Malcolm Gladwell in a blink

Every book should eat its own dog-food. At least, thats my storyline for a “blink” reaction to Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink (I went to a reading by him, but have not read his book – so this is a quick reaction).

Gladwell’s book is about Rapid Cognition (or immediate reactions, instant decisions and first imprsessions) – how both science and culture do not appreciate the importance of rapid cognition as much as slower, more deliberate decision processes.

The material was not new (if you ever took a college level course in social psychology, then the content itself is old hat). Gladwell, however, has a knack for framing a powerful argument, weaving together dry, academic Social Psychology research, disguised as stories from popular culture. He is also a great storyteller.

Gladwell thinks that both science and society have traditionally paid more attention to the slower, more deliberate decision making processes as compared to the instant reastions, and rapid decisions that people make all the time. He focuses on rapid, emotional decisions (e.g., I like this chair, I don’t trust this person), and how such judgements are equally valid, synthesize a lot of information and are often deeply reflective of our innermost thoughts and feelings.

Gladwell’s theme can be summarized by the diagram below.


A: Slow, Cognitive: Human decision making is mostly understood in terms of this slow, deliberate model of decision making.

B: Slow, Emotional: When people think too much about their emotional reactions, they might change their minds. Gladwell cites an experiment asking people to choose painting with & without justification. Second group (that had to justify their emotional reactions) liked their paintings much less 6 months later.

C: Rapid, Cognitive: Rapid cognitive reactions often form the basis of expert decision making. For example an expert, who can immediately judge if a painting is a fake or not, is making a rapid, cognitive judgement.

D: Rapid, Emotional: This cell is the crux of Gladwells’ argument. Rapid, emotional decisions happen far more often than it is realized. People make up their minds to like/dislike something instanthly (for example, whether to trust someone or not) seemlessly synthsizing information from current situation and past experience and learning. Such decisions can be indicative of our true thoughts and feelings, but can also be problematic. For example, stereotyping a race, or group falls into the catgeory of such decisions.

Google’s pragmatic, data-driven approach to user interface design

Marissa Mayer director of Consumer Web Products at Google, spoke at BayCHI on Tuesday evening. Some interesting points she made:

(a) When she first got involved in User Interface Design at Google, she was asked not to spend more than one day a week working on the interface! Also, she was asked not to give her opinions, but to provide data. So right from the beginning, design at Google has been very data driven.

(b) They do a lot of usability testing (mostly discount tests), both task-based and think aloud. From what I understood they do look at statistical significance of such test results.

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