I have really enjoyed learning about human cognition - the study of thinking and understanding. It's all about how we gather, process, remember, and use information in order to make sense of the world around us. As you might imagine, the way people do thinking is a broad topic which research has only just begun to explore.
The fascinating thing to me about cognition is that many of the learnings we can derive from research on human thought boil down to simple principles. For me, at least, they always seem to make so much sense once I've heard them said out loud -- but are often things that I've never really thought about before.
We tend to think of our interpretation of the world around us as something that works in a straightforward manner - that the world appears to us in the same way it truly is. The truth is that our perception of the world is often distorted by our own biases and expectations, and can also be manipulated by the way we are presented with information.
For example: research has shown that when people are asked to remember a list of items, they tend to remember items that appear at the beginning and end of the list more easily than those in the middle. So -- if you need to remember something, it's best to put it at the beginning or end of a list.
Similarly, the Von Restorff Effect is a psychological phenomenon that describes how people tend to remember things that are different from the rest of a group.
This week I've been captivated by entasis, a technique used in architecture that uses optical illusions to make physical structures seem more visually balanced. It involves slightly bulging the sides of a column or other straight structure in order to create the illusion of a taller, straighter structure. This technique is used to make structures appear more aesthetically pleasing - you've probably seen entasis used in buildings that use columns, such as the Parthenon.
This is an effect that I've seen used in visual design as well, although I never had a name for it. As it works out, Entasis is frequently used in the design of typefaces. Font designers often use entasis to create a subtle optical illusion that makes the font appear more balanced and symmetrical. Somtimes, a character will appear more visually balanced if it is just slightly taller than the others around it, even though that feels like it shouldn't be the case. It's a subtle effect, but it can make a big difference in the way text appears.
From remembering lists to making typefaces look better, cognition plays an important role in product design. By understanding our cognitive biases and how we perceive the world, designers can create products that are more intuitive and aesthetically pleasing. Cognitive science is a powerful tool for product designers, and it can be used in unexpected ways to create remarkable results.
More Tiny Improvements on cognition
If this tickled your curiosity, you might enjoy these:
- 📚 Predictably Irrational, by Dan Ariely is a great book that explores the irrationality of human thought. It's a fascinating read that will make you think about the way you think.
- 🍷 Why no one talks about the best marketing campaign in history - my writeup on the Von Restorff Effect, a psychological phenomenon that describes how people tend to remember things that are different from the rest of a group.
- 📅 Last week I gave a talk on Unlocking the power of OSS to launch your startup and career at the first ever Open Source Charlotte Meetup. Check out the slides and event summary - we had a great time!
And one last thing -- you're doing great. Keep it up. I believe in you!