Category: Human Behaviour

College Industry Projects

College students and college staff love industry projects. They give students an opportunity to get a feeler of what life after college will be like. Barring any major screw-ups, it is relatively free of the accountability pressures that full-time employees experience. And if there’s a stipend involved, what’s better than that, right?

Consider this…College ecosystems are increasingly focused on industry. And obviously so. But given a choice, every subject project would be an industry project. Top that with b-school obsessions with finishing school type skills to ace interviews. My own MBA program that I’m not too proud of, involved mostly visiting faculty who were really good at what they did, but for many of them, the concept of teaching was something like this… Early in the sem, they’d create ‘x’ number of groups out of our class. Then they’d take the syllabus, chop it up into ‘x’ topics. Each group would present a topic during each lecture. Convenient, right? A more relevant phrase that always comes to mind is, ‘the blind leading the blind.’

So for the heck of it, if we were to plot this trend of live projects forward, colleges themselves would become redundant. Since education exists online in far more affordable, consumable and convenient forms.

So is there something that can be taught at colleges that is tough to learn elsewhere?

I’d say values. Principles. Ethics. Interdependence. Servant leadership. Etc.

My concern with live projects early in a student’s college life is that their entire concept of industry work life gets influenced or shaped by their live projects. And if their value foundations aren’t strong enough, we get the kind of mess a lot of leading business schools (think ‘bar-word’) have created. The sole focus on sales and profit at any and all costs. The global environmental crises, deforestation, corporate glass ceilings, unequal pay, workplace harassment. This about one Harvard dropout Mark Zuckaberg’s moral compass with Facebook. Soak in the irony for a moment. Facebook and Cambridge Analytica conspired to rig elections around the world. And in 2017, Harvard University, based in “Cambridge” Massachusetts, awarded Zuckaberg an honarary Doctor of “Laws” degree.

I believe the first 1-2 semesters in any college should be more about building morals leadership with an industry perspective, rather than simply taking students and tossing them into the “big bad world”. Because it isn’t so much about learning skills. Those are easy to pick up on the job. But few teach you values in the industry. Do you want to leave your student’s future to that chance?

Behavioural Law

Classic economics started off factoring psychology and behavioural trends and shortcomings (biases) into economic understanding. However, through the ages, economic concepts and policies were built on the assumption that humans are rational beings. This was like putting a blanket over our susceptibility to biases and our irrational decision-making tendencies.

It took the path-breaking decades of work by 2002 Nobel Laureate (Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences) Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky and a few others, to identify and document common human mistakes that spring from our heuristics and biases. This led to the importance of the field of behavioural economics which should ideally replace all economic skillsets.

Going by that logic, I did a cursory check on the LLB syllabus in India and that at Harvard Law School. I also came across research papers and articles around behavioural law at institutes like Yale, Harvard, Cambridge. However, a generic search for Indian LLB syllabus and the Harvard Law curriculum did not show up any subject dedicated to psychology, behaviour, or behavioural law. Stanford mentioned it. However Yale Law did have a fair bit of behaviour covered.

Harvard Law curriculum

While the Harvard program had some 55o study modules, and while they certainly might be including aspects of behavioural law, the subjects list did not include anything related to it or behaviour, despite the importance one might associate with it.

One would imagine that given all the business and personal collaborations and disputes that occur across the world, institutes should have at least by now made human behaviour, behavioural economics and psychology a key part of learning.

You might wonder what it might include? While I wouldn’t exactly know how, I do know that legal professionals are well trained in attack and defense, both in documentation and in fighting cases. And they are adept at understanding the opposition for defense or attack; and identifying potential risk scenarios well into the future. However, armed with behavioural knowledge, they might be able to influence collaborations and solve disputes amicably simply with a better understanding of behaviour and therefore a better choice of words and strategy perhaps. One that could benefit all related parties themselves fairly in the short term, but also steadily influence a more collaborative human race in the longer term.

Many of us have seen those videos of Providence, Rhode Island’s chief municipal judge, Francesco “Frank” Caprio, who metes out ‘human’ and ‘humane’ justice. Someone receiving a judgement from him, or someone simply being spectator to his judgement might have a very different view of humankind. One that is compassionate and optimistic. In a world itching to accuse and punish, imagine the mindset change an entire global legal fraternity might bring about, if they had the superior maturity of Judge Frank Caprio.

