Category: Human Behaviour

The Paradox of Colour Choices

Many of us are familiar with the paradox of choice, whether or not we have heard of the phrase itself.

The paradox of choice, is our tendency to believe that more options or variants or choices in a given situation or purchase event is a good thing. After all, who wouldn’t want more flavours in a cereal or jam, or more accessory choices when buying a car or colour options when buying shoes or maybe laptops?

However, I think it was psychologist Barry Schwartz who first argued that for consumers, eliminating choices in fact dramatically reduced their anxiety as opposed to making them more content or delighted. It also simplifies our ability to compare and decide quickly, as opposed to being confused by the complexity of the multiple options presented.

I personally went through a similar experience with my calendar app. I think I installed it sometime in 2013-14. It had a few basic colour options for each entry. And since it was quite basic, I felt the need for some features, and the flexibility of some more colour options, to be able to categorize different priorities or types of reminders by colour. So I signed up for the Pro version.

All of a sudden, I got access to probably three times the colour options which, after an update in the recent months, has now become unlimited colours! There are the basic 11 Google supported colours, 39 more on the app’s extended palette, and the ability to create custom colours using the colour slider or by entering a Hex code.

And with all the options, came the chaos. In an attempt to highlight different types of activities with different colours, in the hope of remembering to get them done, the calendar started looking nauseatingly colourful. And chaotic!

And as the different colours overwhelmed the senses, it became increasingly tough to remember and understand priority.

So I regressed to a better format. I now use less than the initial colour options I started with. And, just as with the paradox of choice, clarity has improved. Now timebound or important matters are in red or green, and everything else is in one colour. So rather than depend on multiple colours fighting for attention while leaving me in a state of chaos, now I am required to pay attention to each to make sure nothing important gets missed out.

Have you faced any similar choice paradox that you solved by simplifying?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[the before & after screenshots are only representational. The actual calendar was far more chaotic before, & far clearer now]

Between Gender Pronouns and Spelling People’s Names

I had been seeing a lot of social media profiles with a ‘He/Him’ or ‘She/Her’ mentioned alongside the name, but didn’t completely understand the purpose. A close friend recently explained them as gender pronouns. Given in particular the LGBTQ+ community, the world needs to become increasingly sensitive to the different gender pronouns. Affixing it to one’s name could be considered a global effort towards creating more awareness about the diversities and subtleties of gender.

To make it a bit clearer, in the past, the powers that were, often kept pronoun references intentionally (and forcefully) simple (he/him and she/her), irrespective of how an individual identified themselves. However, with greater acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community across the world, we need to move toward a world that recognizes and appropriately addresses different individuals, so as not to be impolite. Currently, for those who don’t identify as male or female, use ‘They/Them/Their’ pronouns. Perhaps with time there might be more unique ways to identify each type in the LGBTQ+ community. The current habit of individuals mentioning their individual set of pronouns online is an effort to help sensitize the world community to pay more attention to gender differences. I have a lot to learn about this myself, but thought I’d share the little I know. And a question at the end.

In recent times, the world has become increasingly careless about people’s names – from not capitalizing the first letter, to getting the spelling wrong, or worse still, not realizing after having spelt it incorrectly (to be able to apologize and correct the mistake). Relatives sometimes misspell my name. And if you remove the last ‘n’, it is a girl’s name here in India.
Two amusing personal incidents came to mind around this.

I was once moderating a panel discussion around design thinking at a conference, and the organizers had managed to misspell my name on the placard and not realize it. I’m not affected by my name being misspelt, so I simply turned the placard away from the audience, lest they think that was my name.

The second was even funnier. One morning, I get a feedback request call (can’t remember for what service), the conversation goes something like this:

Woman: good morning, ma’am, I’m calling from XYZ business. This is a feedback call. Is it Ms. Shruti?
Me: [wondering wtf] Hi. I think you mean Mr. Shrutin. That’s me speaking.
Woman: [very confused] Sorry sir, is Ms. Shruti there?
Me: I think you have the name wrong. It is Shrutin, and I am the one you are asking about.
Woman: [even more confused] But it says Ms. Shruti?
Me: Ma’am, do I sound like a woman to you?
Woman: No sir!!
Me: Then try and understand this, the name is Shrutin, your rep might have misspelt it as ‘Shruti’, and someone entering it into your system therefore might have conveniently added a Ms., and you are looking at it and asking for a Ms. Shruti.
Woman: [sounding relieved] Oh sorry. Got it sir. I’ll make the necessary change. So sorry again.

Which brings me to my question:

In a world that, in part thanks to social media and also our own aimless hurriedness that causes us to pay less attention to people’s names (even if they are customers or guest speakers); how easy (or not) might it be for us to start recognizing gender based pronouns and addressing people accordingly?

– Shrutin Shetty [He/Him]

Towards a Better Mask – 3

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #3.

Post 1 listed some basic criteria and good to have features that served as guidelines/constraints and some initial sketches.

Post 2 factored in all the basic criteria and most of the ‘good-to-have’ features, in that it was transparent (though slightly off the mark) and had reasonably good circulation.

