S1E1 – What is design

Hidden by Design Episode 1 – What is Design

Design, what is it? A question that have a lot of different opinions attached to it.

Design, and the job of a Designer, often gets reduced to “Just make it look pretty” or “This is not intuitive”. But what is design then, if it is not just about making things look great? Get the answer by listen to “Hidden by Design”. In this very first episode will will discuss and set straight what Design really is.

We open up this episode with a quote from a guy called Cast Stengel, an American Baseball player.

Never make predictions, especially about the future! 
Casy Stengel!

This opens up the conversation about the essence of design, that as a designer, your job is to predict the future.

We also touch on the idea of keeping your tounge straight and the difference between computers and human beings.

The conclusion is: Design is planning ahead by making people do or behave in a specific way.


Daniel Kahneman – Thinking Fast and Slow

Don Norman – Design of Everyday Things Revised Expanded

The Decision Lab – Decoy Effect

Personal notes for this episode

I was thinking recently, that maybe my notes will make things easier. As you can see, its not everything that we talked about in the show. But these were my initial notes on this episode


Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:02
Hi, my name is Thorbjørn, and I’m your teacher.

Martin Whiskin 0:06
And my name is Martin, and I’m your student,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:09
you’re listening to hidden by design, a podcast about design for ordinary people, I guess,

Martin Whiskin 0:16
are you calling me ordinary?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 0:17
For everyone? A podcast about design for everyone. We believe that the most pleasurable and best design is the design you don’t see. That’s why it’s called Hidden by design, and the kind of design that works without you noticing. Typically, if you notice that you don’t notice the design, that’s when you will notice that it’s just a nice experience. Everything we say in the show is our own opinion, and interpretation of current knowledge and how that trends are. And what’s happening. And it’s what we understand. Now. We might be right, we might be wrong. But it doesn’t really matter. If you think we’re wrong, and you want to challenge what we’re talking about and what we’re saying or what I’m teaching, then just write us, because we hope to become better designers and smarter people. And to use this in our everyday life. Thank you for listening.

Never make predictions, especially about the future. My name is Thorbjørn. And I’m a designer. I have a small game company that I run, where I also do design. And I’m accompanied today by Martin, who im attempting to I guess, to teach about design.

Martin Whiskin 1:40
I haven’t I haven’t had a teacher for about 25 years. Soooo

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:46
I promise I won’t be strict.

Martin Whiskin 1:47
Well, I quite like that. So

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 1:50
All right. All right. Then there’ll be district teacher talk, Martin, will you introduce yourself?

Martin Whiskin 1:54
Yeah. So my name is Martin whisking. And I’m a voice over artist, and I’m part of the poly spice team. And yeah, I’m here because I know nothing about design or seemingly know nothing about design. We’ve had a chat about this last week. And it appears that I did know about design, but didn’t know that I knew about design. I hope that makes sense.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:15
Exactly. Well, hopefully after this episode, it will be making sense to because design is everywhere. And it’s in everything. And I think you know today’s episode, which is just what is design is going to be talking about the specific bits about everywhere. Because like design is everywhere. The Quote of today, which is never make predictions, especially about the future is the exact opposite of what design is. It’s a dude called Casey Stengel, which I have no idea who is saying it’s just a quote. There’s a quote I found on the internet, which is, you know, you find stuff there

Martin Whiskin 2:57
Could be a complete nobody.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 2:58
Exactly, exactly. The other one was from a guy called Yogi Berra. So, so, yeah. So, I think, you know, we kind of covered, it’s not that difficult, like the core, or the big concept of what design is, is planning ahead or predicting the future. And there’s really not much more to it. And so as a designer, really, you have a lot of tools that you can work with, in order to trying to plan ahead and predicting the future. And typically, you will do that with, you know, either shaping the, the path that I use, or we call it an actor, and I’m going to explain that in a minute. But someone using an object or like a designed thing is, you know, we create as a designer, you create a decision architecture, you, you plan ahead by saying, Alright, the user will do this at this point. And that will make them understand that then they can do this at the next stage. So, you know, if we want to advance it a little bit, like make it a little bit more advanced in terms of planning ahead, then one of the tools that we have as designers is that the knowledge that, that in order to do that, there’s a relationship between an actor, which is, you know, an actor can be a lot of things. It can be an audience, or it can be individual, it the actor is the person or the persons that you’re trying to get to do something. So the actor has to really

Could it be an animal?

