Figure it out

A transcript of Episode 242 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson, Per Axbom, Stephen Anderson and Karl Fast discuss getting from information to understanding and their book Figure it out.

This transcript has been machine generated and checked by Cristian Pavel.

Transcript

James Royal-Lawson  
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Computer voice  
UX podcast episode 242.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
I’m James.
 
Per Axbom  
And I’m Per. 
 
James Royal-Lawson  
And this is UX Podcast, balancing business technology and people every other Friday since 2011. With listeners in 194 countries around the world, from Sweden to Mongolia.
 
Per Axbom  
And today we are bringing you an interview with Stephen P. Anderson and Karl Fast, who have just released the book “Figure it out. Getting from Information to Understanding”.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Stephen has been on the show twice before. And he’s a design leader focused on workforce, learning and organisational development. He wants to make learning the house of fun by creating things to think with and spaces for generative play. Something that both Per and I agree, he does really well.
 
Per Axbom  
And Karl is the Director of Information Architecture at “Normative”, software Innovation Forum in Toronto. He’s been working on big information problems since 1994, when he began building websites and tools for analysing Atmospheric Research Data. He’s also a former professor of User Experience Design at Kent State University, and an expert on how interaction enables knowledge creation.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
And doubtless is it, this interview should bring you a few “Aha!” moments.
 
So Stephen, Karl, what do we mean when we talk about understanding?
 
Stephen Anderson  
So I think, there’s this idea that, you know, we have all this information coming to us all the time. And I think we tend to conflate information with understanding. And I think this is true in simple cases, like, you know, who wrote the book? And what time is it. And those cases information and understanding have a clean mapping. What we’ve write the book to address is what we see more often where we have all this information coming at us.
 
But to actually get understanding from that, we have to do some work, we actually have to know how to work with information as a resource, as a raw material. And this shows up in everything from, you know, making sense of a medical chart to “should I sign this updated Terms of Service Agreement?” to, you know, “how do I make a coffee?” or “how do I adjust key lights for videography?” Right? So in these cases, we have the information available to us. And it’s not that there’s not enough for too much information as a lot of people say, it’s just we haven’t learned how to work with information as a resource to create understanding.
 
Karl Fast  
Yeah, and I would add that for this audience, you know, for the people listening to the UX podcast. As people who call themselves UX designers, we have often I think, felt that it is our responsibility to create not just the information, to create it in an understandable way, and to provide information and to provide the understanding.
 
And I think that sort of overlooks many things that we now are finding from the science about how people go about working with information, the way the mind works, new ideas about this, and that people do all kinds of different things to work with information to create understanding, no matter how good the designer has, you know, whatever how good a job they have done, and how much effort they have put in to try to make it understandable.
 
We can’t make something understandable for all people in all situations in all cases, and the more information we have, for many different kinds of sources, we’re often overwhelmed and we have to do a lot of work to pitch that together, no matter how much or how good each piece of that is.
 
Per Axbom  
I have to say I’ll be honest, I I’ve gotten to about a third into the book. And I’m going to blame you guys that I haven’t gotten further because when you’re reading the book, you keep thinking about other things. You keep applying what you’re writing and what you’re explaining to me. I keep applying it to different aspects of my life and realising how I can change the way I work the way I have conversations with other people, how I stored data. The collaboration between the two of you there has to be a backstory there. How was it that the two of you realised that you had to write a book together?
 
Karl Fast  
Well, I’ll just preface that by saying that this is Stephens book to begin with. And then Stephen generously approached me after a while and asked me to come onboard. And I think he can speak to like how that happened, his genesis for the book, and then that transition.
 
Stephen Anderson  
Yeah, I read a bit about this in the foreword, but I think going back to as early as I want to say 2007 or 2008, I had done a workshop at UX London on concept models, how to create them. And even at that point, I was still working out for myself and didn’t really understand how my own process I guess, for creating those things. And so fast forward several years later, and my focus is still very much on these visual models, whether it’s concept models or canvases or these other things.
 
But I’d also grown in appreciation for stories and metaphors and associations and all these things that I saw in, you know, as a speaker I saw as a teacher in a previous life, I saw that helped create understanding. And so I was giving a series of talks touching up on this on the speaking circuit, as it was Karl. But Karl was coming up from a very different angle. And Karl was using phrases like “small data problems”, when big data was all the rage and talking about these epistemic interactions.
 