Matchbox Design

Matchbox design

As a kid, I used to be quite fascinated by matchboxes. From the uncertainty of being shouted at by some elder, to how many tries it took to light it. And the best, how long could you hold a lit match without burning your fingers.

Pic source: link

Back then, the SHIP matchbox was commonplace. Though I don’t remember them having the jokes at the back of each pack. This standard pack had 50 matchsticks in it. A common problem with any matchbox is running low on striking surface towards the end. It takes more attempts to successfully strike a match.

Then, HomeLites came out with a significantly bigger matchbox. These had 300 matchsticks in it. These seemed to have a bigger problem with the striking surface. Maybe it was the longer striking surface strips on each side that led one to make longer strikes. As a result, you’d have a lot of matches left, but striking a match would become increasingly difficult. You’d spot some unused section towards the edges and try striking it there.

Pic source: link

Anyway, recently I noticed a tiny design change with their matchboxes. And I think it might just solve the striking surface problem.

What they simply did, was replace the two long striking surfaces on either side of the matchbox, with a tiny dividing strip. So instead of two long striking strips, you now have a total of four smaller strips.

If you are overly disciplined, you might restrict yourself to one striking surface at a time. Then use the next one. The rest of us will randomly strike a match against any one of the four surfaces. Point being, with the shorter striking surface, we will unconsciously limit our strike action to that stretch. Am quite sure these new boxes won’t have that old problem.

Just an example of how a simple change to the matchbox design solves a problem that might have left many puzzled. A tiny break in the striking surface alters user behaviour in the right direction. And without necessitating any complex redesigning of the matchbox itself.

If you want to know more about exactly how matches work, read on…

[source of the excerpt below: link]:

The heads of safety matches are composed of a single part. They contain antimony trisulfide, potassium chlorate, sulfur, powdered glass, inert fillers, and animal glue. They may also include a water-soluble dye. Antimony trisulfide cannot be ignited by the heat of friction, even in the presence of an oxidizing agent like potassium chlorate, and it requires another source of ignition to start the combustion. That source of ignition comes from the striking surface, which is deposited on the side of the matchbox or on the back cover of the matchbook.

The striking surface contains red phosphorus, powdered glass, and an adhesive such as gum arabic or urea formaldehyde. When a safety match is rubbed against the striking surface, the friction generates enough heat to convert a trace of the red phosphorus into white phosphorus. This immediately reacts with the potassium chlorate in the match head to produce enough heat to ignite the antimony trisulfide and start the combustion.

Cold Masks

Cold Masks

Late last year, the world (except probably Japan) would not have imagined that in a few months, they would not be able to see full faces in public. And yet, now most people are buying, and some people are making their own cool masks at home.

Over the last three months, I’ve on occasion thought about the design of masks. The N-95 mask (N in N-95 is for ‘Not resistant to oil’), has been recommended by some as being one of the better masks to defend against the Chinese virus.

In the world outside, we see everything from simple synthetic masks to the light blue surgical ones, fancy ones with respirators, and even handkerchiefs and dupattas being used as masks.

However, one problem with everyone wearing masks and makeshifts (kerchiefs, etc.), will be a possible deterioration of social fabric and societal behaviour. Because faces aren’t visible!
It is possible that society as we know it could slowly tend to become a bit colder and indifferent. Because social connects aren’t quite the same when you can’t see a full face and a smile. On occasion, we don’t recognize known people because they are wearing a mask. And far more often than that, a ton of non-verbal communication, the grins and smiles, all get ‘masked’. The inability to see faces could affect the quality of communication and connect. This could affect us as individuals and as a world considerably over the coming months.

Source: pic 1 and pic 2

Feel any difference when you see each Mona Lisa?

Let our masks not make us more cold and indifferent than we were.

The alternative: The only one I could think of, are Transparent masks.

