TED Talks of 2009

3 Ways Good Design Makes you Happy

The middle level of processing is the behavioral level and that's actually where most of our stuff gets done. Visceral is subconscious, you're unaware of it. Behavioral is subconscious, you're unaware of it. Almost everything we do is subconscious. I'm walking around the stage -- I'm not attending to the control of my legs. I'm doing a lot; most of my talk is subconscious; it has been rehearsed and thought about a lot. Most of what we do is subconscious. Automatic behavior -- skilled behavior -- is subconscious, controlled by the behavioral side. And behavioral design is all about feeling in control, which includes usability, understanding -- but also the feel and heft.

Emotion is all about acting; emotion is really about acting. It's being safe in the world. Cognition is about understanding the world, emotion is about interpreting it -- saying good, bad, safe, dangerous, and getting us ready to act, which is why the muscles tense or relax. And that's why we can tell the emotion of somebody else -- because their muscles are acting, subconsciously, except that we've evolved to make the facial muscles really rich with emotion.

And the third level is reflective, which is, if you like the superego, it's a little part of the brain that has no control over what you do, no control over the -- doesn't see the senses, doesn't control the muscles. It looks over what's going on. It's that little voice in your head that's watching and saying, "That's good. That's bad." Or, "Why are you doing that? I don't understand." It's that little voice in your head that's the seat of consciousness.


Are we in control of our own decisions?

I will tell you a little bit about irrational behavior, and I want to start by giving you some examples of visual illusion as a metaphor for rationality. So think about these two tables. And you must have seen this illusion. If I asked you what's longer, the vertical line on the table on the left, or the horizontal line on the table on the right, which one seems longer? Can anybody see anything but the left one being longer? No, right? It's impossible. But the nice thing about visual illusion is we can easily demonstrate mistakes. So I can put some lines on; it doesn't help. I can animate the lines. And to the extent you believe I didn't shrink the lines, which I didn't, I've proven to you that your eyes were deceiving you. Now, the interesting thing about this is when I take the lines away, it's as if you haven't learned anything in the last minute.


Design and discovery

I'm a big believer in the emotion of design, and the message that's sent before somebody begins to read, before they get the rest of the information; what is the emotional response they get to the product, to the story, to the painting -- whatever it is. That area of design interests me the most, and I think this for me is a real clear, very simplified version of what I'm talking about.

What's next? What's next is going to be people. As we get more technically driven, the importance of people becomes more than it's ever been before. You have to utilize who you are in your work. Nobody else can do that: nobody else can pull from your background, from your parents, your upbringing, your whole life experience. If you allow that to happen, it's really the only way you can do some unique work, and you're going to enjoy the work a lot more as well.


How the Internet enables intimacy

How are they doing this? They're doing it in a very simple way, by calling their mom from work, by IMing from their office to their friends, by texting under the desk. The pictures that you're seeing behind me are people that I visited in the last few months. And I asked them to come along with the person they communicate with most. And somebody brought a boyfriend, somebody a father. One young woman brought her grandfather. For 20 years, I've been looking at how people use channels such as email, the mobile phone, texting, etc. What we're actually going to see is that, fundamentally, people are communicating on a regular basis with five, six, seven of their most intimate sphere.


Life lessons from an ad man

But, actually, it's suddenly come to me after years working in the business, that what we create in advertising, which is intangible value -- you might call it perceived value, you might call it badge value, subjective value, intangible value of some kind -- gets rather a bad rap. If you think about it, if you want to live in a world in the future where there are fewer material goods, you basically have two choices. You can either live in a world which is poorer, which people in general don't like. Or you can live in a world where actually intangible value constitutes a greater part of overall value, that actually intangible value, in many ways is a very, very fine substitute for using up labor or limited resources in the creation of things.


What hallucination reveals about our minds

So I am going to be talking about hallucinations and a particular sort of visual hallucination, which I see among my patients. A few months ago, I got a phone call from a nursing home where I work. They told me that one of their residents, an old lady in her 90s, was seeing things, and they wondered if she'd gone bonkers or, because she was an old lady, whether she'd had a stroke, or whether she had Alzheimer's.