Deciding & Designing

When choosing what meal combo to order at a fast-food joint, do you know what helps you in making that choice? The graphics on the counter, the delicious description that the person at the counter gives you or the advertisement you saw in the morning paper?

If asked, I am sure all of us would give the above or many other answers. But a recent study suggests that before we make a decision, our brain knows about it as much as 8seconds in advance. The research has been done by Joydeep Bhattacharya at Goldsmiths’ College in London and Bhavin Sheth at the University of Houston.

“Those volunteers who went on to have an insight (in this case that on their one and only visit to the second floor they could use not just the light but the heat produced by a bulb as evidence of an active switch) had had different brainwave activity from those who never got it. In the right frontal cortex, a part of the brain associated with shifting mental states, there was an increase in high-frequency gamma waves (those with 47-48 cycles a second). Moreover, the difference was noticeable up to eight seconds before the volunteer realised he had found the solution. Dr Sheth thinks this may be capturing the “transformational thought” (the light-bulb moment, as it were) in action, before the brain’s “owner” is consciously aware of it.”  – Incognito - Evidence mounts that brains decide before their owners know about it.

This suggests that most of our cognition and decision making happens in advance. This is a fact that design, designers and design thinkers have been aware of in a way and used extensively. Design works on a deep emotional and sub-conscious level. The experience and impression it creates in your mind and how you become aware of it is the most critical part of designing a product or service.

The second-order understanding which is unique to the discipline of design, mentioned in the book The Semantic Turn by Klaus Krippendorff, is very much in-line with this research. Second-order understanding refers to understanding the experience of the various people experiences a product and service, and using this understanding to create better experiences.

Further, the research also iterates that the usual research methods of direct questioning, focus groups, etc. might not give one the correct answer, as almost 95% of our cognition is on a sub-conscious level. People rationalise their decisions which are not always rational. Therefore, there is a large need to use design tools to research and design a better world.

Posted on 4th October 2010  |  No Comments  |  

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