Ashley Lawrence above, a college student studying education for the hearing impaired, designed this mask to help them lip read and follow expressions. Similarly, a few others around the world, a nurse included, have designed transparent masks in recent months. The current option of plastic for a mass market solution however, would be disastrous for the environment.
In labs, there seem to be some natural alternatives like transparent wood. But at the moment, they might be far from ready for deployment.

Q: How can we design an affordable mask that 
(i) protects us from the virus,
(ii) doesn’t harm the environment, and
(iii) helps retain quality of social interactions and connect (by being transparent)?

Thoughts?

Suicide Watch

Suicide Watch

Trigger Warning: This post contains thoughts on whether it is possible to identify people who might suddenly be at risk of self-harm or suicide. If this is not a topic of interest, or you are currently not in the frame of mind to read anything stressful, please close this tab.

Many of us experience helplessness when we hear of a suicide. Irrespective of if it was someone we knew, a celebrity, or a businessperson. Especially perhaps, if it was a student, a helpless farmer, or even an unknown name from some obscure corner of the country or the world. The feeling of helplessness still hits many of us.

Last week, there was a brief discussion on chat between some close friends and me. One friend was trying to find cues in old interviews of Sushant Singh Rajput. To see if there were tell-tale signs in them of any impending suicide intent. The authorities were right in saying one should not speculate based on almost no information. The helplessness, however, forces us to look for answers. To find an explanation that would turn helplessness into sadness or anger, or both. The mind prefers either to the state of not knowing coupled with helplessness.

It is also human tendency, to subconsciously look for early warning signs the person might have exhibited.
Maybe it is just our helpless attempt to undo the past.

A few things we need to remember. Firstly, depression is not the only cause of suicide. There are many other causes. They include psychosis and momentary lapses of reason (sometimes induced or aggravated by alcohol or drugs). As are helplessness in situations (a sudden financial loss, etc.), or a mistake. Native Japanese practiced Seppuku to preserve honour or as a form of self-punishment for serious offenses. Secondly, depression itself can have numerous underlying causes for it. And it is not easy for family, friends or outsiders to conclusively arrive at one or more causes for someone’s depression.

A lot of people suffer from a variety of concerns. From regrets about the past, social pressures, anxieties about the future, among many others.

Many simply learn to live with it. Some becoming increasingly numb to life itself. Others probably do not, and toy with self-harm. Some effects could range from binge eating to excessive drinking or drug abuse. And some could manifest as suicidal tendencies. That said, this post is not about identifying or helping address those suffering from depression.

The objective here, something I’ve wondered about, is a possible way to spot someone who might be close to a breaking point in dealing with their personal battles or thoughts or life itself. To see if it there is a way to identify those who might be at risk of self-harm. And to provide an intervention if possible. So that a good life would not be lost because of an unrelenting ecosystem or one’s condition or difficulties in trying to cope with it.

While one can only hope that people suffering from depression are getting the professional support they need, in my limited knowledge, I’d categorize those at risk of self-harm into two categories:
(i) those who have such thoughts from time to time, walking a tightrope; and
(ii) those who may not have considered self-harm, but a sudden change in their ecosystem suddenly makes it an option they consider

My thoughts are around possibly addressing the second kind. If one knows someone who is going through a challenging phase, and one hears of a case of suicide or self harm from someone either known to those people, or hailing from the same or similar professional field or having some other factors in common, one must consider the possibility that these people might be at risk. You could either directly or indirectly reach out even if just to check. Ideally without directly broaching the topic.

There are a few reasons I believe news of self harm by someone sharing common ground could increase risk of self-harm in some people. Firstly, in case of the same or similar professions, many people could be going through similar challenges due to either an employer or a sector slowdown or some other impact. The hundreds of farmers that have sacrificed their lives is a grim example of this. An inefficient sector with limited government support, irrational weather, scavenging money lenders and middlemen, all constantly fuel the recipe for disaster.

Similarly, a student going through a rough phase might be holding on. But on hearing of other instances of students causing self-harm, a previous never considered option might suddenly sound like a respite. Secondly, a common thread connecting two strangers could also cause one to cause self-harm on hearing about the suicide of the other. There have been a number of suicides among common citizens upon hearing of the death (even of natural causes or illness) of their favourite politician or movie star. Here, the thread linking the two is the admiration for their revered minister or actor.