Based on the basic criteria, good-to-have features and general observation of regular folk preferring a handkerchief to a mask (walking through markets, handkerchiefs seem to be a preferred choice, especially for those needing to wear it all day), the next prototype has the following:

  • Addresses all basic features (though I didn’t have the time to cut out a section so it fits better around the nose)
  • Safety (basic criteria) is far higher than a handkerchief
  • Regarding ‘good-to-have’ features, it wasn’t transparent, but circulation was probably better than with handkerchiefs

What it is, is a section (slightly less than half) of a takeaway plastic soup bowl between the folds of a regular handkerchief.
Used a mini vice to hold the bowl in place, and cut it with a rotary tool.

Since a good number of people prefer a handkerchief (possibly due to convenience and affordability), but are probably not aware of the limited safety provided, this design simply offers a safer handkerchief.

Strings from the bowl (how about call it mask henceforth? 😁) run along the ends of the handkerchief folded in half (how people normally fold it before tying).
How it is different or safer than regular handkerchiefs, is the plastic over the nose and mouth section prevents any direct spit/particles from anyone nearby landing on the handkerchief from passing right through.

The bulge creates breathing room, something both handkerchiefs and regular masks don’t offer, and which is what causes a lot of people to slide them down or stop wearing them – the suffocation.

The small breathing space offered by the curvature of the bowl makes it more comfortable to wear, and the bottom section of the handkerchief can be partly folded into the bottom section of the mask, to allow for better ventilation while not giving direct exit to any germ from the user.

Let me know what you think!

Previous post Towards a Better Mask – 2

Towards a Better Mask – 2

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

This is post #2.

This was part experiment, part fun. I’ve always been fascinated with the idea of using car components for things. For instance, a dream is to someday replace the sofa in the hall with car seats.

Back to the topic, affordability comes from using empty soup bowls from an earlier food delivery. 😛 

As for the funny white extensions on the sides, they are cardboard (from some box) and inside it lies the “protection” – A decent quality car air-conditioning filter. The entire AC filter comes for a few hundred bucks, and I barely used 10-15% of one. There’s a section of folded filter, and a second single layer where that white section joins the s̶o̶u̶p̶ ̶b̶o̶w̶l̶  mask via a ~1.2 cm opening [below].

So that’s double layer of protection! The plastic section wouldn’t allow the virus in. And the front is transparent to allow for better human interaction. With this particular prototype, the nose cut-out was not deep enough so the transparent section focused more on the beard, but ideally, it would give a view of the mouth and part of the nose.

If you’ve seen the criteria listed in the 1st post of this series, this one prototype addresses:

Among the basic criteria:

  • Protection
  • Affordability
  • Partly achieves ‘breathable’
  • Addresses gaps on the sides of the nose

And among Good-to-have features:

  • Transparency (almost on this one, but should be easy to fix)
  • Partly addresses good circulation (by being a few centimeters away from the mouth and nose, it allows for a more open, relaxed breathing setting as opposed to most regular masks)

Of course the air filtering packs on the sides are huge and unwieldy. General comfort too wasn’t great as I simply used the elastic bands from a used surgical mask so it was tight (to the point it almost took my eye out when the nose protection cushion slipped out and the strain of the bands pushed the jagged plastic edge in my eye as I was fumbling around trying to take a selfie with the mask on.

Anyway, till the next prototype…

Previous post Towards a Better Mask – 1                                                                  Next post Towards a Better Mask – 3

Towards a Better Mask – 1

An internal project under Rattl has been to try create a better mask for the (Covid) times.

While it is possible we fail to actually create an ideal one, the exercise so far has been a learning one.

Some basic criteria considered:

  • protection against the virus (> handkerchiefs and cloth masks, at least)
  • affordability (pointless if a solution for a global problem is not affordable by everyone)
  • breathable (one reason a lot of people wear it on their chins, etc., is because many masks aren’t exactly easy to breathe in for more than a few minutes)
  • address the gaps on the sides of the nose that are not adequately covered by masks without the nose wire/pin

Good to have features:

  • transparent (at least around the mouth), to enable quality interactions
  • good circulation (ideally explicit unidirectional channels for inhaling and exhaling

Will share any findings or updates as and when I get to work on it.

To start with, these were some initial sketches. Faces 3 & 5 were a quick rough digital trace from an image.

Some advantages of a full-face mask are:

  • less strain of elastic bands on the ears
  • an ignored aspect – the relatively more ‘breathing room’ inside the mask, while being better shielded

Next post Towards a Better Mask – 2

Invade for Better Climate

Random musings.
 
Every once in a while, mom would pester me to explore opportunities abroad. Canada in particular for some reason.
 
And between my love for an imaginary idea called ‘India’, familiarity and wanting to do something in the country I was born in, among reasons not to look for opportunities especially in Canada or the US, was the weather. The American summer holidays, working out for the summer body, etc., etc., gave me the impression that people there merely just exist and go about 9-10 months in anticipation of the 2 months of life and warm weather.
 
And we have that here, at least in Bombay all year round. Apart from the monsoons that is. And the few days or weeks of light chill that is our equivalent of hell freezing over. 🤣
 
If you were to randomly consider invasions in the past few hundred years, I wonder if crappy weather might have been a big reason for people to invade other countries in the hope of better weather.
The Brits, the Mongols, the Chinese, the Japs, the Russians.
 
Those invaded or attacked: South America, India, Australia, Africa.
 
And why didn’t the other countries in the north invade others, you might ask? Maybe because they didn’t have the means or the inclination? So they more likely found simpler ways to co-exist…for 9-10 months in anticipation of the 2 months of life and warm weather? 😉

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?

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