And it was actually conversations with folks at the IA summit years ago when someone said: “Oh, you need to meet Karl and need to hear what he’s talking about”. And so I did and was just blown away. We started chatting, and Karl brought a very unique focus, which is: “it’s not just the things that we see, but it’s also how we interact with them, and how we move things around and how understanding is created through interactions”. And that just it blew my mind. I read his, his Master’s Thesis on this. And I looked at other taxonomies of different interaction patterns. And a lot of them just didn’t hold up under scrutiny. And I kept coming back to Karl’s because it was when you talk about these timeless patterns of interaction, I felt like he had really nailed it. And there was clean lines between the patterns Karl identified and as I got into those sections of the book, I found myself starting just to rewrite his thesis.
 
I was like: “This is dumb. I just need to ask Karl, to join me in and write that stuff”. And in the end, it ended up being a whole lot more than just those interaction sections. I think Karl completely changed my framing to think about things that we open the book with, related to distributed cognition and how thinking is something that happens in our around us. And not just you know, as traditional cognitive psychology would say in the brain.
 
Per Axbom  
It’s so refreshing in some ways. Early on in the book, you talk about definitions of information. And you’re saying essentially, that you’re not going to be all academic about the definition of information, and data. And you’re also not going to debate the existence of mental representations. So you’re really saying, because that draws focus away from what you’re attempting to achieve with the book. So you’re actually early on saying that: “we could have gone into the academic discussions here, but we’re not going to do that, because we want to help you in this specific way”.
 
Karl Fast  
So I mentioned the phrase, embodied cognition briefly. And one of the people I was talking to asked me, so this is a book about embodied cognition. And actually, it is not a book about that. And that’s kind of a subtle distinction here.
 
We open the book by talking, as Stephen mentioned at the beginning about information as a resource and how can we use that as a resource and then I mentioned you know, this idea that we need to, that there’s new science of mind that’s happening. And so the second chapter is really explaining this idea of what we mean by embodiment.
 
We particularly focus on an aspect or an interpretation of embodiment, from distributed cognition, but also other areas, because it’s a very complex thing. If you dig into the academic literature about that, but the book is not really about that. It is simply trying to say: “Hey, like, there is a different way in the science that is emerging that looks at how we use our bodies”. As I’m, as I’m talking to you right now, for example, and you can’t even see me and I can’t see you on the, you know, we’re just talking over voice. I’m gesturing with my hands. Well, why am I doing that? Right? And there’s research like 2530 years of research, which is about asking that question, why do people talk with their hands and why do they talk with their hands when no one else can see the hands and the conclusion from that is, you know that, that on the one hand, yeah, we do it as a way of signaling and providing extra information to other people.
 
But we also do it as a way for as an inward facing action. We do this as a way to help shape and form our thoughts. And you can see this in studies where they say ask people to give them a reasoning tasks and half the people are asked to sit on their hands and the other path other people are given no direction at all. And there’s a significant difference. We’re not interested in explaining the science or saying this is the science etc. We’re simply trying to say: “Okay, we’re going to accept that there is some deep element of truth here”. We’re not going to debate which particular aspect of embodiment is more true than anything else. We go through, you know that at a high level, and they say, Well, what does that mean for us every day when we’re living in a world jam-packed with information and trying to understand it and make sense of it and use it?
 
Stephen Anderson  
I think we’re circling one of the core issues that Karl and I struggled with this book, which was, how deep to go how far to go in some of this without losing our focus, which was you know, at the end of the day, this needs to be a book that you can use and apply in your everyday. But we struggled because in one end you have lots of “how to books” like how to do this, how to use this technique. And then on the other extreme, you have very philosophical books, they get into theory and ideas, but you’re left saying: “Okay, so, now what?” And Karl and I knew we didn’t want to write a deeply philosophical book in that sense.
 
But we also weren’t writing an instructional how to book that will be, you know, thrown out in a year or two. And so we we lay that somewhere in the middle where we call it a, it’s a, it’s a book, I think we say this in chapter one that will change how you think about problems. It’s not a how to book but how to think about and our goal is to give a language and a frame and the reference and a way of looking at things that will change how you interact with all kinds of information.
 
