3 lessons in logic for making better judgments

Though a "creative" by trade, I pride myself in being highly analytical. I love reading about the psychology of decision making and learning to identify logical fallacies in order to make the best possible judgments. 

The book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman is a fascinating read that has changed how I view the world and make decisions. In his book, Kahneman explores the the biases of our intuition, and teaches the reader how to identify and overrule intuitive hunches in favor of statistically valid reasoning.

A prominent motif of Kahneman's book is the notion that humans are poor intuitive statisticians. Rather than relying on probability—base rates, sample sizes, likelihood—humans tend to make predictions in terms of plausibility: what scenario results in a coherent story? Throughout the book, Kahneman lays out numerous heuristics, biases, and principles that demonstrate this phenomenon. I'd like to share 3 such concepts that have really stuck with me.

1. Base rate neglect

Consider the following example:

Jon is a quiet, bookish type. He is somewhat shy, but enjoys lively intellectual debates about philosophy and economics. Those who know him well describe Jon and genuine, warm, and helpful.

Do you think Jon is more likely to be a librarian, or an insurance salesman?

I just made this example up, but most people would determine that Jon is most far more likely to be a librarian. This makes coherent sense: "bookish" and "quiet" fit the profile of the prototypical librarian, while "genuine" and "shy" run in contrast to how we usually think of insurance salesmen. 

However, there are about 4 times as many insurances salesmen as librarians in the US. When you bring Jon's gender into the equation, that disparity (male librarians vs male insurance salesmen) drastically increases. Even though Jon fits the profile of a librarian, the base rate indicates that he is far more likely to be an insurance salesman. So how should we make a judgment given this conundrum?

It is tempting to coast along and accept the more coherent, prototypical story as the most likely truth (eg, Jon must be a librarian). However, we can venture a more accurate guess by anchoring our judgment using base rates (instances of male insurance salesmen vs librarians), and adjusting that judgment using our intuition given the evidence of a particular case (Jon's personality). This method prevents the temptation to let a coherent story overpower our decision making.

2. The law of small numbers

Incidence of renal cancer is lowest in rural, mostly Republican, sparsely populated counties in the US Midwest and South. Hearing this fact leads us to believe that something about the average lifestyle and environment in these counties is conducive to healthy kidneys.

But there's a twist: the highest incidence of renal cancer was also recorded in rural, mostly Republican, sparsely populated counties in the Midwest and South. Surely the lifestyle and environment can't cause both high and low incidences of renal cancer.

Republican politics, geography, and rural landscape have nothing (or at least, immeasurably little) to do with rates of renal cancer. The only important attribute of these counties is that they are sparsely populated. This is due to the Law of Small numbers: small sample sizes are more likely than large samples to yield extreme results.

Suppose there is an urn of marbles in which 90% of the marbles are white and 10% are red. Timmy and Joey take turns drawing marbles; each time Timmy draws 8 and Joey draws 4. Over infinite trials, Joey will draw a far higher percentage of "extreme" hands; the likelihood of drawing all red marbles is extreme for either boy, but is an exponentially more rare event for Timmy: 0.1^8 compared to 0.1^4.

This example translates perfectly to the renal cancer problem: small populations are more likely to "draw" more extreme hands. It is a mathematical fact, but is easily confounded by our intuitive urge to jump to more coherent sounding causal conclusions. The statistical argument is clear as day when laid out explicitly, but is often completely overlooked when a compelling, causal explanation presents itself.

3. Regression to the mean

For most of my life, I've been a competitive ski racer. If you've ever watched ski racing, you might know that it consists of two timed runs. The fastest combined time of the two runs wins the race.

For the sake of this example, let's say that a racer's skill level has plateaued. Her performance in any run is the sum of her (constant) skill + her (variable) luck. If the racer has a remarkably good first run—that is, if she places higher than she normally does, or beats racers that normally beat her—she is most likely going to have worse performance during the second run. This is necessary to maintain the notion of her average performance, which is grounded by her constant skill level.

The racer's luck in given run can be imagined in terms of a bell curve: most of the time the racer will have average luck, some of the time she will have moderately good or moderately bad luck, and on rare occasions she will have extremely good or extremely bad luck. These instances are a function of nothing but chance. Instances of good luck will be balanced by equal and opposite instances of bad luck. Although other variables may play a role, regression to the mean is responsible for the lion's share of this variability.

