An anthropomorphic approach to experience design.
Living in a world inundated with information, the amount of stimuli surpasses our conscious processing capabilities in real-time. This overwhelming abundance of input isn't just limited to media, but extends to the very physicality of our surroundings. Take a look around: each pixel of colour, every shape, object, and creature - regardless of size - each fragrance, gust of wind, and sound or murmur. Simply by acknowledging the "objective reality" surrounding us, we're exposed to an unfathomable volume of information that potentially counts in the billions of bits per second.
Thus, when designing an object, an interface, or a marketing campaign, it's critical to factor in the intricate mechanisms involved in decoding our reality.
Our perception of reality isn't an absolute, true representation of what's really out there. While much remains unknown about how our minds and consciousness function, the fields of neuroscience and psychology have provided new insights into the mechanisms our brains employ to coexist with the billions of sensory inputs received at any given moment.
Through various means, we discard, prioritize, and categorize this influx of stimuli, resulting in a simplified - and often, subjective - rendition of reality within our minds. This functional, albeit misleading, representation is formed by delivering a rapid and fluid average of our sensory experiences. Our minds take cognitive shortcuts to avoid the overwhelming over-saturation of our cognitive abilities, lest we experience a hallucinogenic-like reality. In essence, we construct our own reality every second.
Perception is biased
However, our mental representation of reality isn't solely determined by the limitations of our physiology. Even at the symbolic visual level, the biological filter we employ to interpret reality is also shaped by our preconceived notions of what reality ought to be.
In summary, perception is influenced by at least three factors: our prior experiences, the context in which we perceive stimuli, and our goals.
Long before our primitive ancestors began walking the African savanna, our brains had already acquired the ability to swiftly identify the signals of a potential predator amidst the dizzying array of external stimuli. As this process occurred in mere moments, the interpretation of a predator signal was often false. Nevertheless, this behavior increased the likelihood of their genes being passed down to the next generation.
Our use of cognitive shortcuts has evolved to not only enable survival, but also to thrive. As both predators and prey, we have evolved to draw swift conclusions based on our experiences, even when provided with limited information.
One of the most compelling collection of principles showcasing how experience and biology influence our visual perceptions was developed during the late 19th and early 20th centuries by the Gestalt school of psychology. These principles helped us understand with remarkable clarity how and why we interpret what we see in particular ways. Let's take a look at some of them:
This wonderful tool of our minds allow us to identify shapes quicker by completing the missing parts based on our previous knowledge of their appearance.
We can all immediately identify the shape of a triangle defined by the cuts into the circles (left). And we can do so, even when the triangle actually hasn't been drawn.
Figure-Ground This wonderful book cover designed by Phoebe Morris (right) is a formidable example of the perceptual behaviour the Gestalt defined as identifying a figure from the background. The Rubin's vase below stretches the limits of how the relationship between the figure and the background defines the meaning of the image.
Care to discover about some other Gestalt principles? Check this eloquent video by the HubSpot team: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dk7cXdjX2Ys
A second crucial aspect to consider in the design process is context. This encompasses all the sociological, cultural, historical, political, and usability factors that surround us.
To illustrate, the following examples showcase design pairs from two aesthetic movements. The designs on the left depict a representation of Art Nouveau, while those on the right showcase its Art Deco counterpart. Art Nouveau arose as a response to the academic arts of the 19th century and drew inspiration from natural forms. In contrast, its successor, Art Deco, represented a confluence of different styles united by a desire to be modern, a reflection of the rapidly changing industrial society of the time.
In essence, when we as UX designers discuss human-centered design, we take into account a vast array of influences, encompassing not only physiology and psychology but also cultural factors. There is still so much to learn and explore in this field, and I look forward to continuing the journey with you all. See you around to do it together!