Karl Fast  
So many of the books in in the UX field mean the implicit assumption is a particular view of how the mind works and how we understand information. And that view is rooted in the idea that we perceive information. And then the brain and the mind are basically the same thing and all the cognitive work happens inside the head. And then action is simply what we do after that. So perception, right? That’s input. Action is simply output. It is a consequence of cognition. And cognition happens in the head. And this book is saying, that is a deep assumption in almost everything and the whole UX world throughout human computer interaction and interaction design, and all of this kind of stuff.
 
And there’s new science, which is saying, hey, like, that’s not actually a really good picture. There’s a lot of ways in which that is really misleading. There is a lot of science around that classical idea we have gotten to a certain point. But as we look to the future, and we look to, you know, computation and information being embedded in every nook and cranny of our lives, with richer and richer ways of interacting with that information, part of the book is motivated by this idea of like, well, knowledge work is not and thinking with information is not just what happens in a glowing rectangle on your, you know, on a screen here. It’s going to start happening in ways that are much more physical, much more tangible, much more drawing from what we know, from our experience in a three dimensional world, as physical beings with hands and feet, all these frameworks, all these models, all these ideas are all rooted in this idea of perception in cognition in the head, action, after that.
 
Stephen Anderson  
I know I talk a lot about just the idea of play, and playing with physical things, and the tangibility of all that and, you know, I may talk about how we learn through play, and Karl, you’ll talk about epistemic interactions versus pragmatic and we’re talking about, we’re orbiting the same ideas that, yeah, thinking understanding comes about through these interactions with things around us, you know, moving our hands like well, while we can’t like I am gesturing vigorously as I speak right now and you can’t see me so why is that right, to go back to Karl’s point.
 
Karl Fast  
I was deeply influenced many years ago when I was in grad school. I was influenced by a paper on how people learn to play Tetris. And so if you think about Tetris, very familiar popular game and you have these different blocks There’s only a handful of shapes.
 
And you can only do four things, you can move them left, you can move it right, you can rotate it in 90 degree increments, but only counter clockwise. And then you can drop it into position. And so they did a study where they did some keyboard tracking, like, how do people learn to play Tetris, and according to the classical theory, this perception in cognition in the head action afterwards, what would happen is you would make a lot of mistakes. So you would move at, say, three blocks to the left and be Oh, that’s one too far. And then you would move it one block to the right, and then you would drop it down in position. So that three left one, right, and then down five actions, but it really only needed to be two left and one down,three actions. So that’s a significant number of extra actions and, and classical theory would say, Okay, as you get better, as you gain more skill, as you gain more experience, those are errors and those errors will decrease.
 
And what they found is that they didn’t, for some cases, they did for certain situations they did, but for other situations and certain types of blocks, and depending on the complexity, they actually went up. And they went up more for the best players. They said, Well, how do we interpret this? Because this makes no sense according to standard cognitive science theory, no sense at all. So they argued for a distinction between pragmatic action and epistemic action. Pragmatic action is action that you do, where you’re trying to change the world where the goal is to change the world, you act on the world to bring about a change in the world. Epistemic action was something where you make a change in the world, not so much to change the world, but to change your understanding of the world to make mental computation simpler and easier and faster and more reliable. Here’s another example. Think about playing chess, and you’ve got the bishop. And you’re going to move the bishop and you pick it up and you move it. And then you and you’re like, oh, that that that was bad. But you so you’ve kept your finger on it. And so there you move it back.
 
From a standard UX perspective, we would say, okay, they move the bishop and then they pressed undo. But it’s only a mistake if you think of it as pragmatic action that every action in the world that you take should be moving you closer to some desired goal in the world, some desired change in the world. But if you think it from a perspective of an epistemic action, it’s by moving that piece and putting it into that position, it became easier to see that it was a bad move. So it’s not a mistake. We do these things with information and physical objects all the time. And so part of the work here is trying to put a language and a vocabulary around that. Although Stephen noted, that is only one part of the book.
 
Per Axbom  
I mean, that makes me think so much about the concept of efficiency, which we’re always so focused on. And of course, it goes so, so much beyond that when it comes to outcomes and what you’re trying to achieve.
 
Karl Fast  
So when it comes to efficiency, I’ve thought about this. Right? I come out more of the information architecture branch of user experience and, you know, thinking about hierarchy and navigation problems. And a common tool that people might we use often is, say a tree jack. Right?
 
