Eliminating the Habit of Habituation

From “The First Secret of Great Design” by  Tony Fadell  on TED Talks. Video below.  Here’s what we took away from it.

Design mentality = problem solving.  

Problem solving is creative. Good designers are problem solvers, but the reason not everyone can be a designer is that many people do not attempt to hone or develop a design mentality. A design mentality requires noticing the problems that other people are not noticing. The small things. Apples in the grocery store for example, used to not have a sticker on them. However, someone out there realized it would be more convenient when checking out to have the small sticker with a barcode on it, helping the checkout process become more efficient. Unfortunately, this now requires the consumer to dig into their apple, peeling off the sticker, which then gets stuck on your fingers. A minor annoyance, but as time goes on, a process called habituation begins to take effect.

Habituation. Positives.

Habituation is the notion that because people have limited brain power, as we do things over and over, we stop noticing them. This is so our brains can focus energy on learning new things. This is not always negative. For example, driving a car. At first it seems overwhelming and it feels like there are so many things distracting you, so much to pay attention to. But as time goes on, it becomes second nature and enjoyable.

Habituation. Drawbacks.

The problem with habituation is it inhibits our ability to notice the less obvious problems. We begin to accept them as a part of life. This stops us from innovating and making the world a better place. Tony Fadell, the inventor of Nest – a high tech thermostat that has revolutionized the market for saving energy, recently did a Ted Talk discussing this concept of design thinking. His three main tips? First, look broader. When you notice a problem, look at the things that lead up to that problem and then see if you can eliminate those things altogether, combine them, or fix them. This can ultimately help you solve the main problem. Second, look closer. Focus on the tiny details. Sometimes a minor tweak can fix the entire problem. Third, think younger. Fadell references the questions his three young children often ask him, such as, “Why can’t cars fly around the traffic? Why doesn’t the mailbox tell us when it has mail?”. He notes that it is important to have young people on your team, or people on your time who have a young mind.

Can you develop a design mentality? In a word, yes.

Of course, you can. Fadell argues that, at least in his case, it was something he had to work hard at but he created Nest

How can you start? Look at the world around you just a bit closer today. See if you can find a problem you haven’t noticed in a long time. Then go a step farther, see if you can solve it. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the one that finally finds a way to get out of the grocery store more efficiently… without having to put the sticker on that apple.

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