Regression to the mean is a critical and often confusing concept toward making sound judgments, and failure to acknowledge regression to the mean can be costly. The sports world lends excellent examples for observing regression to the mean. If a basketball coach insists on changing the team's tactic to emphasize passing to one player because he has a "hot hand", that decision could cost the team the game when that player's performance regresses to the mean. Or if a football team drafts a rookie due to his outstanding performance in the previous season's playoffs, they are likely to be disappointed when he inevitably regresses to the mediocre performance he had displayed during the regular season. Although it does not paint a glamorous picture, it is important to consider regression to the mean when evaluating series of events where skill is constant and luck is variable.


Our minds are exceptionally adept at deducing causal relationships. It satisfies our urge to understand a problem coherently and rationally. But as these few examples demonstrate, our craving for coherence and apparent logic is often paradoxical: thinking statistically, rather than intuitively, often leads to more accurate judgments. When making judgments and decisions—especially when the stakes are high—it is important to think like a statistician, or risk falling into these 3 traps, and many more. 





4 services with incredible user experiences

Some brands just get it. They create such inspiring experiences that their customers can't help but evangelize them. It's the reason why a dirty napkin with the Apple logo printed on it would probably sell. Some researchers even compare fanboy-ism like this to a religious experience. Apple gets a whole lot of attention on this front, but I want to share a few personal favorites, worthy of pseudo-religious praise:


Dropbox is a cloud-based file sharing service that enables users to safely and securely sync their files across all of their devices and the Dropbox web app. It serves as a safe back-up of all of your files that can be accessed from anywhere, so if you lose or destroy your laptop, you won't lose all your documents and photos. Dropbox also enables simple collaborating and sharing through sharable links and collaborative folders.

Why I love it

Dropbox just works. I use Dropbox primarily to sync photos from my photo to my computer, and to send documents and folders via email as links, rather than cumbersome attachments. This ensures that I never have to worry about an email being too big. Finally, Dropbox removes the need to ever "email [xyz thing] to myself" since I can access everything from any computer with an internet connection.

Who else is it good for?

Dropbox is a great tool for anyone. At the very least, I encourage my friends and family to use the free 2GB Dropbox provides as a backup for their important documents and pictures. Dropbox is a particularly good tool for sharing cumbersome files—like photos—with family members or collaborators. Finally, Dropbox for Business can replace a corporate team's in-house server with a lean, flexible, cloud-based alternative.


Chromecast is a $35, two-inch dongle made by our friends at Google that plugs into the back of your TV via an HDMI port, enabling users to "cast" audio and video content from a laptop, phone, or tablet to a TV.

Why I love it

With the ever-rising popularity of TV streaming services like Netflix, HBO-GO, and Hulu Plus—all on demand—cable is looking more and more like an antiquated, costly, and unnecessary frustration. Chromecast allows me to play shows and movies that I find online on the big screen of my TV effortlessly. Set up is a breeze, and it works like a charm. Furthermore, unlike other streaming alternatives like Roku, Apple TV, or Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast can cast literally anything from your computer. So if you're watching a random stream online, or a movie you've downloaded, you can still cast it even if it isn't officially supported by the Chromecast integrated app.

Who else is it good for?

I would strongly recommend Chromecast to anyone who watches a lot of streamed TV and movies via a laptop. Using Chromecast is a cheap way to play the same stream on a big TV, and frees up your laptop so you can watch your show and use your computer at the same time. If you're the type of person who wants to sit down, turn on the TV, and "watch whatever's on," Chromecast is probably not the toy for you. 


Squarespace is a SaaS-based content management system consisting of a website builder, blogging platform, and hosting services. This website is created using Squarespace!

Why I love it

I use Squarespace for myself and for my clients because it makes beautiful websites without requiring extensive (or really, any) coding knowledge. Squarespace is great for my clients because, once the website is up and running, there is no need for the client to hire an IT person or web developer to manage or update the site. I can train small business owners to navigate the admin-side for routine updates in less than an hour.

Who else is it good for?