And so in a tree jack test, you’ll have this sort of hierarchy and you will watch people go down these different channels and what you know, and how would they navigate through the hierarchy to find the information that you’re looking for you give them some task, and it’s a way of testing labels and, and the information sent that you have, the typical way that we would measure that is to say: “Okay, we have something better when most people will be able to immediately pick the right category and go all the way down through the hierarchy to the place where they need to go”. And anything else is a mistake, because it is inefficient.
 
We don’t have a way to recognize, clicking in the wrong category as being potentially beneficial, because it’s helping you build a cognitive map of all of these things. We tend to dismiss that. Because we’re so ruthlessly focused on a certain interpretation of what we mean by efficiency.
 
Stephen Anderson  
We do work to sprinkle the book actually fill the book with lots of these examples. Because, you know, it’s one thing to talk theory and then hope you go apply it. It’s another thing to say: “Okay, here’s a bit of theory. Now, here’s how it shows up in the everyday world”. And I think that we, Karl and I both do a lot of that throughout the book. Later in the book, when we finally get to coordination and talk about how to coordinate these interactions, these representations, these prior associations, they’re being activated all these things. You know, two of the examples we use very different, but they’ve built on the same principles. And so one is, I think we look at a retail shopping experience in the future and what it might look like and you know, me going into a store. My mobile device can be seen as one in a constellation of dozens, perhaps hundreds of potential information sources. And we basically re-frame that entire shopping situation. So that’s one application but then we switch and say: “Okay, let’s look at a typical business meeting”.
 
 
We set up as kind of a straw man of the contrast the very boring passive like you got to listen to me while I speak, a meeting, but then we talk about more of like a workshop or facilitation where people are up, you know, they’re moving around the room. They’re moving sticky notes around, they’re scribbling things down, they’re taking, you know, peeling things off, they’re moving things, they’re clustering things. They’re having dialogue, they’re breaking off into small groups or pairs, and then coming back as a whole. And we look at that we say, you know, they’re embodying everything we’ve written about up to this point in the book. And the question is, how would a facilitator then coordinate or design for the conversations and the dialogue that’s going to come out?
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Well, this makes me think though, he’s, you know, a lot of this the creating understanding is about, I suppose, mixing the right cocktail of triggers, so you can stimulate or create the desired association that you’re after?
 
Stephen Anderson  
I’m gonna say “Yes, and…” to that. So I think one of the things I struggled with was I kept seeing these things, as isolated or building upon each other. I think early in, even in Karl and I’s workshops, I would talk about some problems, you can just solve through dialogue, right? Some problems when it becomes more complicated, you have to bring your ideas into the world and draw on a napkin, right. And so I had this idea of a hierarchy. And I think in writing the book, one of the things I learned is, you know, we’re never thinking in an isolated piece like Justin dialogue.
 
Even when we dialogue, we’re interacting, and we’re creating mental reps. We’re creating representations, right, yeah, external or drawing upon prior associations. And so that was one of the things I had to learn as this coordination is going on all the time. So even now, as we’re having a podcast, which removes a lot of the things that we might write about, for example, creating a visual representation. Those ideas are still at play. So I’m in a body in space moving around. I’m keeping my eye on the metre here and the recording levels like there’s all these things and it’s this coordination of these things all the time that’s going on.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
The act of successfully conveying understanding. Could we see that as an act of manipulation?
 
Stephen Anderson  
So a little bit of context, my first book, oh gosh, 10 years ago was “Seductive interaction design”. In the opening chapter of that book, I unpacked the word seduction, and actually go back to like the Greek root and what it meant. And it means to lead along, to guide in all areas of life. We looked to others or look to things to be guided. I’m not saying manipulation, I’m saying guiding along, right, seduced. And so we go to a movie, a two hour movie, we expect the director and the whole crew who pulled this movie together to have done a good job and guide us along a path.
 
So that is very much a seductive, interaction, right, good speech. A good you know, commencement speech, like we just had for the 2020 graduates, we expect a good speech carry us along a path. So coming back to our book and everything we’re writing about, I would say, in the sense that we want to guide people along absolutely, you know, you could you could view it that way. However, I think there’s a big part of the book which talks about bringing people in and then inviting people into the dialogue to be a part of it and co creators with the conversation and that sense, it’s not manipulation. In fact, the word I’ve been using a lot lately, it’s just structure, facilitating structure. How can you create just enough structure to spur people to action to spur dialogue to spur a conversation that brings people together into alignment?
 
