Posts tagged “decision”

Ups and downs

After writing recently about managing the adoption of a new type of elevator UI, I found a particularly bad implementation of the norm at my hotel in Austin last weekend.

Unusually, there are two elevators on either side of two rooms.

Beside each elevator is this cautionary/alarmist admonishment:

“This button” refers to “these buttons – those ones down there” despite the horizontal arrow. But we can probably figure that out. The reason for this sign – an obvious afterthought is that there’s no place where you can stand and easily see both elevators at once. You must approach one elevator to press the button, and if you stand there and wait, you are likely to miss the arrival of the elevator if it doesn’t come to that door. There is a standard solution: a light near each elevator door that lights up just before the elevator arrives and the door opens. But (other than in the hotel lobby) they’ve neglected that and instead the hotel guest must be “alert” when doing a basic task like trying to get down for breakfast.

This is a well-known and long-solved situation; why the builders would choose to put the elevators around two rooms and then create such a poor experience would be interesting to explore. What were the design and other decision processes that led to this sub-optimal solution?

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Brains, Behavior & Design: A toolkit by graduate students at IIT Institute of Design – In the real world, people are often irrational. Over the past few decades, researchers have codified many of the patterns that describe why people behave irrationally. As researchers, how can we be on the lookout for these patterns of behavior when we go into the field? As designers, how can we use our understanding of patterned irrational behavior to help people make better choices? We are developing tools that apply findings from the fields of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics to the design process. These tools provide a head start on framing research as well as developing new strategies for solving user problems.
  • Reading on iPad before bed can affect sleep habits [Los Angeles Times] – Staring at the screen before bed could leave you lying awake. That's because direct exposure to such abnormal light sources inhibits the body's secretion of melatonin. Light-emitting devices, including cellphones and the iPad, tell the brain to stay alert. Because users hold those devices so close to their face, staring directly into the light, the effect is amplified compared with a TV across the room or a bedside lamp, said Frisca Yan-Go, director of the UCLA Sleep Disorders Center in Santa Monica. Some say e-ink is easier on the eyes than the screen on a computer (tablet or otherwise). However, the Wall Street Journal published a report this month to the contrary. Yan-Go was eager to point out the advantages of books over e-readers. Paper books are often lighter; they can be dropped when you doze off holding them; and if they get wet, it's not the end of the world. And they won't mess with your sleep cycle…However, "Kindle is better for your sleep," Avidan wrote in another e-mail.
  • A New Character in Archie’s Town [] – A new man is moving into Riverdale, the home of comics’ perennial teenager Archie Andrews and his gang. His name is Kevin Keller, and he’s blond-haired, blue-eyed and gay. Kevin will be introduced in Veronica No. 202, in a story titled, “Isn’t it Bromantic?” The inclusion of the character meets twin goals, one real world and one in-story. “Riverdale has to reflect the diversity of the world today,” said Jon Goldwater, co-chief executive of Archie Comic Publications. “We want to be all inclusive.” Mr. Goldwater also said he’s not afraid of any repercussions. “We think everyone is going to enjoy the story,” he said. “It’s completely in the tradition of your typical Archie comic.” Dan Parent will be writing and illustrating the story of Kevin’s introduction. “Veronica is always chasing guys and getting what she wants. Who could we introduce that she could not get?” Mr. Parent said Kevin would be more than a one-off character with future stories already mapped out.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • Steven Levy on How Gadgets Lose Their Magic [Wired] – "Any sufficiently advanced technology," Arthur C. Clarke wrote in 1962, "is indistinguishable from magic."…This applies to all the similar fruits of Moore's law. In the past 40 or 50 years, such mind-stretching advancements have become the norm…We all, I think, have become inured to Moore's law. The astonishing advances that once would have brought us to our knees are now reduced to a thumbs-up on Gizmodo. They're removed from the realm of magic­ – they're just cool gear…As technological magic becomes routine, I wonder whether a visit to a preindustrial society might teach me more than it teaches them. The only thing more fascinating than our technology is the idea of getting along without it. Maybe the way to recapture the magic is to turn all that stuff off.
  • How Tony Gilroy surprises jaded moviegoers [The New Yorker] – Gilroy believes that the writer and the moviegoing public are engaged in a cognitive arms race. As the audience grows savvier, the screenwriter has to invent new reversals. Perhaps the most famous reversal in film was written by William Goldman in "Marathon Man,.” Laurence Olivier, a sadistic Nazi dentist, is drilling into Dustin Hoffman’s mouth, trying to force him to disclose the location of a stash of diamonds. “Is it safe?” he keeps asking. Suddenly, William Devane sweeps in to rescue Hoffman. In the subsequent car ride, Devane wants to know where the diamonds are. After a few minutes, Hoffman’s eyes grow wide: Devane and Olivier are in league! “Thirty years ago, when Bill Goldman wrote it, the reversal in ‘Marathon Man’ was fresh,” Gilroy says. “But it must have been used now 4000 times.” This is the problem that new movies must solve. “How do you write a reversal that uses the audience’s expectations in a new way? You have to write to their accumulated knowledge.”
  • Secret of Googlenomics: Data-Fueled Recipe Brews Profitability [Wired] – [Echoing some of what I wrote about in a recent piece for interactions "We Are Living In A Sci-Fi World"]
    It's a satisfying development for Varian, a guy whose career as an economist was inspired by a sci-fi novel he read in junior high. "In Isaac Asimov's first Foundation Trilogy, there was a character who basically constructed mathematical models of society, and I thought this was a really exciting idea. When I went to college, I looked around for that subject. It turned out to be economics."
  • What is the Status Quo Bias? [Wisegeek] – A cognitive bias that leads people to prefer that things remain the same, or change as little as possible. People will make the choice which is least likely to cause a change. This can also play a role in daily routines; many people eat the same thing for breakfast day after day, or walk to work in exactly the same pattern, without variation. The inability to be flexible can cause people to become stressed when a situation forces a choice.

