Ok, really quick introduction. I attended Web Visions Portland this year, a great and worthwhile conference. I listened to a man named Andrew Hinton speak and it was the most impactful lecture during all three days of the event.
Andrew spoke of the contextual circumstances for which we design and why we should begin to think about them more deeply. He mentioned pace layers and how things evolve and change at different speeds. He related these pace layers to design and how the organization of information and technology evolve at a much higher speed than spoken or written language. Therefore, we have a better grasp on spoken language because it is something that has remained mostly the same during our lifetimes. The thing that was most interesting to me was that Andrew positioned human perception and/or cognition at the core, as the layer that moves the slowest. Then, all kinds of metaphorical doors started opening right in front of me…
Pondering Andrew Hinton's lecture at Courier Coffee, Portland
I started thinking about how our perception is formed from the time of birth. As we grow, we slowly begin to understand how certain things work in our world. Environmental cues or affordances that we start exploring lead us to understanding at the very onset of our lives. Then as we move forward in age, new things come into play such as written and spoken language and technology. Everything seems fine until these new layers start contradicting what we already perceive. We perceive certain things in our environment to behave a certain way, until there is a sign or some other semantic element telling us the opposite. Then everything gets complicated.
Think about a tennis ball. When it is just sitting still, it is just an object in an environment. When you pick it up it becomes something that can be bounced or thrown. To me, a tennis ball may also mean rulebook, boundaries, forty-love, Andre Agassi or maybe even Europe. To someone who may not know much about tennis, it will mean something completely different. To a dog, a tennis ball might just mean a lot of running and fun. Ultimately, a tennis ball is simply a round object that can be picked up, bounced, thrown, etc. One object takes on many meanings when we start adding levels of complexity, which vary depending on who or what come in contact with it.
For some reason, we insist on complicating things. As children, we start to understand environmental cues and the affordances they offer, how things work at a very basic level. When more information gets layered in, those basic affordances start to get buried and before you know it, something that should be simple to understand is nearly incomprehensible.
So, what do I think this means for design? Well, if you think about children having the ability to approach something with almost no frame of reference, no influence, where every experience is a new one, then they seemingly are some of the best candidates for testing interaction design. Be it a physical product, a digital application, or something in between, children are only going to pick it up and interact with it in the way that seems most natural.
We should be more observant of children—they take things as they are. Children use simple things that they have learned and apply those rules to almost everything that they encounter. As we grow, we lose sight of that. Problems, in design or life, need to be looked at from children’s perspective; we should try to understand and analyze problems at a raw level before adding extraneous layers that complicate it. Albert Einstein agrees: “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”