And so in that sense, it’s very much not manipulation and not, you know, maybe seduction structure, right. But, you know, if you have a business model canvas, nine boxes and you give people sticky notes, is that manipulation? I would say no, you’ve presented people with a structure though that should guide and shape their conversations that’s much better going to be much more productive than just you know, giving people a blank piece of paper and say, how about it right? There’s a structure there to direct and guide the conversation along.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah, I guess we’re getting to a place where manipulation is almost implying one sided that you’ve got someone who tried to manipulate someone else. Whereas what we’re talking about here, I guess, is coming to a place of shared understanding.
 
Stephen Anderson  
Absolutely. I think actually call this out. I say if you had asked me about influence, which a lot of designers we talked about increasing their influence. And I say, if you had asked me about how to increase influence, say, five, six years ago, I would have talked about winning hearts and minds. All right, I would have quoted George Lucas and how he inspired the, you know, the cast with the original Star Wars to go along with his vision and all these types of things, right.
 
Since then, since that time, in the last five or six years, I have changed and the idea of like, when hearts and minds I actually find it’s a hot button phrase for me now. And the phrase I use now is work and learn together. And I think I even write about this in the book, but near the end, but yeah, work and learn together is my new mantra and in that, to really embrace that is the idea that I could be wrong. Like the thing I think is right, might just be a slice of what’s going on. And that’s a really, that’s a hard bridge to cross for a lot of us.
 
I think we enter this idea that I’m right. So I need to convince the others of my viewpoint, and to walk in and say, I think I’m right. But I don’t know what the other five people in this room know. So I’m going to pause, I’m going to ask questions that will help me see things from their view. And I genuinely am curious to learn how they see the world. That’s a muscle that you have to develop. But it’s when you talk about alignment and shared vision and working together to solve really, really gnarly problems. I think you have to pause and lean into what other people may be saying, you have to work and learn together.
 
Per Axbom  
I think that’s a beautiful way to look at it.
 
Karl Fast  
I think so too. I’ve got a slightly different way that I talk about it. But I think it’s it’s, it’s in the same spirit. I think about what we do as designers and you know, less now less as about my role as a designer is to craft this beautiful, perfect, amazing, desirable thing, this understandable thing, this great paragraph, this wonderful slide deck this beautiful app, this usable, this usable interface. And a little more, a lot more actually about a scaffold for thought, write something that gives people a mechanism to engage in a way where they can build upon it.
 
It is what I provide is merely a starting point, right. And it should be a useful starting point to amplify their own cognitive abilities and to use the information that we are providing as best we can, without knowing the details of their particular circumstances, all the way down, and how they can use that more effectively. And that that scaffolding notion has been an important one for me.
 
Per Axbom  
I think we could talk for a couple of hours easily. There’s so much more I would like to talk about, but I’m thinking of giving you each like 30-40 seconds to just mention how you would like UX designers to use the book. I mean, that was one of your goals to actually have it as a reference. I know I will. But it would be excellent to hear how would you imagine people using the book.
 
Karl Fast  
You’re not going to use it in the way that you use a lot of other books, it is much more a book about changing the way that you think about things and talk about it and describe it. And that’s sort of where I think a lot of the value of the book is, at least in the initial stages, to see things that you hadn’t seen and have a way to begin to talk about it. And how that overhauls some of your ideas about the way that we we work in this field.
 
Stephen Anderson  
I guess there were two two takeaways. One, the understanding is often something we create. So I think that would be the first takeaway: understanding is something that we create. And that’s what the whole book is about is how do we create it. But then I would pair that with the understanding comes through coordinating. It’s really about understanding all these things in our environment.
 
So from the words I’m choosing right now to the sticky notes in front of me to the pens to the height of the desk, all of this is part of a cognitive system. And we need to attend to that as such and think about how does this contribute to or detract from the creation of understanding.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Excellent.
 
Per Axbom  
Thank you so much, both of you.
 
Stephen Anderson  
Thank you!
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Thank you Stephen and Karl.
 
