Making tools useless

Alastair Somerville
3 min readFeb 17, 2019

I’ve made a Perceivoscope. It’s a tool for understanding how information needs to be perceivable, intelligible and actionable by a user for the experience to be meaningful.

UX (User Experience) obsesses about tools.

I often run workshops where people hope to find a new tool.

Something they can learn to use immediately.

Something to do UX better, faster.

Yet this is problematic – the tools are too often a decoy.

People not tools

User Experience is founded on being human-centered yet tools and processes seem to occupy discussions and workshops.

I want to talk about humans, perception and cognitive design as they’re all really interesting issues and we don’t have good answers to the problems (particularly in cognitive accessibility). I can show a space and some possible frameworks that might lead to solutions. If I said I know a definite tool then not merely would I be lying, I’d also be disrespectful of the workshop participants. I spend my time with people with much deeper knowledge than me: I hope to create places for them to explore problems and invent their own solutions.

People are the point of UX. People as users. People as makers.

Designing useless tools

Perceivoscope in action — understanding how perception works by looking thru it

I often build props and tools for workshops.

For this workshop, they’ll be useless.

Not in the sense that the ideas behind them are wrong but in the sense that you cannot use them at work.

The tools are nonsense.

The Perceivoscope is silly.

The ideas of a cognitive accessibility framework are true. Understanding how people perceive, understand and use information is important. Using the ‘scope around the conference centre, with other participants, is useful.

But what people need to take away are those rough ideas about new forms of UX and those experiences of working together.

The tool is useless outside of the workshop. The tool is discarded.

The ideas and the people are central. They are remembered and kept.

I’ll be doing this at UX Salon on March.

You can make your own Perceivoscope. Download if from Dropbox: Perceivoscope pdf.

It’s nonsense but that’s its value.

Update 23rd January 2020

The Autonoetiscope

Multiple images showing Autonetiscope in action as both a flat postcard and a siphon holder

I’ve added a new useless tool to my workshop materials.

It’s the Autonoetiscope.

Autonoesis is an issue now in sensory perception and I needed a tool that could support discussions about personal capacities and anxieties. This one is about showing how choice architectures act like a siphon. A person can imagine many possible actions but those predictions and simulations tighten as fears and anxieties reduce down what a person thinks they can achieve.



Alastair Somerville

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX