Published on March 9, 2014
Mismatched What’s wrong with the way we recognize patterns? Robert Stribley Associate Experience Director, Razorfish #patterns
How many political parties are there in the United States?
How many political parties are there in the United States? How many colors are there? How many genders are there? How many forms of sexual orientation are there? How many races are there? How many states are there?
We’re poor tolerators of ambiguity
We live in an incredibly complex environment We’re constantly bombarded by stimuli How do we process all this information?
Pattern Recognition The ability to identify familiar forms within a complex arrangement of sensory stimuli Butterfly on the New York City Highline
Butterflies Labeled by Species
Some examples of pattern recognition
Scientists note patterns in attempts to understand the natural world
Facebook recognizes faces and even suggests names
Researchers use Twitter to track and forecast flu outbreaks
The games we play invariably require pattern recognition
We can recognize when one game design is based on another November 2010 November 2010 April 2012 April 2012
Or when one design has likely influenced another
We can recognize when designs follow trends
Pattern recognition helps us recognize the same person, despite changes to their appearance over time.
We might see people and conclude they look alike, which can lead to cases of mistaken identity
Bees mistake flowers for sexual partners
But humans wouldn’t mistake a facsimile for the real thing like that, would we?
So recognizing patterns is tremendously useful. But sometimes in seeing patterns, we arrive at conclusions, which aren’t correct.
Just a few of the problems we encounter when recognizing patterns: •Apophenia •Pareidolia •Post hoc ergo propter hoc •Confirmation bias, selection bias •Binary thinking •Tribalism •Categorical thinking
Categorical thinking? What’s wrong with categorical thinking?
Robert Sapolsky Professor of Biology, Neurology, Neurological Sciences, Neurosurgery, Stanford University
“We think in categories. We take things that are in continua and we break them into categories. And we label those categories. And we do that in various settings because it could be extremely useful.” – Sapolsky UX people: Think card sort, think taxonomy, think site map
"Fall into categorical thinking and you can do unspeakable damage in the realm of science that makes difference." – Sapolsky *and in life and in design
1. Focus on categories and we can overlook distinctions within categories.
2. Focus on boundaries and we can overlook similarities between items.
Man V. Ape Focus on differences between species and you may overlook many obvious similarities
3. Focus on boundaries and we can miss the big picture. All we see are categories.
What are some solutions?
1. Spectrums can be more accurate than limited categories.
Human Sexuality and the Kinsey scale
Prof. Michael Storms – The Storms Model
Takeaway: Spectrums offer more nuance. But beware of artificial boundaries within a spectrum, too.
2. It’s OK to classify things in multiple categories.
Employ flexible categorization systems 1.Flexible taxonomies 2.Crowd-sourced tagging 3.Machine-based tagging
Takeaway: Recognize and highlight connections between things in different categories
3. Stay alert to field bias to see the full picture
• We tend to categorize in ways which reflect our training or background • A biologist, a geneticist, and an endocrinologist might answer the same question in different ways • They present categorical solutions which reflect their language and cultural differences
We encounter the same issue when working with different departments within an organization
Takeaway: Encourage communication among departments, between users and stakeholders.
• We can’t operate as human beings without recognizing patterns. • Categorization can be a helpful thing. • Until it isn’t. Then it can be damaging. • Or it can make information difficult to process and navigate. • So approach recognizing patterns with nuance.
Thank you Robert Stribley @stribs This presentation on Slideshare: www.slideshare.com/stribs My tumblr about pattern recognition: stribs.tumblr.com
For Further Study •Biology & Human Behavior: The Neurological Origins of Individuality – Professor Robert Sapolsky, The Great Courses •Chaos – James Gleick •First Principle: Disambiguation – Rachel Lovinger, Contents Magazine •Stochasticity – Radio Lab, WNYC, Season 6, Episode 1 Special thanks to Amy Stack, Rachel Lovinger and Jason Scott for their feedback on this presentation. Dedicated to my wife, Amy Stack.
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