“The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World” – Book Review

Recently I’ve finished reading book by Frances Booth “The Distraction Trap: How to Focus in a Digital World”. If you having problems with time management due to a bit of “technology addiction” (which to be honest becomes a norm nowadays…) this book is definitely for you!

I won’t call myself “a technology addict”, but yes I like to stay connected and up to date with my email, facebook etc. I have no need to check my phone every few minutes, but yes I feel weird when I forget to take it with me when I’m going out. I didn’t really pay attention to how much of my time I’m spending with my computer, browsing through things from one thing to another just scanning through texts and pictures. This book gave me a bit of the pinch in the arm really.

What is it about? Well, the author argues that the technology has merged into our lives for good, in a way mobile phones, laptops and tablets are no longer just gadgets but rather integral part of our brains… That’s weird when you think of it but in the end if we consider the ease of use, the speed of access and accessibility of the information on the net then it starts to make sense. We no longer need to memorise as much as we used to, students don’t need to spend time in the library researching materials to write the homework. The author argues that some of the benefits of modern gadgets are actually bad for our brains.

Of course technology is not going anywhere, so the author is not encouraging us to abandon all the wonders of the connected world. However, Frances Booth suggests to introduce more awareness into our day to day relationship with the technology. We can do it just by keeping track of how much time we spend on the internet, with our laptops, mobiles and tablets. According to her all the modern technologies made it easy for us to multitask but then in the end we are more productive when we concentrate just on one thing. When we are online, we usually have few tabs open, we’re likely to read the article on Guardian, talk with a friend on facebook and maybe look for a new flat on Gumtree. Then in the end we don’t give 100% of our attention to all three activities. And the same attention is a key to memory and in the end productivity.


I recommend this book, it’s an amazing read. The author not only describes the theory of the problem with attention and digital distraction but also gives tips on how to be aware of the time we spend online and how to manage that time more productively.

I’ll cut the time spend on the internet from now on. What about you?

On ethnography

Ethnography is defined as a study of people in their natural environment, while doing their ordinary activities, very often with the researcher participating directly in the same settings. Ethnography is less invasive and less direct than most research methodologies. According to Bruce Abbott and Kenneth Bordens ethnography is a non-experimental methodology, based on observations and empathising with research participants. In my opinion the empathy is a vital part of research especially when working directly with people.
According to Sarah Pink the ethnographer needs to involve empathy in the research in order to develop a sense of intimacy and sympathy between him/her and research participants. This approach allows the researcher to feel how it is to be a user, and gives him a brand new route to understanding users’ experiences. In order to reach a better insight any target audiences’ emotional routines the researcher can use qualitative sensory ethnography approach. As defined by Pink sensory ethnography relates to understanding that the experiences that we try to measure and observe are multisensorial. Pink is arguing that observing experiences in a sensory way allows the researcher to capture the data that the subject of the research would not be able to express in their own words.

The ethnographic research can use multiple methods starting from observations and finishing on the interviews and questionnaires designed in a sensory way to better relate to people’s feelings and emotions. Observations were chosen because of its non-invasive form, and allowed analysing target audience in their natural environment. From my own experience I have to admit that nothing is more inspiring and concept producing than “digging into” your user’s natural environment. Suddenly you stop making assumptions and professionally analyse the problems happening right in front of your eyes.

Affective computing and education

The arrival of digital technologies has had a vast impact, not only on how we live our lives, but also how we approach education. Computers started to be seen as educational tools, promising improvements and better results in the practice of learning. Nevertheless, according to Rosalind Picard, Seymour Papert and their colleges from MIT Labs, those developments were introduced into our lives through the cognitive approach without paying much attention to affect and its impact on learning.


Affect and emotion seem to be core components of our cognition; excluding them from the process of creating educational tools may deprive students from achieving even greater improvements in their learning. Affect and emotions are therefore central to design research. As stated by Professor Eva Hudlicka, the time when users had no involvement in the design process are long gone . On the contrary, today users are becoming a central part of the design process and are even referred to as integrated human-machine systems. However, in order to achieve such a symbiosis between human users and machines, it is necessary to address affect and emotion when designing educational tools. The approach that addresses users’ affect is called affective computing.


One of the drawbacks of developing affective technologies is the difficulty of sensing, measuring and recognising affect. Hudlicka believes that accurate interpretations of one’s affective state can be achieved by using self-reports and facial observations (2003, p.4). However, one study Affective Learning – Manifesto argues that self-reports are neither coherent nor reliable ways of affect recognition since affect should be measured exactly in the moment it happens. Nevertheless, Hudlicka recognises the weaknesses of self-reports and admits that in order for the study to be relevant it is necessary to use multiple research methods. The importance of the constant inclusion of the affective component when designing educational tools is arguable. Whereas, Picard, Papert and colleagues support categorically the concept of affect, Hudlicka believes that affective components are not always essential for the design, and can even become annoying for the users.


As far as addressing users’ affect is concerned, it seems to be difficult to find a proper balance between the affective and cognitive elements of designing educational tools. However, it is important to take them both into consideration, remembering that affect, emotion and cognition are the main components of education.

