Design with humans in mind: Interview in APS Observer

Mariko Hewer of the Association for Psychological Science interviewed me and wrote a nice discussion of the role that psychology should be playing in design.

Design with humans in mind

Design is the field that helps make technology accessible to and understandable by people. Psychology plays a huge role. Yet most academic psychologists wish to remain academic, and they do not go near applied problems.  Shame. Not only does the applied world need assistance, but in the attempt to apply psychological knowledge, we learn how much we do not know. Applications drive research.

Too much of psychological research is abstract and over-specialized, that when it comes to answering what appear to be simple questions, the science does not provide answers. Do we need those abstractions? Yes, they are essential. Do we need fundamental research? Absolutely.  But we also need studies of how to apply our findings in real, natural settings, outside of the laboratory, outside of artificial constraints.

There are lots of interesting opportunities in the world of applications. Opportunities, jobs, and even research funding.  We need to apply our knowledge better, and by this I mean real applications. The nice statements in grant applications of why the proposed study is important to humankind may sound good, but they are usually naive and nonsensical. We need to study real people doing real activities in real settings. We need to understand the true needs of people.

This also means we need to develop new experimental methods, for in the applied world we need big effects, not small ones. So our experiments can be simpler and quicker. We still need experimental rigor but when looking for large effects, we can simplify the approach. This is essential, because when observing people in the world, we lack the normal controls of the laboratory. The virtue, however, is that we get away from the sterile, artificial "white room" of the laboratory, studying activities that are meaningful to people rather than activities they do because we ask them to do them (or pay them).

Read the article: It's a nice review. Then, I encourage psychologists to work with industry to help apply our knowledge. The world will be a better place as a result.