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Three ways good design makes you happy

August 2, 2017


A relatively old TED talk by professor and author Don Norman (recorded in 2003 before TED became free-to-stream), so it’s a little dated, but still holds some gems.

“When you’re anxious you squirt neural transmitters in the brain, which focuses you, makes you depth-first. And when you’re happy — what we call positive valence — you squirt dopamine into the prefrontal lobes, which makes you a breadth-first problem solver: you’re more susceptible to interruption; you do out-of-the-box thinking. That’s what brainstorming is about, right? With brainstorming we make you happy, we play games, and we say, ‘No criticism,’ and you get all these weird, neat ideas. But in fact, if that’s how you always were you’d never get any work done because you’d be working along and say, ‘Oh, I got a new way of doing it.’ So to get work done, you’ve got to set a deadline, right? You’ve got be anxious. The brain works differently. And if you’re happy, things work better because you’re more creative — you get a little problem, you say, ‘Ah, I’ll figure it out.’ No big deal.”

That brief transcription doesn’t mention how to be creative when on a deadline, but if we’re aware of how our brains work, even just a little, we can make it easier to get the job done. Think of ways to drop a little happiness into your days, weeks, or months during project deadlines. Whether that’s taking breaks to do something else you enjoy, or even just making your workspace nice enough so you’re happy sitting at it.

“I really have the feeling that pleasant things work better.”
— Don Norman

After listening to the talk I had a look at Don’s recommended reading. Interestingly, Per Mollerup of Marks of Excellence released a new book in 2015 titled Simplicity: A Matter of Design (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk). Looks worth picking up. But not before I read Don’s book, The Design of Everyday Things, revised and expanded in 2013 (Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk).

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