    It explains why many people make very conservative financial choices, such as keeping their deposits at one bank even when they are offered a better rate of interest by a bank which is essentially identical in all other respects.

    While this provides self-protection by encouraging people to make safer choices, it can also become crippling, by preventing someone from making more adventurous choices. Like other cognitive biases, this bias can be so subtle that people aren't aware of it, making it hard to break out of set patterns.

  • Sports, sex, and the runner Caster Semenya [The New Yorker] – There is much more at stake in organizing sports by gender than just making things fair. If we were to admit that at some level we don’t know the difference between men and women, we might start to wonder about the way we’ve organized our entire world. Who gets to use what bathroom? Who is allowed to get married?…We depend on gender to make sense of sexuality, society, and ourselves. We do not wish to see it dissolve.

ChittahChattah Quickies

  • PETA (hopefully tongue-in-cheek) attempts to rebrand fish as "Sea Kittens" – Sorta reductio ad absurdum re: my latest interactions column, Poets, Priests, and Politicians
  • Rug company Nanimarquina brings global warming to your living room – "If there is an iconic image that represents the natural devastation of global warming, it is the lone polar bear stuck on a melting ice flow. Now eco rug company Nanimarquina has teamed up with NEL artists to create a beautiful ‘Global Warming Rug’ – complete with stranded polar bear floating in the middle of the sea – to represent the most pressing issue of our time. Rugs have been traditionally used throughout the ages to tell stories and communicate messages, and we think this is a lovely, poignant new take on a time-honored tradition." What effect does it have when an issue like global warming gets iconified and aestheticized like this? Does it drive home the seriousness of the situation, or make it more palatable?
  • Asch conformity experiments – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asch asked people about similarity of height between several lines. Confederates answered incorrectly and this influenced the subject themselves to support this incorrect answer.
  • Confirmation bias: the tendency to seek out information that supports what we already believe – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) The 2-4-6 problem presented subjects with 3 numbers. Subjects were told that the triple conforms to a particular rule. They were asked to discover the rule by generating their own triples, where the experimenter would indicate whether or not the triple conformed to the rule. While the actual rule was simply “any ascending sequence”, the subjects often proposed rules that were far more complex. Subjects seemed to test only “positive” examples—triples the subjects believed would conform to their rule and confirm their hypothesis. What they did not do was attempt to challenge or falsify their hypotheses by testing triples that they believed would not conform to their rule.
  • Overcoming Bias – Blog by Eliezer Yudkowsky and others about (overcoming) biases in perception, decisions, etc.
  • Hindsight bias: when people who know the answer vastly overestimate its predictability or obviousness, – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky)
    Sometimes called the I-knew-it-all-along effect.
    "…A third experimental group was told the outcome and also explicitly instructed to avoid hindsight bias, which made no difference."
  • Planning fallacy – the tendency to underestimate task-completion times – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Asking people what they did last time turns out to be more accurate than what they either hope for or expect to happen this time
  • Cognitive Biases in the Assessment of Risk – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) Another example of extensional neglect is scope insensitivity, which you will find in the Global Catastrophic Risks book. Another version of the same thing is where people would only pay slightly more to save all the wetlands in Oregon than to save one protected wetland in Oregon, or people would pay the same amount to save two thousand, twenty thousand, or two hundred thousand oil-stroked birds from perishing in ponds. What is going on there is when you say, “How much would you donate to save 20,000 birds from perishing in oil ponds,” they will visualize one bird trapped, struggling to get free. That creates some level of emotional arousal, then the actual quantity gets thrown right out the window.