Worth reading this week # 1

Just sharing a few link picks worth reading through 🙂

http://ia.net/blog/the-spectrum-of-user-experience-1/     —–>  the spectrum of UX (infographics are great!)

https://uxmag.com/articles/making-the-most-of-ethnographic-research?utm_source=Facebook&utm_medium=ArticleShare&utm_tone=sf   —> UX Mag on Ethnography

http://www.foolproof.co.uk/the-big-data-analytics-and-ux-love-affair/ ——-> about the data and why it matters for UX

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RlQEoJaLQRA  —–> Don Norman on the magic of good design


Don Norman and others on Emotional Design.

Donald Norman is a cognitive psychologist and usability guru who committed himself to the development of the theory of Emotional Design. In this book he claims that attractive things work better (2004). At first glance it seems irrelevant that attractive things work better. It all comes down to the way people perceive things around them; one’s picture of beauty may be different to somebody else’s.


Norman’s work seems to be originating from Damasio’s research on emotions and brain. Damasio was the first to provide relevant proofs of strong relation between emotion and cognition (1994). Although, at first glance design, cognition and emotion seem to be distant disciplines, in my opinion Damasio’s study on emotions was a base for Norman’s concept of the emotional design.


Norman distinguished three levels of experience processing: the unconscious biological one – called visceral, subconscious one, responsible for everyday behaviours – called behavioural and the one responsible for deep cognition – called reflective (2004). All three levels are connected together and determine how we perceive the world and things. According to Norman, when designing we need to remember about these levels of processing.Nevertheless, the book Emotional Design does not mention much about practical implementations of the theory of emotional design itself. The book just presents the examples of existing products and does not show a designers’ step by step procedure of actual emotional design process. Nevertheless, Norman claims that the three levels of processing experience are guides to the three levels of designing.


The papers like Emotional Design: Application of a Research Based Design Approach by Desmet, Porcelijn and Dijk can be seen as an endorsement to Norman’s book, providing a practical induction into emotional design with a highlight on designing for WOW (2007). The wow is explained to be a combination of fascination, pleasant surprise and desire.

The authors suggest that experience of excitement motivates people to prefer certain products than others. According to Desmet, Porcelijn and van Dijk there are three product features that should be fulfilled in order for a product to be successful: basic, performance and excitement (2007). Firstly, the basic features are what the product is supposed to be delivering. Secondly the performance features ensure that the product stands out from the competitors. Lastly, the excitement features concern the experiences that customer does not expect to encounter in the product and is delighted to discover. Designers wishing to trigger a wow factor should use as many excitement features as possible. Nevertheless, the authors call attention to a fact that things which are exciting today may no longer be exciting tomorrow.


The authors mention three human concerns: goals, standards and attitudes all of which are relevant to product emotions (2007). Goals are things people want to get done. Standards are things we believe in. The attitudes are related to our likes and dislikes. This view of emotional design uses different terminology than Norman’s book however provides similar view into the issue of designing things emotionally. Similarly in the academic paper Designers and Users: Two Perspectives on Emotion and Design, Norman and computer scientist Andrew Ortony contrast users’ and designers’ points of view (2004). Designers are working on the factors like functionality, appearance, cost, brand, legacy etc. Users benefit from well designed products. Nevertheless, when creating a product, designers cannot have direct control over users’ emotional activity; however they can model it by using emotional affordances which can shape some of the users’ responses (2004). According to me, the natures of the emotional design is in putting the users in the middle of the design process and try to satisfy their various emotional needs with products designed in a way to fulfil user expectations and beyond.


To DIY or not to DIY?

Home-made soup, hand drawn postcards, home-grown vegetables, home-made cosmetics, home-brewed beer etc etc. What is with pleasure of making something happen instead of paying somebody to make it for us? Only recently making things on your own started to be something out of ordinary. A few have time to do it. We’re a busy society, especially those who live in big cites know what I mean. Still yet some of us have this inescapable need to create things, to feel like a maker.


Malcolm Gladwell is his bestselling book “Blink” mentions different products available on the market and reasons why they made it to the top sale or quite the opposite. One the examples is a cake mixture powder which needed to be combined with water and then baked. The product wasn’t a success, and the CEO of the company was wondering why. The cake mixture was designed for busy woman, the product was created to save their time and yet still give them feeling of baking a home-made cake. Nevertheless one of the consumers who agreed to take part in the company research claimed: “it doesn’t feel like making a cake at all, it just all seem fake”. The researchers spent time on figuring out what would have made the process more natural, and the key to success was simple: let customers add one more ingredient to the mixture. Now the recipe was recreated: combine cake mixture with water and an egg. And this changed everything, the process seemed more like “real” baking now and the sales went up. Simple. The experience was redesigned to feel more like a DIY.

Adding a bit of DIY to the products is so successful because making things is in human nature. In the past we used to make ourselves most of the stuff that we hire other people to do for us nowadays. It’s a luxury to have somebody do things for us, or to buy ready made things, but there is this amazing pleasure of doing things ourselves that makes people so interested in the DIY. In my opining DIY should encoded as: I have time to make things, to create and I love it, and I aticipate the results, and I can’t wait to share it with others. Ironically DIY only started to be considered popular spare time activity because we stopped having time to do things on our own and started missing the pleasure that was attached to it.

What about the DIY and the design? Many times the consumers are asked for the feedback, or to help with designing new products or present their own designs to the company. Users are becoming designers. Check this slidshow up: http://www.slideshare.net/Snurb/from-prosumer-to-produser-understanding-userled-content-creation It’s about produsers.