It could be an animal, it absolutely could be an animal

Martin Whiskin 4:45
I try to think of things that that things that weren’t humans that might have to react to something

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 4:50
exactly. So it’s you know, the act can be anything, it could also be a machine and so can the object. So you have you have this You know, relationship between an actor and an object. And you know, the object could also be anything, it can be a speech, or it can be, you know, an emotion or anything, but you can react to that object, and the relationship between the actor and the object is designed. And so typically you will have the actor and an object in an environment. And so the understanding of the environment in relation to myself, if we just take the simple model and say, an actor is a person, then that person is an environment. And, and I understand myself in this environment, which makes me capable of understanding my relationship with the object that that I the designer is creating. This is me trying to make it very, very simple. But does it make sense?

Martin Whiskin 5:57

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 5:57
that you have these three, you know, the environment that you’re in, and the actor and the objects, and then you make that decision architecture between the actor and the objects, you create decisions that I have to make in order to go. So if you put an animal as an actor in a maze, which it’s the object, but also the environment, you can make them, you know, follow a specific path. If you don’t make any junctions, you will just make them go from one end to the other. And so that’s the design right? So a thing that, that people generally understand is computers, right? In when you’re a programmer, or a developer, what you do is typically make a computer do something. So in many ways, you’re, you know, you’re designing for a robot or a computer. And, and so here is, as a designer, you really have to keep your tongue straight, or I don’t know, is there an English expression? In Denmark, you have this? Keep your tongue straight means, you know, look ahead and and focus

Martin Whiskin 7:12
Uhhmm, Yeah, it would be, I don’t know, I guess the negative way of saying it would be tunnel vision. So you’re just looking in one direction?

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 7:20
Yeah, yes, yeah. But here, you have to focus. Because when you are programming a computer, you do this by making logical instructions, right, you type down and you like, with a computer, you’re also trying to predict the future. And you’re making logical arguments. So instructions to the computer is, if this happened, then do this, if this happens, then do that, right. So in many ways, when you’re programming on the computer, you’re trying to predict what’s going to happen, and then you’re telling the computer how to react to these instructions, like these, these environmental changes, right? With a human, you are also programming humans. But instead of logical instructions, you use emotional instructions. So path of the decision architecture is emotional instructions in in this is how you behave because most of the behavior of a human being comes from emotions, right? If you’re angry, angry, you, you, you know, you will lash out, or you will be frustrated or use like happy, all of these small emotions kind of dictates how you behave.

Martin Whiskin 8:39
So this is where when we were chatting before that, that I felt most sort of bonded to this part because when you started talking about humans and how it’s tied to emotion, then being a voice actor, one of the first things we have to ask about every script we do is how do we want the audience to feel and of course, that’s all to do with emotions. And that’s exactly what you’re saying here. So, this bit this bit I’m getting

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 9:06
and that is a really, really, really good question. Right? So because making people feel is making people act and you will see this from a lot of different commercials and a lot of different things that you observe in everyday life is this emotional instruction like if you can make a person feel you can make them act. And so typically, when you know when someone talks about emotional instructions or emotions in general, you you get this feeling that these are big emotions, right? It’s like anger or a tantrum or slight you someone throws a fit or is frustrated so that they don’t know what to do with themself but these are micro instructions of micro emotions. Some very, very tiny, you know, I feel a little bit good. I feel You know, connected to this person I see a picture of right.

Martin Whiskin 10:03
And sometimes it could be that they don’t even realize that it’s happening, it’s just a natural thing, especially if they’re immersed in what they’re doing.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 10:11
Exactly right. So so for example, you will see a picture of a person smiling, and that person is relatable. So typically, you will pick your audience, and you will find a person that you somehow, either by the way that they dress or the way that they look like, you know, it’s a male or a female, and you will relate to that person on the picture, and then you will see the person smiling, and that triggers a micro emotion inside of you. And so that makes you act upon that picture, because you want to be with that person, or you want to do something with that person, not your, you know, cognitive thinking part of the brain. But the lizard, you know, the old old part of the brain kind of reacts to this. And, and so most of all of our action comes from that part of the brain. There’s guy called Kahneman, who split it up into two the brain into two, the reflective part and the automatic parts. And, and I want to talk about that in a later episode, because it’s really digging into, you know, behavioral, like how how, how we behave as human beings, but also how animals behave. And then, you know, robots is a little bit different, but it’s kind of the same principles is said, you you try to do this, you know, prediction of the future. But I guess that’s, that’s more or less it, right? If you have to, if we have to just stay on the very high level of what design is, we end up with, you know, that design is planning ahead, by making people do or behave in a specific way or a certain way, right? We make them, we make them do things, as I’m going to touch just lightly here in the end, on this theoretic part about, you know, we, it sounds now, once I’m done with this, that what we’re really doing as designers is just manipulating people. And so typically, manipulating people is a very negative, you know, imbued I don’t know imbued is the right word, it’s like it’s, it’s a negative word, it tells a negative story. And obviously, some designers do manipulate people, I like to say that slightly a good designer, guides people. And so I think there’s, there’s something called Dark design patterns. And there’s something called, there’s another term that’s called nudging, which is making, you know, small micro, not just in a direction, so that in the end, like, it’s basically the decision architecture, right? It’s like nudging people in a specific direction. And in the end, they make the decision that you want them to do. And so the difference between, you know, just design a dark design patterns is that with design, you want to make people’s life better. Right, so you’re making them, you’re notching them, you’re putting them in a direction where that life of that actor gets better. Whereas dark design patterns, you want to make your life or your company’s life or, you know, a cause. So you’re not in it for the individual who you are designing for. You want them to make something or take actions that leads them to do something that’s not desirable for them. But for you,

