Designing with the Mind in Mind

20160609-_DSF3101A interesting book by Jeff Johnson. intended mainly for software design and development professionals. Full of cognitive and motor learning insights as they relate to software development.

1. Our Perception is Biased

Our perception of the world around us is not a true depiction of what is actually there. Our perceptions are heavily biased by at least three factors: the past, the present, the future


  1. Avoid ambiguity – test your design to verify that all users interpret the display the same way.
  2. Be consistent – put controls and data displays in the same position on each page they appear.
  3. Understand the goals – knowing what a user intends to do on each page can help us direct their attention to actions that fulfill their goals.

2. Our Vision is Optimized to See Structure

Our visual system first sees an object(s) as a whole, rather than seeing it as its individual parts. Our mind simplifies the complex visual world in an effort to clarify and to more easily understand. The Gestalt Principles:

  • Proximity: We see three rows of dots instead of four columns of dots because they are closer horizontally than vertically.
  • Similarity: We see similar looking objects as part of the same group.
  • Enclosure: We group the first four and and last four dots as two rows instead of eight dots.
  • Symmetry: We see three pairs of symmetrical brackets rather than six individual brackets.
  • Closure: We automatically close the square and circle instead of seeing three disconnected paths.
  • Continuity: We see one continuous path instead of three arbitrary ones.
  • Connection: We group the connected dots as belonging to the same group.
  • Figure & ground: We either notice the two faces, or the vase. Whichever we notice becomes the figure, and the other the ground

Gestalt Principles

Gestalt means the “essence or shape of an entity’s complete form” and these principles were developed by the Gestalt School of Psychology at the Berlin School in the late 1880s


  1. After designing a display – view it with each of the Gestalt principles in mind.

3. We Seek and Use Visual Structure

Often referred to as information hierarchy – the way we structure data is immensely helpful in helping us interpret information.

About Face 3

About Face

Also known as, “The Bible.” Just kidding, but seriously, this book covers everything, except religion; unless you’re a die-hard designer, then maybe this is your religion. End of book review (nailed it!)

“THE ESSENTIALS OF INTERACTION DESIGN” is the subtitle of this encyclopedic archival. More befitting “ENTIRETY” might be; the authors didn’t gloss over a thing here. As the third edition (2007) of a book initially published in 1995, it’s evolved with its time. However, with mobile experiencing tremendous growth since 2007, the book is beginning to feel antiquated in that regard. While the foundation of the design process outlayed in the first half of the book seems to have a timeless relevance, it’s the technical advice for controls, menus, toolbars, and other desktop interface designs that make the later half of the book already outdated. And understandably so, given the publishing date of 2007. Credence that even technological wizards like Cooper have mere mortal foresight for technological evolution.

I was particularly fond of the Design Values outlined in Chapter 8. Designers should design solutions that are:

  1. Ethical – considerate, helpful, do no harm, and improve human situations.
  2. Purposeful – help users achieve their goals and aspirations. Accomodate user contexts and capacities.
  3. Pragmatic – help commissioning organizations achieve their goals. Accomodate business and technical requirements.
  4. Elegant – Represent the simplest complete solution. Possess internal (self-revealing, understandable) coherence. Appropriately accommodate and stimulate cognition and emotion.

“Subject to Change” – Adaptive Path, 2008


I was very excited to read this book as Adaptive Path is a leader in insightful empathy and user experience design. This book gives a good overview of the company’s philosophy to strategy, emanating from an understanding of the users they’re designing for.

At the premise of this theory is a recognition that humans are often illogical, making decisions based on emotion — challenging modern business economic theory that we’re all logical, rational actors constantly maximizing utility, or ROI.  Therefore it’s not functionality per dollar spent that motivates our decisions, but our intangible emotional responses to our experiences.

I loved the book, my only complaint stems from wanting a more indepth explanation of creating an experience map as I had seen previously on their website.

Favorite Excerpts:

Experience design concentrates on moments of engagement between people and brands, and the memories theses moments create. – UK Design Council

We must understand people as they are rather than as market segments or demographics.

Empathy is being aware of, sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another without having those feelings, thoughts of experiences explicitly communicated to you.

[On HCI]: While this approach is an improvement over previous models, it still poses some serious problems. A focus on experience starts to show the shortcomings of the task/goal/preference model. We find it’s nearly impossible to talk about culture and meaning in terms of tasks and goals. Talking about behaviors rather than tasks allows us to include a much wider range of activities in people’s lives. Motivations lead to, drive, and shape behaviours.

[On Research]: It’s seldom about proving anything. Instead, design research helps establish the constraints and opportunities that make great design possible. [On Qualitative Research]: It focuses on process rather than outcomes — the how and why as opposed to the what, where, and when.

“Reports, where good insights go to die.”

Wilkens’ Law: The effectiveness of a research report is inversely proportional to the thickness of its binding.

The classic product designer mistake: they approach the addition of new functionality as simply a feature to check off a list of requirements.

To succeed, each customer-facing channel in an organization needs to stop being a walled-off silo, and become an instrument in a coordinated symphony that addresses the whole customer experience.

The true success of experience design isn’t how well it works when everything is operating as planned, but how well it works when things start going wrong.

Ultimately, instead of providing a seamless environment, you want to provide meaningful, beautiful seams into which people can insert themselves, customizing their experiences to suit their needs.

The ability to create a new technology isn’t synonymous with the ability to craft a desirable customer experience.

The key is to zero in on qualitative customer insights.

The more you add to a system, the more ways it can fall apart and confuse customers. It takes strength and perseverance to prevent systems from succumbing to feature creep.

Design is a way of approaching problem solving, decision making, and strategic planning that can yield better outcomes. It’s an open approach, and anyone in the organization can participate to generate solutions, make insightful and meaningful decisions, and build empathetic offers that address needs that customers may not even know they have.

When you try to control the interaction and tightly manipulate the outcome of the experience, customers tend to rebel.