Consider this: Say you had to work on a task that required a good measure of focus and skill. Would you have a greater chance of succeeding if you had an audience cheering you on? Or if the same audience repeatedly cautioned you about the risks of failure?

I think I know your answer. Similarly, words and actions of people have subconscious effects on us. More so if we share some commonality with them. A hostile crowd in a foreign playground might not affect us half as much as a hostile crowd on our home ground.

So, what can we do to intervene? While not easy, one can sometimes spot people in one’s circles who are going through a challenging phase. Even if they don’t directly tell us. We could then try reach out to them or increase the support ecosystem for them. To try and lighten the burden or ease off the scales, which might be at dangerous levels. Or we could refer or bring to them the professional support needed.

Here’s an earlier post, Death and the Maiden, where I shared some variables that might compel someone to cause self-harm.

And here’s a very well thought out post you must check out. It’s by The Depression Project, about telling signs.

Thoughts and ideas welcome!

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott

Jane Elliott: image

Heard of Jane Elliott?
 
She’s an American schoolteacher and an anti-racism activist. She is especially famous for her truly visionary “Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes” exercise that she conducted in her classroom, 50 years ago.
 
Get a quick overview of her Blue Eyes-Brown Eyes exercise here. I first came across this a few months ago and thought it was exceptional.
 
Now, Jane recently spoke about world maps, racism, and a bit about her childhood. The stuff about maps really shakes, or at least shook my foundation about maps. Like me, you might just ask yourself what in the world is actually true, if something as fundamental as a map could be distorted that much.
 
Check out the interview here.
 
What an inspiration, this woman is!

Browser Save Password Option

Browsers give you the option to save passwords.
The layout for the choice options however, should be different.
 
Firstly, we are usually in a hurry when using the phone. More importantly, our thumbs or index finger is ever-ready to click. So there is a tendency to accidentally press the ‘save password’ option in the browser, whether the option is placed on the left or right of the ‘Never’ option.

Instead, what if the options were placed one over the other? With the ‘Save Password’ option on top, ‘Never’ below it. That way, even if one is in a hurry, there would be a slightly greater chance of pressing the lower button, which would be ok. Especially to prevent the elderly, who might be averse to having their passwords saved on the browser. They might then panic and wonder how (or even if) they could undo it.
 
One could argue that the elderly might not be as quick and as hurried to press a button before reading, but it could still be confusing.
 
Should these options be reworded?
 
Right now, when you read the text of the prompt, in your head, the keywords ‘save Password’ registers. Which is also why there is a chance of accidentally pressing the ‘save Password’ option.
 
The buttons could be reworded “Don’t save Password” and “Save Password”. While the first option here is too wordy, it will push the user to pause and think. Especially since the words are not identical, and are counter to the possible intended action.
 
The word “Save” has a relatively default response in our heads. Through the years (or decades), when using a file on a computer, you most likely always want to save the file when prompted to. The question to “save” or not, can cause us to go into a similar semi-alert state, and we want to pick save. Even though we might not be alright with our passwords actually being saved by the browser.
 
Additionally, the colour scheme can be confusing. Using the same two colours in a contrasting manner looks clean but does not help. Ideally, contrasting colours will help naturally distinguish the two options.
 
Using a different set of words along with distinct colour schemes would give us just enough time to think about the choices presented to us, before we click!
 
The same could apply to other options we are presented with online. Especially if they are averse to having their passwords saved, and might panic at the thought of how they might undo that action.

Do you own, manage or work at a company, and are faced with business challenges or the need for innovation for growth? Get in touch! More here.

Also, check out my book: Design the Future – talks about innovation, customer insights & design thinking.
Ebook: Amazon. Paperbacks: Amazon & other online bookstores.

Soap Dispenser Design

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soap Dispenser Design

This here is an ancient shampoo dispenser that broke last month. It was a crappy design for a few reasons. Firstly, because of how the pumps are placed (at the bottom). It would not stand on its own when you needed to refill. You either had to prop it against something, or hold it with one hand while filling it with the other. Small detail, but clearly ignored.

