How People Feel & Think

A Word Vomit with Yoo Sung Lee

“It is a destructive existence to be blaming ourselves for our unpleasant experiences, rather than the products in our lives.”

We cannot control that we are changing and growing, that we are individuals, and that we are imperfect. But we can control our designs to adapt to us.

Interactions should be designed with the consideration for humans’ cognitive abilities at the forefront. Designs should recognize and validate the limitations and affordances of human cognition, accounting for our ways of perception, decision-making, memory, and motor skills.

We have bounded rationality, meaning we make decisions based on limited information. When pressured by time or situation, which is often the case when making decisions, humans will opt for the “good-enough” solutions (rather than the perfect and/or ideal), and designs should take this into mind. Context and cognition, the environment and mind, should all be considered together to understand and predict behavior.

Mapping mental models highlights differences between what is seen vs. what is believed, the space between perception and processing. Perception is often just pattern-seeking, which is then followed by our making of representations, which are abstractions of reality in order to filter out irrelevance.

We are also constantly behaving in either subconscious or conscious manners, and the products we design should be forgiving of the human-ness in our decision-making.

Cognitive states assign meaning; affective (emotional) states assign value.

All design is emotional design.

Once we understand the affective state, we can learn what makes something valuable.

Even to the biological level, we are not meant to be emotionally durable, because of something called hedonic adaptation, meaning our feelings will constantly fluctuate.

It is not just the happy experiences that are fulfilling, but the rich experiences. We should want to create emotionally durable designs, designs that will satiate your life and truly be there for you — designs that are emotionally durable for when we aren’t.

This leads to the question: What is the difference between design that does well and design that works well? Which metric should we strive for?

Worldview comes from either inner participation (interpretation, subjective) or outer perception (experience, objective). It is bound by our cultural experiences at that very specific time and place. Reality, which by definition is the closest realm our lives get to factual, is actually composed of many subjective factors: our beliefs, values, assumptions, and expectations.

The reason we need to be aware of our worldview is obvious: only when we are able to recognize our subjectivities and biases are we able to begin to design for others.

How can we truly design for others? We must be able to separate our self from the other, to separate our self from the Human, completely take ourselves out of the picture. (In a way, is this like altruism?) This reveals some things: ie. how “humanitarian” design is sometimes actually a mask and method of imperialism, where we design more according to our beliefs of other’s needs rather than the actual other’s needs.

Because our designs will inevitably and undoubtedly affect more than just humans, we should be designing for more than just humans.

The terminology “more-than-human” is interesting because linguistically it is antonym to “less-than-human”, a term of which would be able to speak for itself. The unseen, unaccounted stakeholders of our designs are most often those society categorize and see as “less-than-human”; from wildlife and nature to the homeless to those in western-defined “third-world” nations.

Design must grow beyond anthropocentrism; humans* are not the only life with a sense of morality. *human as in those society actually humanizes, therefore not encompassing all biological humans.

Environment-centered design is human-centered design. Nature is so much, a limitless much, amount more than just a means to our ends. We are the product of multiple ontologies, and our existence and reality is scalar.

Now, revisiting the definition and relevance of worldview — to easily understand worldview, we are told it can be broken up into paradigms, which are frameworks or patterns. For example, is your worldview more capitalist or communist? Most of these paradigms come as sets of oppositions, sides to pick. Determining patterns comes at the cost of making generalizations. It makes sense to use comparisons for these things because they are easy grounds for reasoning, but complete binaries are also dishonest.

Similar to these paradigms, anthropocentric thinking is also perpetuated by close-mindedness around binaries (such as that culture =/= nature; humans =/= animals). However, what if, culture can include nature, and humans are animals. Doesn’t that change everything?

We must open our minds. Have open minds to speculation and imagination, to think about what is possible in addition to what is probable.

The act of imaging is the same as that of trying to remember: the same way we work to retrieve memories, we work to visualize futures — through referencing our perceived realities.

To get the full picture, the greatest scope, we must seek the perspectives of others. We are limited by our subjectivities, which are created by our stories, histories, contexts on an extremely personal level.

Therefore, ironically, what we are able to speculate — the ideas we are able to come up with as possible — are limited.

By definition, universal design is a method of design which would take care of all.

However, in practice, universal design is not so universal. The core idea of it is paradoxical, and is rooted in the assumption that systemic oppression does not exist. We must design with our differences in mind, to appreciate and celebrate these differences rather than disregard them. To design for all, we must first recognize, then believe and accept, and then cater to the differences of all people.

I’ve realized that in the conversation of solving inequities or providing relief and comfort to struggling communities, we spend so much more time arguing the validity of their pain than designing solutions for them.

Good designers have empathy, meaning they believe and trust how others feel without ever being able feel it themselves. To truly design for the voiceless and create products that provide agency and power, we need to do more than just listen but also make sure that others feel heard.

Positionality is the belief of “knowledge as a product of a specific position”.

Difference, in essence, is synonymous to social constructs.

Difference is not always frightening. All people are different, but it is the world that makes these differences positive or negative. Oppression comes from the systems we exist, and therefore participate, in.

Stereotypes are used in design, but justified as the expectations of responses to a product. Stereotypes are used in place of open-mindedness, and are practiced through methods such as “universal design”.

We can create things that satisfy needs, but how accessible will it be? What’s the point if it isn’t accessible?

Naturally, this then leads to the question of: “Okay, so I’ll design with people’s different needs in mind, but then that means I have to choose someone specific to design for. How do I make that choice?”

Well, I think for one, there is an abundance of designs that already exist for the ease of certain demographics. Let’s start designing for new, untouched, issues rather than constantly iterating on the obvious problems. Let’s start designing for the sake of society rather than for the advance of design itself.

Secondly, designs with detailed solutions for certain demographics can still benefit the needs of the group overall. Designs for some are not always mutually exclusive from designs for many.

To conclude, design is all about affordances. We knew this. It is the unintended affordances (on the more-than-human) and consequences, however, that we need to pay extra attention to. When design can provide for the unseen, it suddenly becomes something very very special.

Design Student @ CMU