Martin Whiskin 13:58
there was something that you said about manipulating people and guide guiding people. And there’s something that I do when I when I meet businesses, I’ve got a little pitch that I do and one of the things that I say in there is one of the things I do is I control consumers minds without them knowing by using my voice. And that feeds in your in terms of other design. People just accept, don’t they? It’s just there it happens. Yeah, yeah,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 14:25
absolutely. And it’s back to the smiling person or the friendly voice or anything that makes you think, ah, that is something I would like to follow. And then there’s the other one where, you know, companies use specific techniques to make you pay or pay a higher rate or there’s you know, there’s a technique called the decoy effect, and I believe that everyone see this all the time. So the mind work in the way where any number you see it We can’t make decision or we don’t understand thing unless it’s in relation to something else. So everything we see and experience is based on the relationship we have with some other experience we had. So the trick here is to either make a very high or very low number, and it doesn’t have to be related to what you’re going to see next, it just sets an anchor of your perception of the next thing. So if you write, you know, a million people do this thing, and then the next screen will be in here is the price, then it’s it, it feels like it the deep part of the brain, it feels like a lower number than it really is. Because you put it in relation to the big number that you just saw. Okay? Then they take it even further. And they go like, you have the free option here. And then you have the Pro option here. And then you have the small business option in the middle. And that’s called the decoy effect, where they set the high number of the professional so high. And the low number like the free version, or the very cheap version, so low, so that you you kind of have this dis gap in between, and then the one they really want you, which is the one that typically gets like the best offer. You know, it’s like a little mark, and they put it closer to the high offer because it you know, but then it feels like alright, the high offer is, is giving me all of these features, but only these two are different from the one that’s a little bit lower. So that’s obviously a better choice. So it feels like it’s cheaper, while it’s actually really expensive. And they get you to pay a higher, higher rate. By doing this, do you see this with ice cream as well?

Martin Whiskin 16:53
That’s the more relatable topic. Yes.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 16:57
So you have a small ice cream, and you have the big ice cream, and then you have the medium ice cream. And the medium ice cream is always just a little bit cheaper than the big one, but almost as big. And so you can

Martin Whiskin 17:08
choose that. Oh, I’m going to notice this next time I go to the ice cream parlor.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 17:12
Yeah, exactly. Like, you’ll know, the decoy effect is just used everywhere. If you have three choices, look at the prices, and you will see that they want you to do something, it’s it’s an it’s a dark design pattern is they do this to trick you into paying more money

Martin Whiskin 17:26
Well hopefully, you know, this is educating people and to open their eyes to these things,

