Psychomimicry

The examination of the human mind, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from to improve our digital experience.

Stina Jonsson

You might have heard about biomimicry. The term was popularised by a scientist called Janine Benyus and is defined as the imitation of the models, systems, and elements of nature for the purpose of solving complex human problems. Read more about biomimicry on wikipedia or at the official biomimicry website. I basically hijacked the term and put my own spin on it. I have a background in psychology and interaction design and I see a lot of opportunities in psychology-inspired digital design.

As the internet continues to play a significant role in most facets of our lives, how are we equipped to handle our increasingly complex digital world? Information overload is a term often used when talking about the internet. Yet, one could argue that the amount of information online is probably a mere fraction of what we are exposed to on a daily basis in the physical world. Online, we are largely relying on a single sense to input information, namely our vision. In the physical world however, we seem to have little problem processing information form five senses.

Could the answer to the overload problem lie in the inadequate digital tools at our disposal rather than in the amount of information? Should we even consider the possibility that the lack of information is what puts a stress on our minds rather than the opposite? Might we be suffering from information underload?

If I really reflect on my online experience, it is more Helen-Keller-ish than “being bombarded by information”. In fact, tunnel vision is a word that comes readily to mind. I’m presented with a single webpage, then I move on to the next one. It is not my intention here to downplay the importance of focus and the need to get away from distractions but the ability to perceive the periphery serves an important function. One we would do well not to trivialise. It is no coincidence that our ears perk up when we hear our name even across the room while mingling at a cocktail party (psychologists even call it the cocktail party effect) or that we notice a car approaching from the corner of out eye, even if we are looking straight ahead at the traffic lights. It helps us catch important information even though we are focusing on something else. And it can help us make decisions about what to do next. How do you decide where to go once you are done with a website? Today, its a pretty uninformed decision whether you should go to Twitter or your favourite online newspaper.

What tools are available to us when we go online to search for something new, find something we have already seen before or engage in social activities? Is it possible to rethink the way we interact with the web on a fundamental level? I’m talking about how we perceive online, how we move around, how we remember and how we create a sense of self in a digital context. I certainly think its possible and there is a lot to learn from psychology.

    Stina Jonsson

    Written by

    I design interfaces between Human Intelligences and Artificial Intelligences, with a background in Psychology and UX. Currently freelancing - previously @IDEO.

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