[Music]
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Something that struck me straight away is the paradox, the complexity of all this. Figuring out how to communicate how to figure things out, and Karl and Stephen themselves. I mean, it didn’t pass them by they talking to begin the interview about that balance that they had to find themselves between how deeply philosophical do they get? And how much do they make it as a handbook. And I think in the book itself, they write or admit that they rewrote the manuscript several times and came to the conclusion that you need to make your own understanding.
 
Per Axbom  
Exactly, that’s the wonderful thing about it is that it’s not a manual. It’s not something that tells you how things work. It’s inspiring. It’s inspirational in that it allows you to make whatever you want of it. And that’s why I am experiencing as I’m reading it is that I just read just a few pages.
 
And it’s like, oh, yeah, I could apply that in this different situation. Or I could apply that in that situation. And even listening back to the interview now, when Karl was talking about using your hands when, when speaking, even if you’re on a podcast and people can’t see you, like I’m actually doing now.
 
I’m realising that made me reflect on how I’ve often thought of how I’m not using my hands enough and how I actually can become a better speaker, just through voice by using my hands in a better way, which doesn’t make logical sense at first until you start actually looking at the data and how important it is to use your hands.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah, well, one thing that petrifies me about TED Talks if I ever did one, is the fact that make you stand still on that red carpet.
 
Per Axbom  
Yes.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Because I’m up and down all over the place when I’m talking and presenting. But no, this is a springboard to so many of the thoughts. I mean, I’ve I’ve always been I think I’ve been aware at least for a very long time, how much I use my environment to extend my mind. I mean, I’m, I usually say I’m quite bad at remembering certain things. But I’m very good at coming to the same conclusion.
 
So it’s often I rebuild thoughts rather than kind of pull them out of some data store somewhere. And so I have lots of external things to kind of help me do that. But I don’t think I’ve necessarily been completely aware of some of them. And one thing that probably all of us will have done is that thing where you forget something, and then you go back to the place you were when you had the thought. And as soon as you get there, it just pops back in.
 
Per Axbom  
Oh yeah, exactly. It’s like when you listen to music, old music and you can feel like you’re in that space. And you can even remember stuff from that time that you couldn’t remember off the bat.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah. Or a drink. You take a little drink, and you’re: “Oh, Spain 2006”, you know…
 
Per Axbom  
It takes me back, yes.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah. But what’s fascinating there of course, is when you do go back to to that spot where you just a few moments ago remembered something and forgot it. The place itself has nothing in connection with the actual thought in many cases. It’s just a space, it’s a physical space that you put your physical being into. And somehow, that physical being, in that physical space together, causes a cognitive response. That is fascinating.
 
Per Axbom  
But what you said there about remembering stuff, and actually not remembering it and pulling it out from your head, but actually reconstructing your train of thought. That means that you’re actually reflecting on why you have that answer. And that, to me, makes a lot of sense. And that makes you a mindful, reflective person who can reason around why you think the way you do. Whereas if you start remembering things off the bat, then you’re not developing as a person because then you are always using the same triggers for for giving the same answers.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Back to information understanding, I guess that just remembering facts, is just remembering facts. You can regurgitate facts and information, but not necessarily develop on the understanding around it.
 
Per Axbom  
Another thing that actually came up as I was listening back to the interview, was this concept of Pogo sticking. Do you remember that when we talked about Pogo sticking. So that is when you go into a website, and the user is usually happens during a usability test, and people click on a menu item, and it’s the wrong one. And it’s like, oh, and then go back. And then they go to the next menu item. Oh, they go back. So that’s like Pogo sticking. And I thought of that, as Karl also was describing the chess behaviour of actually moving the chess piece, keeping your hand on it and moving it back.
 
So people do that consciously, because that actually helps them understand the next possible moves. And that is also what could be happening with Pogo sticking. Of course, is that people are not because people the way usability test go is: “Oh, they chose the wrong menu item. I designed it bad”. But instead you could interpret it as: “No, that’s the way that they interpret information. It’s useful for them to click on them, because that helps them interpret the path forward”.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah, I mean, I think we have quite a few metrics or things that we use that presume success is correct. So like refill rate on form fields, or like you say, opening menus and closing go to another one. We see not doing the expected thing first time as failure. Whereas it’s learning how you said the user itself. The user themselves might be just exploring, learning, gathering information in order to understand better.
 
Per Axbom  
Exactly, it’s part of their behaviour.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah, moving. Moving a chess piece is part of the understanding. I think we do need to change or reflect on how we test the design. Was it… embracing might be wrong, but you might be wrong, is what Stephen says towards the end, is really quite important.
 
