to realize that two different pictures of a face, even if they’re lit or rotated in very different ways, belong to the same person. Neuroscientists now believe that there may be a specific region of the brain, on the fusiform gyrus of the temporal lobe, dedicated to facial recognition.
Perhaps the most vivid illustration of our gift for recognition is the magic of caricature—the fact that the sparest cartoon of a familiar face, even a single line dashed off in two seconds, can be identified by our brains in an instant. It’s often said that a good caricature looks more like a person than the person himself. As it happens, this notion, counterintuitive though it may sound, is actually supported by research. In the field of vision science, there’s even a term for this seeming paradox—the caricature effect—a phrase that hints at how our brains misperceive faces as much as perceive them. (more)