Can you believe your eyes?

In every kind of life situation, we are faced with learned behaviours and assumptions. These are some of the strongest factors of human nature. It is of great important that we look at the effects that blindly following these dominant discourses and pre-conceived thinking patterns can have upon us.

So, what exactly is a dominant discourse? Put simply a dominant discourse is the primary (most widely accepted) way of thinking… i.e. A dominant discourse within the white middle class could be that all people who receive benefits are scroungers… It’s a way of thinking that we just assume / accept as correct because it is the majority viewpoint. But if we actually look deeper at the problem, the facts of the situation might be different. There could be many reasons why a person is receiving benefits, and we should not automatically tarnish people with a single brush. Collective thinking in this way can be stifling and dangerous, it leads to unfounded assumptions and world views that could not be further from the truth.

Another idea of collective thinking is called ‘Group think.’ Group think – is how we can be swayed by majority thinking; it is a way that the dominant discourse convinces people to change their thinking, even if they had a strong view already. This has a frightening effect on our behavior.

Take for example ‘The Solomon Asch Conformity Experiment.’ Imagine yourself in the following situation: You sign up for a psychology experiment, and on a specified date you and seven others whom you think are also subjects arrive and are seated at a table in a small room. You don’t know it at the time, but the others are actually associates of the experimenter, and their behavior has been carefully scripted. You’re the only real subject.

The experimenter arrives and tells you that the study in which you are about to participate concerns people’s visual judgments. She places two cards before you. The card on the left contains one vertical line. The card on the right displays three lines of varying length.

The experimenter asks all of you, one at a time, to choose which of the three lines on the right card matches the length of the line on the left card. The task is repeated several times with different cards. On some occasions the other “subjects” unanimously choose the wrong line. It is clear to you that they are wrong, but they have all given the same answer.

What would you do? Would you go along with the majority opinion, or would you ‘stick to your guns’ and trust your own eyes?

Shockingly 70% of people agreed with those who answered before them when taking part in this experiment. These people were able to be convinced of something so outrageous just because of the power of the group think, and from the answers from the people who came before them.

Thinking about this kind of behavior in other social and real life situations becomes very concerning and group think becomes a very dangerous factor of human behaviour.

Patterns of thinking and mental models raise all manor of questions around the way we as designers communicate both verbally and visually with consumers.

In the world of design, we are often met with a conundrum. To accept or to challenge the mental models and pre-conceived ways of thinking that form the basis of the way most people operate.

For example, if I asked you to turn the page of an e-reader, you would have a pretty good idea of how to do this based on previous experiences. However, what if I have created a new e-reader and believe I have a better way for users to turn pages. The issue I face is that even if my new way is better, I am asking a user not only to buy into a new product, but also to change a learned behavior. Is this too much to ask of consumers? To what extent does this kind of design thinking, based around mental models, constrain our creativity and progress?

Should we as consumers continue to demand designs for the dominant discourse or should we try to challenge it. Are we as designers closing people’s minds and preventing innovation buy designing according to pre-conceived models and notions? Is challenging the mind a better alternative?

Have a think about what do you do that goes against the dominant discourse? Can you think of anything? Is this easy for you? How does it effect you?

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