Thinking, Fast and Slow

Posted by on Nov 15, 2012

I recently attended a UX Book Club at the MeetUp Headquarters in New York. The group of about 20 people discussed Thinking, Fast and Slow, a book by the Noble Prise winning cognitive psychologist Daniel Kahneman. The book outlines a theory of two abstract systems of the brain that are responsible for various activities and biasses.

The book discusses several elements of decision making that have great impact on UX design. The two primary implications are for designers to avoid the types of cognitive biases that lead to poor choices, and to gain insight into a user’s perspective, motivation, and pitfalls. During the book club, two themes arose about the implications of the book’s findings in UX design. The first, we termed “Dark Patterns”, was a tactical use of these predictable human fallibilities to the detriment of the user for soul benefit of a company. An example being the difficult unsubscribe flows that some companies implement. The second, more generally thought of as “good applications”, are tactics that help initiate positive social actions. For instance, Facebook sponsoring an organ donation campaign to help improve enrollment statistics.

The topics that I found most compelling were ego depletion, working memory, and the impact of mood on creativity. Ego depletion is the phenomenon of mental exhaustion, where the brain steadily looses steam as it engages in highly strenuous activities. The curious counterbalance to this is glucose. The brain consumes significant amounts of glucose during thought, and ego depletion can be counteracted by consuming sugar. The concept of working memory was discussed in several parts of the book. It is theorized that the brain is constantly trying to work as little as possible within it’s working capacity. People will be completely oblivious to stimulus beyond their working memory. The impact of mood is also discussed as it relates to working memory. People with have more working memory if they are happy, and can make more creative associations. However, if one is in a bad mood, people will be more skeptical, and therefore less likely to make analytical errors. These among many other topics covered in the book have direct and indirect impact on design designs.

Overall I found the book club to be really super fun. It was especially awesome when we got to take a tour of the MeetUp offices after our conversation concluded.