Squarespace is a great tool for anyone who wants a simple, easily modified website, but does not require unlimited customization. Squarespace is great for portfolios, weddings, bands, restaurants, and small businesses, but is not sufficiently scalable for massive e-commerce sites, or anything requiring accounts. For any simple website—like your mom's law firm, or your uncle's woodworking business, or your friend's wedding—I strongly recommend Squarespace.


Spotify is a social music streaming service operating on a Freemium pricing model. A premium subscription costs $10/month, and provides unlimited streaming of millions and millions of songs. Premium subscribers can listen offline and have full control of their streaming, while free users are somewhat limited in functionality and are powered by ads. Spotify hosts its own myriad of pre-made playlists, and enables friends to follow each other for social music sharing.

Why I love it

I love music, but I'm lazy about it—searching for new music is just a hassle to me. I used Pandora for awhile, but I didn't love it, so I never opted for the paid subscription, and became frustrated by the ads. Enter Spotify. I follow my friends, who create playlists I love. Through them, I discover new music, which I can listen to at any time on the go. Spotify delivers such seamless value to me that I didn't even hesitate to pay $10/month for premium, providing me ad-free listening and the ability to save playlists for offline listening. The social sharing aspect and great interface, in my opinion, makes Spotify trump even other music streaming services.

Who else is it good for?

Spotify does require some effort to get started. If you just want to click "play" and hear music you're happy with, Pandora might be the better choice for you. For big music buffs, availability can be a problem with Spotify. Many classic artists like The Beatles, AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, as well as some pop artists like Taylor Swift, withhold their music from the popular streaming service for licensing reasons. If you're savvy, you can sync up those songs from iTunes and still play them through Spotify, but for listeners who prefer to just upload their CDs, and sync up their iPods, Spotify might be more hassle than it's worth. However, if you're open to new technology, love exploring new music, and like creating and sharing playlists with friends, Spotify is hands down the leader in the streaming market.


What else?

Of course these aren't the only great brand experiences in my life—just a few top picks that I can easily elaborate on. Because of my background, my mind easily jumps to tech-y products, but others great brands that come to mind include JetBlue, Bose, Annie's Homegrown, Patagonia, LL Bean, Subaru, Five Guys, and Discover. Of course, these brand experiences only apply to certain audiences—and that's okay. The best way to promote a product or service is to identify the appropriate niche, and fill it up. I fit the niche for all the companies listed here, and it creates a strong sense of loyalty. Basically, there's no limit to the ROI on a great brand experience.

Something about feminism

I've wanted to write something about feminism for a long time, mostly to organize my own thoughts about my stance. I haven't been able to do this without devolving into a fervent, long- winded tirade, but today I think I'm ready to be clear, short, and sweet.

I am a passionate feminist in the truest form; I believe in political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. It is not about condemning men, or shaming "gender-normative" women. In my professional life, I am a feminist because I want to be able to embrace my femininity without anyone (consciously or subconsciously) suspecting that this compromises my ability to be effective. I don't want to have to "turn on my bro-ish side" to get hired at a start-up. I understand the patriarchy hurts women and men, and know that we need male allies to reach equality. For feminism to be persuasive, it needs a balanced approach.

When I see things like TIME's poll to ban the word "feminism", and the Tumblr Women Against Feminism, it honestly make my blood boil. I want to shake these people, and make them understand my stance, which they surely couldn't disagree with. But if there is one thing I've learned as I've grown up, it's that the initial, visceral reaction you have to something distasteful is rarely a productive approach to an agreeable outcome. This is why I think empathy is perhaps the most powerful tool someone fighting for a cause can have. By listening to the opposition and understanding their point of view, we can engage in a dialogue that is more than just a pissing match.

The article that inspired me to write this post is a submission to Though Catalog entitled "I'm a Mother of Two and I Cannot (and Will Not) Support Feminism". While I disagree with the author, she makes some fair points. She writes "When the term feminism turned from being a message of empowerment and gender fairness to basically a list of rules, restrictions, idiosyncrasies, offenses and grievances directed at all things male, I tapped out," and says that she hopes that one day her sons have partners who "honor their manliness, strength, valor, chivalry and masculinity."

