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This episode was recorded live at the Etch Summer Summit 2019, and takes a quick look at how our own brains could be the hidden persuader when it comes to making decisions. Are you really in control over the choices you make, or has your brain just made you think you are? Five studies from psychology build on each other to make you doubt every decision you’ve ever made.

I got the idea for this talk about talking with Prof. John Fox about Nick Chater’s book ‘The Mind is Flat’. The basic premise that we don’t make decisions based on an underlying belief system or attitudes is rather controversial, and so I thought it would be of interest at the Etch Summer Summit after people had downed a few summer cocktails. …


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In this follow-up to the last episode on resolutions, I’m delighted to be joined by eminent psychologist and author of ‘Self-Help Without the Hype’, Dr Robert Epstein. We chat more about the idea of self-management, behaviourism and behavioural psychology and how it relates to today’s digital world.

Our chat moves through topics such as Epstein’s own experiences working alongside BF Skinner, the innovative (and quirky) practices which Skinner applied to himself, the relevance of behavioural psychology today and the association with behavioural economics. …


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A resolution isn’t just for January, we make them all the time. But not only do most of us find it hard to stick with our personal resolutions, designers and design teams are often now at the heart of creating self-improvement apps, websites and products. So it’s no longer just about changing ourselves, a designer can often help others change too.

Show notes:

‘Self-help Without The Hype’ by Dr Robert Epstein https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1134887.Self_Help_Without_The_Hype

‘Skinner as Self-Manager’ by Dr Robert Epstein https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1284070/pdf/jaba003000300545.pdf

You can read more about BF Skinner here: https://www.bfskinner.org/archives/biographical-information/


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Photo by Thom Holmes on Unsplash

“I have looked at the linguistic complexity of the Bank of England’s own communications, including my own speeches. These rank well above the levels of a broadsheet newspaper, and way beyond the levels of a tabloid. In other words, the vast majority of the Bank’s communications are lost on the vast majority of the public.”

Andrew Haldane, Chief Economist at the Bank of England.

It probably doesn’t come as a surprise that financial organisations are top of the list for indulging in jingoistic wordplay and bottom of the list of people’s preferred reading material. From sending unintelligible pension statements and adopting chilling labels like ‘Master Trust’, to hiding behind incomprehensible jargon and initialisms such as crystallisation, OCF and UFPLS; the way banks and financial professionals communicate is cited as one of the key reasons people can’t face their finances. …


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We know about placebos when it comes to medication, but could there be an equivalent in design? Could the effects of design actually be an illusion and could processes like co-design compound the placebo effect?

You can read the full article here: https://medium.com/designerpsychology/placebo-design-76c7e8b0529d

Some of the things I mention in the episode:

Placebo effects of caffeine on cycling performance” by Beadie et al (2006)

Absolut memory distortions: alcohol placebos influence the misinformation effect.” by Assefi & Garry (2003)

An Evaluation of Internal-Mammary-Artery Ligation by a Double-Blind Technic.” by Cobb LA, Thomas GI, Dillard DH, Merendino KA, Bruce RA (1959)

Marginal Revolution blog by Tyler Cowen

10 utterly absurd workplaces


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When is it better to make something harder for people to read? The idea of purposefully making something difficult may go against our natural intuition, but there are times when our brain needs to slow down and design can help. I also talk to interaction designer, Matt Jackson, about applying disfluency into real-world projects.

Here’s some of the things we mention in the episode:

Sans Forgetica from RMIT University

The design of David Carson

Diemand-Yauman, C., Oppenheimer, D.M., & Vaughan, E. B. (2010) Fortune favors the bold (and the italiscised): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes. Cognition, Volume 118, Issue 1, January 2011, Pages 111–115

Erickson, T. D. & Mattson, M. E. (1981). From words to meaning: A semantic illusion. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior. Volume 20, Issue 5, October 1981, Pages 540–551

The Hit Makers: How Things Become Popular by Derek Thompson


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Our first episode shares a little of the history behind Designer Psychology, it’s purpose and who it’s aimed at.

