Mismatched: What's Wrong With the Way We Recognize Patterns

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Every day we are overwhelmed with a barrage of information in the world around us. To make sense of this onslaught of data, we look for patterns, and we make decisions every moment based on the patterns we recognize. Of course, that skill saves us an enormous amount of time and energy and really helps us make sense of the world, organizing and packaging it, as tidily as possible. But what can go wrong with the way we identify these patterns? What impact does forcing everything into a pattern have upon us a human beings? More specifically, too, how can imposing patterns upon user experiences actually undermine their efficacy - unless they're designed in a careful, thoughtful way?

Text of Mismatched: What's Wrong With the Way We Recognize Patterns

  • Mismatched Whats wrong with the way we recognize patterns? Robert Stribley Associate Experience Director, Razorfish #patterns
  • How many political parties are there in the United States?
  • How many political parties are there in the United States? How many colors are there? How many genders are there? How many forms of sexual orientation are there? How many races are there? How many states are there?
  • Were poor tolerators of ambiguity
  • We live in an incredibly complex environment Were constantly bombarded by stimuli How do we process all this information?
  • Pattern Recognition The ability to identify familiar forms within a complex arrangement of sensory stimuli Butterfly on the New York City Highline
  • Butterflies Labeled by Species
  • Some examples of pattern recognition
  • Scientists note patterns in attempts to understand the natural world
  • Facebook recognizes faces and even suggests names
  • Researchers use Twitter to track and forecast flu outbreaks
  • The games we play invariably require pattern recognition
  • We can recognize when one game design is based on another November 2010 November 2010 April 2012 April 2012
  • Or when one design has likely influenced another
  • We can recognize when designs follow trends
  • Pattern recognition helps us recognize the same person, despite changes to their appearance over time.
  • We might see people and conclude they look alike, which can lead to cases of mistaken identity
  • Bees mistake flowers for sexual partners
  • But humans wouldnt mistake a facsimile for the real thing like that, would we?
  • So recognizing patterns is tremendously useful. But sometimes in seeing patterns, we arrive at conclusions, which arent correct.
  • Just a few of the problems we encounter when recognizing patterns: Apophenia Pareidolia Post hoc ergo propter hoc Confirmation bias, selection bias Binary thinking Tribalism Categorical thinking
  • Categorical thinking? Whats wrong with categorical thinking?
  • Robert Sapolsky Professor of Biology, Neurology, Neurological Sciences, Neurosurgery, Stanford University
  • We think in categories. We take things that are in continua and we break them into categories. And we label those categories. And we do that in various settings because it could be extremely useful. Sapolsky UX people: Think card sort, think taxonomy, think site map
  • "Fall into categorical thinking and you can do unspeakable damage in the realm of science that makes difference." Sapolsky *and in life and in design
  • 1. Focus on categories and we can overlook distinctions within categories.
  • 2. Focus on boundaries and we can overlook similarities between items.
  • Man V. Ape Focus on differences between species and you may overlook many obvious similarities
  • Color Spectrum
  • 3. Focus on boundaries and we can miss the big picture. All we see are categories.
  • cho-pho-use
  • chophouse
  • What are some solutions?
  • 1. Spectrums can be more accurate than limited categories.
  • Alfred Kinsey
  • Human Sexuality and the Kinsey scale
  • Prof. Michael Storms The Storms Model
  • Takeaway: Spectrums offer more nuance. But beware of artificial boundaries within a spectrum, too.
  • 2. Its OK to classify things in multiple categories.
  • Employ flexible categorization systems 1.Flexible taxonomies 2.Crowd-sourced tagging 3.Machine-based tagging
  • Takeaway: Recognize and highlight connections between things in different categories
  • 3. Stay alert to field bias to see the full picture
  • We tend to categorize in ways which reflect our training or background A biologist, a geneticist, and an endocrinologist might answer the same question in different ways They present categorical solutions which reflect their language and cultural differences
  • We encounter the same issue when working with different departments within an organization
  • Takeaway: Encourage communication among departments, between users and stakeholders.
  • We cant operate as human beings without recognizing patterns. Categorization can be a helpful thing. Until it isnt. Then it can be damaging. Or it can make information difficult to process and navigate. So approach recognizing patterns with nuance.
  • Enjoy ambiguity
  • Thank you Robert Stribley @stribs This presentation on Slideshare: www.slideshare.com/stribs My tumblr about pattern recognition: stribs.tumblr.com
  • For Further Study Biology & Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality Professor Robert Sapolsky, The Great Courses Chaos James Gleick First Principle: Disambiguation Rachel Lovinger, Contents Magazine Stochasticity Radio Lab, WNYC, Season 6, Episode 1 Special thanks to Amy Stack, Rachel Lovinger and Jason Scott for their feedback on this presentation. Dedicated to my wife, Amy Stack.