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A New Perspective

Updated: Apr 12

Perspective is a strange thing, because perspective depends on your perspective...

We all love Ben and Chris. There's not a single bad word to say about them. When we first heard that Ben was giving us one of our D&T talks, we weren't hugely fussed what it was going to be about. We just wanted to see Ben Craven. Maybe it's the fact that he was one of our first GSA tutors; some kind of 'homely' clarification to a stressful few years.

We sat down for the talk, and saw the title of the presentation on the screen:

"The Magic Number 7+-2 and Related Topics


What Psychologists Know That Designers Should Know Too


Use Your Brain So That the User Doesn't Have To Use Theirs"

Interesting. Immediately interesting. Three titles in one? 7+-2? Related topics? I was confused, and thus intrigued.

Ben began by showing us a series of patterns, and asking us to recall information about them. It became apparent that, when the patterns increased in complexity, it became harder to recall the information. This seems obvious, but the idea behind it isn't.

On a side note, one thing that I genuinely found quite interesting, from a psychological perceptive, was watching some people, seemingly, pretend that they could still keep up with the extremely complex patterns and challenges. It's another interesting line of "perspective and perception", but slightly off topic for this blog post.

Ben explained that some tasks we do are almost 'effortless'. We can do them without having to think about what we are doing. However, it gets to a point, with increasing complexity, where you have to start putting plans in place in your head in order to carry out tasks.

Ben explained that, while our brains are capable of processing vast amounts of information, we are limited by our ability to focus on a certain number of things at once. When you increase the number of things a person has to do, look at or interact with at once, the 'effortlessness' of carrying out the task disappears. This, for most people, happens to be around 7(+-2) things. However, as you start to face tasks that have more than 7 'things', you can begin to implement patterns and plans that make the job easier.

Ben said something that I found really interesting, and so I noted it down. He said:

"We don't know when designers give us effortless tasks; they're inconspicuous. But, we do know when they give us effortful tasks".

Ben, also, spoke a bit about perception. He talked about how our perceptions are influenced by things such as our past experiences, emotions, and beliefs. He also mentioned that, while everyone's perceptions and perspectives are unique, the way we design things can encourage people to perceive things in a particular way; and that can be positive or negative.

For example, Ben showed us a picture of some buttons in a train toilet that he'd been in, along with labels next to each button that explained what each button was for. The way that the labels had been positioned (designed) gave almost all of us a similar opinion on the design. We all struggled to see what label went with each button, and ultimately decided that it was poorly designed. But, it wasn't particularly poorly designed because of the aesthetic or the engineering; it was poorly designed because of the way that the user perceived the situation. It was a genuine chore to try and work out what the buttons did, and in that sort of situation, a clear perception is a top priority. You don't want a toilet door opening on you mid-plunge...

I think that the overall message is that the organisation of things can be changed by a minute change in what we see; how we perceive things. But, when designing products, we don't always want the user to have to go out of their way to try and interpret something in some complex way. Sometimes, people shouldn't have to work things out. In the case of the train toilet buttons, the user shouldn't have to work out what button does what. It should be immediately intuitive. Designing products requires you to consider perception and perspective.

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