    [I am not sure that's the reason why; I think there could be other explanations for the flawed mental model that leads to those responses]

  • Conjunction fallacy – (via Eliezer Yudkowsky) A logical fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that specific conditions are more probable than a single general one. Example: Linda is 31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in anti-nuclear demonstrations.

    Which is more probable?

    1. Linda is a bank teller.
    2. Linda is a bank teller and is active in the feminist movement.

    85% of those asked chose option 2 [2]. However, mathematically, the probability of two events occurring together (in "conjunction") will always be less than or equal to the probability of either one occurring alone.

If it does not fit…

As Japan prepares to switch to a jury system, the government has been running mock trials to expose people to the idea. There’s a big cultural challenge, though.

“I think there is also the matter of how much he has repented,” one of the judges said. “Has he genuinely, deeply repented, or has the defendant repented in his own way? What’s the degree? I mean, some could even say that he hasn’t repented at all.”

Hoping for some response, the judge waited 14 seconds, then said, “What does everybody think?”

Nine seconds passed. “Doesn’t anyone have any opinions?”

After six more seconds, one woman questioned whether repentance should lead to a reduced sentence. “The way the defendant expresses himself and such, it could be viewed as someone who’s not good at it,” she said. “So there’s no way for us to know what is the degree of repentance from how he has repented in his own way.”

I’m reminded of our work with consumers in Japan; we got a lot of warning from people about what kind of answers the Japanese wouldn’t give us. I was somewhat nervous that things would tank entirely, but in fact, an open-ended conversational approach (with lots of follow up) worked out very well. The two situations (trials and design research sessions) are completely different; we didn’t represent the state, for one thing! Still, there’s a cultural layer to this story that many will no doubt recognize.

Living in a hidden-fee economy

The SF Chron writes about those little extras costs on various services that add up pretty dramatically, with some economics research on how we perceive and make decisions around fees.

“In the end, you don’t fool the customers with the hidden price,” he says. “They know they’ve paid it even if they didn’t know they were going to pay it.” And if they feel ripped off, they won’t come back. In the cell phone industry, he says, carriers lose 40 percent of their customers each year, a tremendous “churn” rate that industry players are starting to take note of. Sprint, Nalebuff points out, recently began pushing what it calls its “Fair and Flexible” plan, which adjusts customers’ calling plans to minimize overage charges. Sprint is betting, in other words, that customer loyalty is worth more, in the long run, than sneaky fees.

They consider the cost of ink in owning a printer, and hotel costs. The quote takes a customer-centric view of what will most effective, but consider the switching costs (in terms of time, aggravation, and sometimes money) for banks, credit card companies, telephone service providers, and internet service providers. Not to mention that some hidden-fee situations such as utilities or cable TV may be monopoly situations. Frankly, we get shafted by these firms because they can. Because it’s too hard to make the switch or there is no one to switch to. It’s not loyalty on our part, or tolerance for this sort of crap, indeed there may not be any place to go. Do you see CitiBank or Wells Fargo or Bank of America as having dramatically different fee policies (we could investigate and see, for our specific needs, what the advantage is, of course, but my point is that these companies are all playing these games, and if you start factoring in the research required, it’s just silly)? Of course not.

We live in a society of choice, but not ubiquitous simple cross-category choice. If Coke on the shelf is going to charge a hidden fee, and Pepsi on the same shelf isn’t, then after the first time, we might consider Pepsi differently (for those who aren’t powerfully loyal to a beverage). If one gas station has a hidden, and the one across the street doesn’t, sure. On a purchase-by-purchase basis, there can be lots of choice.

But for an ongoing relationship, who the hell can deal with making changes. Would you change your car insurance? Your house insurance? Your health insurance? Your calling plan? Your broadband provider? Not if you could help it, not unless driven to it.

I wish it was easier, and I appreciate the pro-consumer attitude the Chron quotes, but I just don’t think it’s realistic.


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