But also, I think Karl said at the beginning of the interview about how we can’t make something understandable for all people in all situations. And that in itself is a truth that we need to deal with as designers. Yeah, we strive for, for making things universally usable and understandable. I mean, and now I’m not trying to kind of… this the whole inclusion thing here and accessibility and so on, because I think that is quite distinct thing. But that goal of trying to make something usable understandable for all people situations, isn’t possible.
 
Per Axbom  
Now that’s I mean, so many times I’ve heard that actually, if you design for a specific target group, that’ll become a vastly popular service also for people outside the target group. If you make it successful for what someone rather than, than if you try to design for everyone on the at the offset. It won’t make sense to anyone.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yes.
 
Per Axbom  
So that’s tricky. Of course. Yeah, I agree. It actually does sound at first, like it’s a, it’s not in agreement with with inclusive design, but it actually is. And so you can keep those both of those thoughts in your head at the same time.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Yeah, it’s up to framing how you frame it. Whether you tried to make it completely understandable to everyone, that’s a very high bar.
 
Per Axbom  
Exactly. Something they talk about at the end of the book that is close to heart for me, as well as like this thing about the difference between paper and word-processor, if you will, that if you if you use paper, like I know that you and I do sometimes to jot things down you can jot things that makes sense to you within the space of the paper, whereas a word processor, of course, linear from top to bottom, and that makes a whole world of difference in understanding as well and then recall, as we all know.
 
So for me, that’s like trying to always remember that need to use paper for certain tasks and the text for other tasks, which is hugely important sometimes that we forget about. But what that’s what’s so funny about that is that I realised, so many of these design tools that we use to draw wireframes and things. They actually have a mode, which is supposed to look hand drawn. And there’s a reason for that, because it’s, it’s supposed to look hands on because that enables the communication with your stakeholders and understanding that this is a sketch.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
But it removes the important aspect of co-creation. So when you’ve done those hand-drawn things, they might have been a whiteboard in a room together with others, when you’ve just sat there for an entire day in sketch and produced a hand drawn look like then it’s just a design. It’s just it’s a visual realisation. It’s not gone that external, collective cognitive experience.
 
As well, I think when you say about paper, and linear, I, when we’re making notes before the podcast, we listen to interviews and we make notes. Prior to this bit, I always do that as a list, as a bullet list. And same as when we’re at conferences. I always do mine as a bullet list. And then for me is helps because I experienced something in so that’s timed. It’s like half an hour. So it’s having them in kind of time and linear time order helps me locate whereabouts it was in the talk or the interview. I know you do mind maps.
 
Per Axbom  
Yeah, this that’s useful from that perspective when we’re doing recall, but I do the mind maps because I realised that I can put down stuff that’s not actually mentioned in the talk, but that I that I relate to, when they say things.
 
You know there will be a next step. 
 
James Royal-Lawson  
That would be what I do. After the notes.
 
Per Axbom  
Exactly.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Over my whiteboard. It’s interesting. All unique individual ways. of extending your mind and cognitive thinking beyond the little grey thing in your head.
 
Per Axbom  
We could do the outro for hours as well. 
 
James Royal-Lawson  
We have.
 
Per Axbom  
What recommended listening do we have, James?
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Well, it has to be Episode 201 : “Consistency”. Which is a link show and features “Polarity mapping” – article by Stephen.
 
Per Axbom  
Excellent. And thank you for listening. It’s always a pleasure. It’s a quick reminder for you, you can contribute to funding UX podcast by visiting uxpodcast.com/support.
 
James Royal-Lawson  
And don’t forget to volunteer to help us with publishing.
 
Per Axbom  
Remember to keep moving. 
 
James Royal-Lawson  
See you on the other side.
 
[Music]
 
Per Axbom  
So James, if you’re American, when you go into the bathroom and you’re American when you come out, do you know what you are, while you’re in there?
 
James Royal-Lawson  
No, no Per, I have no idea what you’re when you’re in there.
 
Per Axbom  
European. 
 
James Royal-Lawson  
Oh, you’re ‘a peeing…

 


This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-Lawson, Per Axbom, Stephen Anderson and Karl Fast recorded in May 2020 and published as Episode 242 of UX Podcast.