Here’s some of the things we mention in the episode:

‘Change by Design: How Design Thinking Transforms Organizations and Inspires Innovation’ by Tim Brown

‘The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the next Competitive Advantage’ by Roger Martin

‘Do you matter? How great design will make people love your company’ by Robert Brunner and Stewart Emery.

John B. Watson at J. Walter Thompson: The Legitimation of “Science” in Advertsing’ by Peggy J. Kreshal in the Journal of Advertsing, Vol 19, Number 2, 1990, Pages 49–59

‘What is a Designer: Things.Places.Messages’ by Norman Potter


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Along with our name change, we’re launching a podcast. Here’s a short trailer for what’s coming up.

In the first few episodes we’ll share some of the articles from the archive, so you can listen rather than read. We’ll also be talking with some sparkling minds from behavioural science, experience design, neuroscience, and advertising about their thoughts on why design is better through psychology.

Subscribe through your favourite podcast platform to have all new episodes pop into your ears. And follow us for all the updates @designerPsych


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Eight long years ago I wrote about research which suggested that if you want people to remember and learn, use a font which makes it harder to read (read the original article here). Now a team of psychologists, economists and designers have collaborated to create a typeface which practically applies this insight.

Rallying against the intuitive stance that the role of a designer is always to promote simplicity, the original research published in Cognition (Diemand-Yauman, Oppenheimer & Vaughan, 2010) opened up the idea of the designer having a more paternal role in helping their audience understand content at a cognitive level. It seems that hard-to-read fonts reach areas of our brain which can otherwise easily sweep over text without actually taking it in.

Our brains deal with so many complex functions such as muscle tension, digestion, cell growth, pupil dilation (to name just a few), we’d be driven insane if we needed to pay conscious attention them all. Animals have evolved intricate neural systems that kindly deal with a multitude of processes below the threshold of consciousness, and these systems are always on the lookout for taking on more. Driving is an excellent example to demonstrate this. We know we need to be in control when driving, shuddering at the thought of the consequences of taking our eye off-the-road, but are you consciously driving? In reality, your lateral geniculate nucleus passes visual information to the primary visual cortex, which is continuously communicating to your cerebellum which itself is busy moving your muscles so you stay in the right lane. While all this is happening outside awareness, your conscious self is free to plan dinner, talk on the handsfree or sing along to Ariana Grande. Drivers who regularly travel the same route often report not being able to remember miles and miles of the journey when asked afterwards, so who’s really driving? …


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January 1st is a contradictory type of day. Having gratefully received the latest wearable fitness gadgetry, jogging gear and cycling accessories for Christmas we spend the first day of the new year suffering from the excesses of the previous night while repeatedly stuffing chocolates, biscuits and cakes into our face. Well, it would be wasteful not to, and once it’s gone we’ll start our new routine and, of course, our New Year’s resolutions. This year will be different; we’ll stick to our self-improvement dreams and become the better person we know is buried beneath all the Quality Street wrappers.

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American psychologist, BF Skinner

This post looks at how a behaviourist would approach New Year’s resolutions and what techniques could help you stick to yours. I got the idea when I found an old copy of ‘Self-Help without the Hype’ by Robert Epstein (1996) in my local second-hand bookstore. I’d been searching for a copy ever since reading Epstein’s paper describing how eminent behaviourist BF Skinner was a remarkably productive, creative and happy individual, in large part because of his expertise in self-management. Epstein readily admits that Skinner’s views on much of psychology have been overtaken through time, but the ‘extraordinary success Skinner had in applying self-management principles to his life should inspire us to take a closer look at the potential value such principles may have for our own’. …

About

The Design Psych

A psychologist and designer with a passion for finding intelligent ways to encourage, support and enable people to make better choices for themselves.

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