Within my own ideology, I find these statements to be slightly misguided, but coming from a mother of two young sons, I do not find them to be unfounded. Like all mothers, this author seeks to project her children. Because of her recent experiences, she views modern feminism as an attack on her children. It's unsurprising that she has decided to speak out.

The way I see it, feminism needs a re-branding. The feminist commenters on Thought Catalog can berate this woman, calling her ignorant all they want, but it won't change the fact that tens of thousands of reasonable, well-meaning people agree with her. Though they don't mean to, many feminists paint the cause in a rather unflattering light. Putting masculinity on trial is a great way to bring together a bunch of hot-headed emotionally-driven "feminists", and ostracize literally everyone else. We need a much more nuanced approach.

I want to live in a world where a man can feel confident and masculine while wearing a baby on his chest, and where a woman need not feel guilty about working late or hiring a nanny. I want men and women to be able to flirt without the man feeling creepy, and without the woman feeling that her safety is compromised. I would accept a polite compliment on my physical appearance from a male friend or partner, but I want these men to understand that if they give me this compliment in a professional environment, it will undermine my ability to be taken seriously. I want men and women alike to be conscientious of their language, and check themselves before calling a female colleague "bitchy" or "bossy" for displaying confidence or authority similar to a male colleague.

Feminism, of course, seeks to bring about equality by elevating women. Those who read and study feminism and gender understand that breaking down patriarchy is intended to help both sexes. But with so much focus on purely women's issues, many people feel that the approach is unfair. The mainstream feminism movement needs a lesson in empathy. Men make up half the population; we need to find a compelling way to engage this population, rather than crucify them. The goal of the feminist agenda—equality of the sexes—hardly matters if the perception is that it seeks to bring down men. We need to make feminism a safe place for men and male allies if we want to stand a chance of making the world a safe place for women.


Tinder and cognitive dissonance

I'm obsessed with Tinder, but not for the reasons you might think. Rather, I'm obsessed withthe idea of Tinder. Like it or not, it's brilliant and it has changed the dating game, not to mention that their user engagement is astonishing. Their business model perfectly exploits the apathy and vanity of the millennial generation. Is this a noble cause? Probably not. Does it work? You better believe it.

Despite that intro, I'm not actually going to talk about the viability of their business, but rather one small, totally insignificant message that got me thinking: the "Rate Tinder" in-app pop-up (approximately recreated right). 

I probably didn't get the exact text right because I was recreating the pop-up from memory, but the sentiment is there. See what they did there? 

"No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder"

The three options here, effectively, are:

  • Rate Tinder
  • Fine, rate Tinder later.
  • FINE. Don't rate it. But you have to admit to hating it first. Go ahead, I dare you to say you hate it.

I've never rated anything on the App store, and declining these messages is usually second nature to me. But this popped up while I was walking and—I'm embarrassed to say—literally stopped me in my tracks. I had to seriously override something in my gut to click no, because—embarrassment aside—I have enjoyed using Tinder. That's cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance, in short, is the mental stress or discomfort we feel when our behavior is inconsistent with our beliefs. Humans strive for their behavior and beliefs to be consistent, so when inconsistency (dissonance) arises, we do everything we can to restore balance, either by changing our behavior or belief, or by somehow justifying the behavior.

Cognitive dissonance, even on a small scale, is very uncomfortable. It requires serious mental gymnastics to restore internal balance and dissolve the stress. Using similar findings from research on cognitive dissonance, I would even be willing to bet that people who click "No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder" would probably report liking Tinder less than those same exact users would have if the message had simply said "No thanks." To maintain internal consistency, people need to change their behavior or their beliefs; the behavior is done, so they only thing left to change is the belief. On that same vein, I would bet that Tinder has garnered more ratings than it would have if the button simply said "No thanks" because some users—lacking sufficient justification to follow through with the inconsistent behavior—rate the app when they otherwise would not have. The results of an A/B test of the entire Tinder user base with those two variables would likely tell a great story.