Secondly, it didn’t take much to take it off the base plate (2nd pic). Which is exactly how it fell and broke…because of an accidental tap that easily took it off its hooks.

Then came the replacement dispenser.

Certainly a better design. And one that stands independently. It allows refilling without risking the unit toppling over (and spilling liquid soap).

Only problem with this one is that someone did not think the back support design clearly. That side of the white panel (with the lines) should ideally have faced the wall, and the more smooth side faced forward.

Another good thing about it, is that you need to slide it the entire height of the support panel to fix in place or remove. Which means accidentally knocking it off is not easy.

Now I came across this liquid soap dispenser at a restaurant recently. It looks like any other dispenser (pic 1 below). Oddly though, it dispenses from under the black pump button (pic 2 below) and not the steel body, as one might have assumed.

Ordinarily, this dispenser design might still have been ok if it was for a single basin. You would be standing almost directly in front of it, so most likely, the soap would land somewhere on your palm. However, here, it was placed between two basins, so you would tend to limit yourself to the area in front of your basin, especially when others are around. Your hand will therefore approach the dispenser at an angle (unlike if it were right in front of you). What happens now is that when you press the pump and hold your palm under the steel body, soap will fall onto the ground from in front of your hand. Hopefully not onto anyone’s shoe.

Simply making the black button in the shape of an inverted triangle it might have made it far more evident.

***

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

PayTM’s UI

PayTM’s user interface

PayTM‘s web user interface (not sure about the mobile app), can be a little misleading.

We as users, are almost completely programmed to click the ‘Accept Terms’ checkbox on any application. Especially on a known one where we are almost at the end of an action or purchase.

Then, it seems cunning of PayTM to put this so close to the ‘Proceed to Pay’ option. We are ordinarily inclined to click accept on a ‘Terms and Conditions’ checkbox across websites.

Here, trying different purchase options, as I came to this page, the offer given in what seems like a ‘T&C’ checkbox was different. But since we pay so little attention to actual ‘T&C’ checkboxes, we could very easily select this one, only to have the price of that instantly added to your total.

Depending on the total value in your cart, you might even not realize the addition of a few hundred more bucks to the total. And before you know it, PayTM has managed to secretly sell you something by way of a sneaky design tactic.

PayATTENTION ! Don’t let brands that should be becoming increasingly responsible with growth, fool you.

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

Creating and Understanding Customer Feedback

A waffles order packaging (doesn’t it look like a Viking head?)

Creating and Understanding Customer Feedback

If you’ve ever ordered waffles online, most likely they’ll come in one of two kinds of packaging. One is clean like in the pic above. The other is where all of them in thin paper holders will be stuffed into a box. Quite messy.

Anyway, say you ordered a few dishes for dinner via a food ordering app from a local restaurant. packaging by the restaurant is horrible. The food has leaked into the outer bag, and slightly onto other food containers below.

However, the food itself is delicious.

Now consider you ordered from another restaurant on another night. Exceptional, airtight and impressive looking packaging.

However, the food tastes somewhere between horrible and just-average.

Now, if both restaurants, or even the food ordering service used a simple rating mechanism, chances are, both restaurants will be oblivious to what customers love and hate about them.

The first restaurant might see a bad rating and think their food sucks. The packaging quality never crossing their mind.

The other restaurant might feel proud with a high rating, assuming it was for their food, while customers struggle to consume it. Or they might think the bad rating was because of some delivery error or delay.

If you are going to take the trouble to capture user feedback, take a little more trouble to capture more detailed feedback. Because vague feedback can sometimes be more dangerous than no feedback.

Without boring the customer, try and split up your service feedback into its components. In the case of the home order, it could be the food quality, packaging quality and service delivery. For a product, it could be the effectiveness of the product (in doing the job), ease of understanding and use (instructions, design simplicity, etc.), and effectiveness of customer service (if it comes to that).

If you own, manage or work at a company, and are grappling with a complex challenge or are in need of innovation for growth, get in touch. More here.

And you might find my book, ‘Design the Future’ interesting. It demystifies the mindset of Design Thinking. Ebook’s on Amazon, and paperbacks at leading online bookstores including Amazon & Flipkart.

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