serving brain food since 1998

Visual Affect in 50 milliseconds

Over at A List Apart, Patrick Lynch nicely summarizes the essence of one of my favorite books by Don Norman, Emotional Design and applies it to neuro-activity within our brain.

In psychology, emotional reactions to stimuli are called affective responses. Affective responses happen very fast, and are governed in an automatic, unconscious way by the lower centers of the brain that also govern basic instincts (food, fear, sex, breathing, blinking, etc.). Think of affective responses as the brain’s bottom-up reaction to what you see and feel. Cognitive responses are your brain’s slower, top-down, more considered responses. They’re governed by your personal cultural views, learning, experiences, and personal preferences that you are aware of and can easily articulate. Affective reactions assign value to your experiences; cognitive reactions assign meaning to what you see and use.

He even offers a measurable application of this viewpoint:

Research confirms that users make aesthetic decisions about the overall visual impression of web pages in as little as 50 milliseconds (1/20th of a second). These instant visceral reactions to web pages happen in virtually all users, are consistent over visit length, and strongly influence the user’s sense of trust in the information. In short, users have made fundamental, consistent, and lasting aesthetic decisions about the credibility and authority of sites before major eyetracking events begin.

While I think any designer worth his salt instinctually knows this, there’s an important truth to consider — any site with an objective to establish trust in users and confidence in doing business should execute on multiple levels — and at the visceral level it happens nearly instantaneously with users.

Serving Brain Food Since 1998

As the new tagline says, this site has been serving content since 1998. I don’t know the exact birthday because much of it existed as static content served by the ISP I was with at the time. You could say I was one of the original bloggers. This was long before tools like WordPress or Facebook existed. Much of the content I wrote back then focused on keeping in touch with folks back home while my wife and I explored life down South. We found work, got a little tanner, adopted a black cat named Max, and even stayed long enough to develop a peculiar sounding drawl.

Much of that early content was lost (I don’t remember how, but let’s just say it was during a hurricane evacuation, because that really did happen). Anyway, I really can’t say the loss of those writings was such a terrible blow to culture as we know it today. But in my heart, I’ll always remember how it started. I spent a lot of time working on a portfolio site, which I still can’t find the courage to take down, despite its tarnished age. Back then I taught myself HTML through endless tinkering, trial and error, and more than a little time at my day job reading the paper print outs I’d made of Jeffrey Zeldman’s site (back then, he was calling himself Dr. Web, but if you called him that now, he’d probably think you were throwing down for a fight).

Nothing but love, Jeffrey.

So that’s where it all began. And I’ve re-designed the site today to celebrate the longevity of this experience. It has been something to watch–even for myself. And I look forward to sharing more content with you as I continually evolve and hopefully mature into the next phase of my existence.

Google and the Iceberg Principle of Design

A lot has already been said about Douglas Bowman’s decision to leave Google. From what I understand, he was the company’s first visual designer. I don’t know the man, but I think we can take his perspective, at least, at face value.

In his goodbye post, he offers a glimpse of the design culture at the now monolithic corporate giant — a rant which has so far caught a lot of traction on the blogosphere.

Yes, it’s true that a team at Google couldn’t decide between two blues, so they’re testing 41 shades between each blue to see which one performs better. I had a recent debate over whether a border should be 3, 4 or 5 pixels wide, and was asked to prove my case. I can’t operate in an environment like that. I’ve grown tired of debating such minuscule design decisions. There are more exciting design problems in this world to tackle.

This statement, assuming again it’s true, reminded me of the analogy that Bill Moggridge, co-founder of IDEO and author of Designing Interactions, came up with for design, comparing it to an iceberg. Basically, if we can imagine that the smaller, exposed part of the iceberg, contains the quantitative, the objective, and the analytical, it only goes to follow that the much larger underwater part contains the qualitative, the subjective, and the aesthetic.

The bottom part, Moggridge argues, is the playground for unconscious, intuitive design.

Clearly, Google is a company that only wants to operate at the top of the iceberg. I wonder, though, how long it can continue to thrive when so much unmined territory goes waiting for others to explore.

Good luck to you, Douglas.

Right After You Stage Dive Into a Pit Filled with Broken Glass and Half-eaten Barbituates

Get a Life. Get Swiftcovered.

Go get some car insurance. That’s right. Tell them Iggy Pop sent you.

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Mike Schindler
Two Turtle Doves 2008
Mixed Media / Holiday Card

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