This is insanely powerful! Marketers, UX designers, copywriters—people all over the business world—can and do use this to their advantages. But it's not without risk. I find that Tinder strikes a good balance here. Their goal is to drive people to write a review, and they have little to lose. Tinder is a free app; if they lose a small amount of engagement because people do, in fact, like the app a little less after clicking "No thanks, I haven't enjoyed using Tinder," it's a small loss. Driving good reviews, however, seems like a big win. Additionally, the "Rate Tinder" pop-up is a one-time deal, rather than something you have to click over and over again.

The most important thing to remember if you're considering using a cognitive dissonance approach to drive an action is this: you're causing stress to your user, and that comes at a cost. The cost could be that your user gets a bad vibe about your company or product because she is constantly pummeled by tricks that make her question her behavior/belief balance. Or the cost could be that your user fights the cognitive dissonance and likes your product or service less after. Truthfully, it's not exactly the "moral high road" to getting what you want out of your users. But depending on your brand, and what exactly you're trying to accomplish, it just might do the trick.

"Hands free, a better way to be...?"

New Hampshire is my beloved home state, and its highways have gotten a recent facelift. They've recently installed high-speed tolls at toll stations throughout the state, as well as large LED signs, holstered high above the interstates, proclaiming rhymed warnings to commuters: "Don't text and drive. Arrive alive" and "Drive sober or be pulled over." 

I support these causes, but I'm having a harder time getting behind New Hampshire's newest highway catch phrase: "Hands free, a better way to be." Without context, this sounds a bit like a call to drive with no hands, much like that unfortunate no handlebars song from my high school era.  But a different message is at the heart of this tune: NH has followed the lead of several states and banned handheld cell phone use while driving, and I think that's kind of bullshit.

Now I don't talk on the phone when I drive, and I don't think it's safe to do so. But here's the thing: holding a piece of plastic up to your ear isn't the primary cause of cell phone related car accidents. To be clear: I am not defending cell phone use while driving. I'm simply calling foul on these "hands free" laws because the research overwhelmingly says so.

Cognitive load & driver distraction

Cognitive load is the amount of strain on your working memory; it's the culmination of the mental taxation on your processing capacity at any given time. No matter how "good of a multi-tasker" one might claim to be, we all have a limited pool of cognitive resources. Every task we perform takes up a portion of this limited pool. Unsurprisingly, the more challenging the cognitive task, the greater the cognitive load. And the more thinly stretched our cognitive resources are, the more prone we are to error.

Driving induces a certain cognitive load. Driving on a quiet country road is less mentally onerous than driving on a three lane highway, which is less onerous than driving through Harvard Square at rush hour. Having a conversation also induces a cognitive load; chatting about your day with your mom is less taxing than is delivering a pitch to a potential client. 

There are three possible modalities for distracted driving. We can basically summarize distracted driving as anything that takes your:

  • Eyes off the road (visual)
  • Mind off the road (cognitive) or
  • Hands off the steering wheel (manual)

So yes, hands-free mobile devices do remove the manual aspect; drivers can have both hands on the wheel if they aren't holding mobile devices (although 47% of drivers reportedly drive with one hand "regularly" regardless). But all distractions (visual / manual / cognitive) are not created equal. Let's take a peak at some research.

A correlational study conducted in 2010 at the University of Alabama, Birmingham concluded that among 110 college students (averaging 20 YOA), there was no statistically significant difference in the number of accidents incurred by drivers using hands-free vs handheld mobile devices in the car.

Empirical research also backs up these correlational findings. This literature review, published in 2009, compiles findings from numerous empirical studies on the matter and concludes that the data overwhelmingly suggests a significant safety threat imposed by talking on a cell phone while driving, regardless of the interface. In fact, majority of the studies they review showed no statistical difference between subjects using a hand-free versus a hand-held device. Perhaps even more shocking is that the results from a 2013 study suggest that driving while talking on a cell-phone—regardless of interface—was comparable to driving drunk.

From the research, it appears that it is not the manual task of holding a phone that distracts drivers, but rather the cognitive task of holding a conversation with the person on the other line. And the more demanding that conversation is, the greater the risk. Notably, having passengers in the car does not present the same mental onus. Adult passengers tend to take cues from the driving situation, and can alter their behavior in the car to avoid distracting the driver during a complex driving task. Furthermore, passengers act as a second set of eyes, scanning surroundings and providing insight. In most cases, they are a passive aid to the driving task, rather than a detriment.

