My wife and I argue about thermostats. After this article we’ll probably argue about thermostats and my blogging.

I see a room or car thermostat as a device to set a target temperature for the space in which it sits. If I’m too cold, I judge whether to increase the temperature a bit. If I’m too hot I’ll look to drop it down.

My wife sees things very differently. Her perspective is, I think, her own temperature. If she is too cold she wants to be warmer, so sets the temperature to as hot as it can go. If she is too hot she’ll turn it off. It’s usually the latter habit that will cause an argument, when we are in the car, and she’s got too hot, has turned off the car heating, and as a result the windscreen is now misting over…

Well, I suppose in these days of SatNav, married couples need new things to fill the void of map-reading triggered fights. I miss those simpler days of “No, I meant left left!”.

Because of course navigation is another area where different people have fundamentally different world views that cause complexity in communicating “simple” instruction…

20170130_081005Imagine, if you will, a main road that takes a sweeping bend to the right. On the apex of the corner is a side road. If you were to need to travel down the side road, what should the SatNav tell you? To turn left (because you are leaving the main road) or to go straight on (because that’s the direction in which you need to travel)?

I guess the technically correct answer is “indicate left to continue onto the side road ahead”, but that would cause even more confusion. The “reality” is that both instructions would be correct depending on the mental mapping techniques of the instructee – for some of us “Turn Left” would be the right direction, for others “Go straight on” (I seem to remember reading something about gender bias on that particular example, with more women favouring the latter, but I might be making that up).

There’s a couple of things to learn from this: firstly, that designing the “perfect” user interface is dependent on a homogenous user group, and even in tasks as “simple” as controlling heating or following navigation commands that’s a false assumption; and secondly, that striving for “perfect” information is a fallacy because similarly, no such thing exists. How we receive and process information is partly down to our own inate preferences, and then as much down to how circumstances have lead us to receiving the information.

On that latter point, I can thoroughly recommend Robert Cialdini’s latest book Pre-suasion which is likely to significantly change your mind about the ways in which information impacts upon people.

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