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 17:32
I hope so. that was actually the hope of doing this. I don’t know, like I have an example of a car, and how a designer and an engineer kind of work differently. Because typically, you know, as we talked about an engineer, typically, you know, designs or program, computers, but engineers also do stuff. It’s like when designing a car. It’s really interesting. So so this my example with the car is, is an example where typically there’s a vision overlap. And as a designer, just like a very important to understand all the things that happens in general, and understand the systems that you’re designing for, like both the environment, which is would be the car and the interior of the car, and that environment that the actor, which is the driver is going to sit in. And then the objects. So let’s just imagine that we designed a car, we made a car, and the brakes, it doesn’t have any brakes, right? Somehow, we forgot to add the brakes. So now we have a problem. You know, there’s there’s a, you know, all of the product managers are now investigating the market and they see there’s an overwhelming need. From people who’s asking, Can we please make the car stop? Right? It’s like, it’s really great that the car can go. But we also need it to stop once in a while. Right? It’s, you know, it makes turning corners really difficult when you’re at high speed velocity. Right. And, and also, respecting red lights is also a problem. So the designer and the engineer sits down and they talk together about right how are we going to do this. So what the engineer will do is they will go into this with a functional mindset, right? They need to make the brakes work, the meet the need to make the brakes work so that we can stop the car. And the designer solves the same problem. But from an emotional mindset, right? So they think about how can we make the driver trust the brakes? And how can we make the brakes do as the actor expected to? Right? So there’s this tension of friction between the engineer and the designer, because both of them wants to solve the problem. And they have, you know, two different approaches to it, which makes everything very strong. If if, if you can, you know, use that to your advantage. So one of the things set the designer will do is they will talk to users and try to understand, the mindset of that user and say, Alright, we don’t need the car to stop, right. So a button that stops the car is not what the user wants, right? Even though and the engineer will go, well, we understand that if you can’t break, you know, you will drive into houses or trees, or some accident will happen. So we need something that’s reliable, and that will work every time. And something that can be trusted. And so, so the combination of feeling that I can trust, and that I can actually trust. So here’s where the design work, where a lot of people get confused, because the design work actually starts way before the brakes, right? So there’s a, there’s a desire that the, if we make a brake pedal, the more I push the pedal, the more it will break, right, so it can control the force. That’s kind of engineer design thing, what where the Designer comes into place. And this is like, as a kid, I remember hearing this, like someone says, In at BMW, or like these other Volkswagen, they have, they have a person whose only job is to make the sound the door makes when it shuts sound, just right. In our mind, as kids, we were just like, wow, that sounds stupid. Why would you ever do that? And the reason you want to do that, is that that sound, kind of if we talk about decision architecture, that sound is the first step in making the user understand that this is a solid car that I can trust. The interior designers like how does it feel when I sit in the car? Does it feel kind of, you know, plasticky? Or does it feel solid, it makes me trust the car. And it makes me trust the brakes, right? If I get into a car that where the the door is like, it feels like it’s gonna fall off. And when I touched the gas pedal, it’s kind of loose, a little bit loose, right? And the brakes is the same, right? There’s, they’re not attached properly, like and feels that they don’t have it or not attached properly. And there’s a little bit too much leeway in the steering wheel and all of these things, right? That makes me trust it less. So now I will drive a little bit different because I don’t trust the car. And I don’t trust that the brakes will work if I hit them.

Martin Whiskin 22:52
So it’s all about the bigger picture of the the the whole the whole thing of the car than than just working on those brakes. It starts right at the beginning.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 23:02
Yeah, because it’s designers we can we understand that threat, that decision at that moment relies on all of the other things in how the environment around you, right, so the environment is the car, which makes you trust that the object which is the brakes will work as intended. I don’t like this. I think this is this is a good example, also to understand the difference between, you know, engineering and, and and design, because they’re typically mixed together a little bit. But I think, I don’t know, do you have any more questions?

Martin Whiskin 23:38
There was one thing that you were you summarized it in the middle of the episode, I think when you said and I wrote this down, specifically, because I thought it is a really good quote. Design is planning ahead by making people do or behave in a specific way. And that’s so plain to me. And also, like I said, because of what I do, you know, that’s what I do. I make people behave in a certain way, like I tried with my voice. If it’s a commercial, like the example you used. You try and make them react, or do something or feel something, it doesn’t even need to be to go and buy a product, you know, you could make them remember something or just build association with a brand. And yeah, that so that that that totally just summed it up for me.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 24:22
But that’s really nice. Yeah, so design is planning ahead by making people do or behave in a specific way. Yeah, maybe that’s, that’s, that’s a good. That’s a good headline.

Martin Whiskin 24:33
And maybe that’s a good place to wrap up as well.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 24:37
So that is design. So I guess next episode, I want to talk about something called affordances or affordance.

Martin Whiskin 24:45
I have literally no idea what that is not just because I don’t think there’ll be more questions next episode.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 24:52
Yes, absolutely. Eight so so I wanted to start like I think we should start out a little bit simpler. Just get the ground works. Skinner in place. So I talked about some of the tools and I think the next couple of episodes will be about some of the tools we have as designers. And one of these tools or one of these understandings that we have about things is something called affordances. And and very interesting.

Martin Whiskin 25:21
I look forward to it. Well, thank you, teacher.

Thorbjørn Lynggaard Sørensen 25:25
Thank you for being a very good pupil. That concludes it.

Martin Whiskin 25:29
Cool. We’ll see you next time. See you next time.

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