The big picture

Given everything presented here, coupled with being a reasonable person, I would never argue that talking on a handheld mobile device while driving is safe. I can even see *some* benefit in talking on a hands free device, despite what the majority of the research in the aforementioned studies suggests (although, when push comes to shove, stat sig @ p > .05 or it didn't happen). My point, though, is that we're lying to people. "Hands free, a better way to be" is effectively telling Granite Staters that talking on their cell phones is safe as long as they use a hands-free system. As these systems become standard on more and more vehicles, taking a conference call while sitting in traffic will become a norm, and people will be disillusioned into thinking it's a perfectly safe thing to do.

Hands-free mobile devices are kind of like margarine: a whole lot of fuss, and—spoiler alert—still bad for you. Rather than misleading the public into believing that "hands free [is] a better way to be," let's put our resources toward educating them about the true, statistically robust findings regarding cell phone use while driving. It might not be the legislative iron fist that we seem to require to denote progress, but at least it wouldn't actively promote behavior that is still destructive. The hands-free legislation is a well-intentioned attempt to solve a legitimate problem that is costing lives. But in reality, we're only breaking down the strawman. If we're not attacking the root cause of the problem—the cognitive act of speaking on the phone, as opposed to the manual act of holding the phone—it's only going to get worse.

Balancing usability and delight in mobile user interfaces

Recently, while stumbling through the bowels of the internet, I unearthed a mildly-scathing 2010 usability report on the iPad written by Jakob Nielson. If you don’t know, he's something of a usability guru—often, critics say, at the expense of even vaguely attractive design. Regardless, the guy makes good points and and has outlined some pretty helpful and timeless web heuristics that definitely earn him some serious street cred. I don't have an iPad, so I'll discuss his findings only insofar as they apply to the iPhone as well.

Now this study is a little dated, but I have a hunch that Nielson’s impressions on iOS usability have probably not improved with the advent of iOS 7. And even as an Apple lover, I can’t deny that he makes good points, many of which still hold true. For example, a few of the key usability shortcomings he describes from his iPad study, which can apply to all iOS devices, are:

  • Low discoverability (meaning controls are hidden from plain sight, perhaps requiring a gesture that isn’t immediately obvious),
  • Low memorability (because navigation and conventions aren’t consistent between apps), and
  • High risk of inadvertent actuation (because swipes, pinches, taps, and holds can occur by accident without the user registering what has happened).

Through an empathetic and objective lens, it's easy to see what he’s getting at. Imagine deleting a text or email conversation in iOS: you have to swipe left over the conversation to reveal the “delete” button.


No clear affordances inform users of this function (low discoverability) and for the same reason, users might not remember the function the next time (low memorability). Likewise, users who have not yet discovered this function might inadvertently swipe left on a message, thereby revealing the delete key without knowing how they did it (inadvertent actuation), although iOS 7 manages this confusion better than did its predecessors.

Certainly, Neilson uncovers some poignant findings, but my question is this: where do we draw the line? Should we sacrifice fun, enthralling design for maximum usability? Here’s the thing: usability is undoubtedly important, but it’s not the only component of the user experience. Our relationships with our devices are as much emotional as they are rational. Our tasks are not purely utilitarian; users also benefit from beauty, elegance, and delight. To sacrifice those emotional experiences in the name of 100% usability, I think, would be a travesty. Balance is key. Beauty should not be a martyr to usability, nor should the reverse be true. When attempting to balance usability and a delightful experience, I propose considering the following three heuristics:

  1. First and foremost: always consider the use scenario
  2. Infuse delight and whimsy in secondary and tertiary functions. Prioritize usability and discoverability in primary functions 
  3. Be redundant wherever reasonably possible, particularly with unconventional controls

Consider the use scenario.

Is the user trying to pay a bill? Check the weather? Buy something? These are arguably utilitarian, goal-oriented tasks. Users want to accomplish the task and move on. To the surprise of absolutely no one, the Amazon shopping app is an outstanding example of straight forward, goal-oriented design. Functions aren’t hidden behind potentially ambiguous swipe gestures. Calls to action are large and clear. You probably won’t feel an enormous amount of “delight” when using this app—its features are unlikely to make you “ooh” or “ahh”—but when you can place an order in record time, your overall experience is overwhelmingly positive. 

