Opinion: 3 Ways Anything Can Teach Us Something About Something

Vicky Teinaki recently put together a generator to highlight the prevalence in blogs of the ‘# Things X Can Teach Us About Y’ format in blog titles. In fact, putting ‘things can teach us about’ into Google yields 330,000,000+ results. It’s a title pattern I have even used in previous posts.

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Its overuse as a literary device is probably a bit annoying to some readers, but there are good reasons why the format works so well in respect to UX and sharing knowledge in general.

1. UX is based around humans

Because of the nature of our profession, at it’s route we deal with human behaviour. That means we are able to take inspiration from almost everything in the world around us because we and our users live in that world. The way we perceive the world and it’s contents always results in some sort of end human behaviour or emotional response.

From the ‘cuteness’ effect of giant pandas tugging on our heart strings and causing us to be more compassionate, to the simple and obvious utility of a door handle. We, as humans, are constantly responding or reacting to the feed of information coming in through our senses.

Because of this simple fact, there are always lessons we can take in how people respond to certain stimuli. With some out of the box thinking we can apply these to the things we are designing such as in emotion mapping for user journeys.

2. Inspiration can come from unexpected places

How many times have you been stumped on something, only for someone to say something that triggers an entirely different line of thought? 20 years ago people may not have believed you when you said a storyboard of the sort used in film production was a great way to tackle complex systems issues at a high level. Yet here we are using user journeys to great effect.

VelcroA famous example is the invention of Velcro. George de Mestral was walking his dog in the woods. When he returned he noticed he had burrs all over his trousers. He could have simply picked them off and said ‘stupid burrs’ but instead he pondered a little deeper, stuck them under a microscope and figured out a new way to stick things together.

Of course he probably wasn’t looking specifically for a way to create one of the most irritating sounds in the universe, but inspiration can strike from many sources and can be applied to unexpected problems.

Some of the issues and complexity we have to deal with as User Experience Designers can only be dealt with effectively by coming at things from a different angle. Sometimes we need to apply learning from other areas trying to tackle similar problems in a different space.

If you learnt something new about UX from an airplane toilet that’s fine by me. As long as what you learnt was useful and doesn’t involve too many skid marks then i’ll be happy to read about it.

3. People like chunking information

The fact there is a number before the blog post gives the reader a strong information scent about how much information will be contained within before they even see the content.

This allows a reader to  figure out a rough estimate of how long it will take to get through the post. If you only have a few minutes are you more likely to click on “3 UX tips you must know” or “45 UX tips you must know”?

Chunking, in psychology, is a phenomenon whereby individuals group responses when performing a memory task -Wikipedia

Kid LearningAside from the SEO and bounce rate considerations this mechanism ties back to important psychological principles specifically those from a 1956 paper by George A. Miller called The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on our Capacity for Processing Information.

By remembering the group or ‘chunk’,  the individual items in that group can be more easily recalled. It’s the reason why activities such as card sorting work so well in workshops. Lots of information is far easier to distil if it is logically grouped. There are of course other ways to encourage learning such as multiple intelligence learning.

So whilst these blog titles may be slightly clichéd or over used, as long as the information they contain brings something new to the table I can live with it.

Images courtesy iambigredTownePost NetworkJanice Yuvallos

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