Contrast that experience to something significantly more trivial: the popular dating app, Tinder. Tinder users might have… umm… “goals"… but the experience of interacting with Tinder is more exploratory in nature compared to shopping on Amazon. Accordingly, there is more room for “delightful” interactions, like using swipe gestures to navigate between navigation elements as depicted below (starring Matt… hi Matt!)


While this navigation lacks obvious affordances, I argue that the delight associated with the movements on screen enhances the experience—particularly for the young, technically savvy users that define the service. Everything about the use scenario—user demographics, time constraints, time of day, expected user state of mind—determines whether the design should be straightforward and utilitarian, delightful and exploratory, or something in between.

Implement redundant functions where possible.

While we’re on the topic of Tinder, I’ll point out that the popular dating application also uses redundancy exceptionally well. Consider the swipe navigation outlined above. Some users, understandably, might not intuit the ability to swipe between those different navigation elements. These users need not fear; tapping the icons on the upper right and left sides accomplishes the same task. Furthermore, the animations associated with those actuations lead the user to possibly intuit the existence of the swipe functionality for the next time. Plus, as an added bonus, the app has helpful, non-intrusive on-boarding to guide users through the UI during their first use. In essence, Tinder's redundancy provides guidance for new users—who might not realize the swipe functions initially—while also providing a faster, more elegant way of accomplishing the same goal for experienced users.

Infuse delight at the *slight* expense of usability only in secondary and tertiary functions.

One of my favorite delightful features on the iPhone is the ability to “pull” the text messages to the left to reveal the precise send and receive times. At first I didn’t know how to find this information, but discovered it by playing around, and literally felt giddy when I found this fun and clever UI element. 


Yes, this feature compromises discoverability. But precise text-sending time is far from an interface priority for the majority of users, especially because the iPhone provides an always-visible timestamp every so often. Accordingly, the team at Apple opted for simplicity and delight over 100%, in-your-face usability. And for this particular function, I think they made an appropriate call.

Certainly, though, this requisite “exploration" can be exceedingly frustrating when applied to primary functions. I love Spotify, but the function for skipping a song from the main screen—a primary action used when listening to music—is too difficult to discover. When a song is playing, it appears in a bar at the bottom of the screen, and can easily be accessed by the user’s thumbs. The pause button is clear, but in order to skip a song, the user is expected to swipe left over the duration of the bar. Even as a savvy tech-lover, it took me several frustrated seconds to figure this out. My mother would have thrown her phone out the window before discovering this hidden function.


I would never dream of denying that usability is important, and in the design of home hemodialysis machines, air traffic control towers, and nuclear reactor control panels, it is indisputably paramount above all aesthetic considerations. In consumer tech, however, usability is only one component—albeit, an important one—of the user experience. By keeping users’ specific use scenarios in mind, making controls redundant, and only using experimental or unconventional controls for secondary and tertiary functions, we can effectively manage usability and delight without sacrificing either. While Nielson's findings undeniably hold water, he and I seem to disagree on one thing: to me, "discovery" is not necessarily an onus—sometimes it's part of the fun.

What is the deal with this blog?

I had originally written out a post to the tune of "LOL, BLOGGING, IDK WHAT TO SAY" as a placeholder first blog post. Then I realized that I actually have a lot of things to say. Some of them will be insightful, while others will be shallow. Most of them will probably be at least a little funny—or that's the goal, anyway. I'm doing this because I think it will be fun to write, but I also really hope others find it fun to read.

Here is a completely non-comprehensive list of the kinds of musings you might find here, hopefully starting next week:

  • 5 everyday UX nightmares that inspire rage
  • How not to be exploited by cognitive dissonance
  • Why Tinder is so goddamn brilliant
  • Feminism v. frat boy tech culture
  • How will we pay for things in 25 years?
  • Waiting tables: lessons in empathy, altruism, and social perception
  • Logical fallacies are eviscerating your persuasiveness
  • Intuition v. delight in UX—where do we draw the line?
  • The respective niches of Spotify, Pandora, 8tracks, and other music streaming services

Stay tuned!