People are greater…

Alastair Somerville
3 min readSep 26, 2017

I just had some new stickers made for giving out at workshops and conferences.

I am aware that they could annoy people who work in digital design and neuroscience but I just want to explain why I needed to make them.

Human centered design

I’ve worked in accessibility and sensory design for a few years now and the core part of the work is enabling agency and independence of people thru appropriate use of design and technology.

Enabling human intent is key to human centered design.

Understanding human senses, emotions and perceptions are the foundations for this work.

Research data and neuroscience are large blocks of that foundation.


Humans are greater than models

This is where I rant a bit and don’t blame data scientists or neuroscientists but point out a big problem with how their work is used currently.

Product design, particularly in digital UX terms, is founded on the ideal of the User (not the Human). Like classical economics, it is continually seeking ways of simplifying what it is to Human in order to create a model User who can be tested and categorised (this is visible in the User Testing vs. Usability Testing arguments).

Models created by data science and neuroscience are used not to expand and extend ideas of how complex humans are or how staggeringly vast their capacities are but to delimit what it is to human, to see only the User.

This is what I’m concerned about. We have the ability now to create ways of enabling experiences that are founded in the enormous human capacity to adapt and imagine. Yet we keep trying to say that humans are small, individual and foolish.

We do not respect being human.

We exaggerate the abilities of technologies. We talk of the speedy brilliance of algorithms, the unbounded future possibilities of AI.

We belittle the capabilities of humans. We talk of their biases, their lapses and weaknesses, their limits.

This is wrong.

Our bias to perfection in technology

It’s a very old human bias to think that we are somehow muddy and useless but the tools we can make are brilliant and perfect.

Somehow we live in an age that is filled with this bias.

We see the failures of people but not the failures of technology.

For all those people believing fake news, there are algorithms trained by that news as data.

For every neuroscience experiment showing limits in human cognition, there are missing discussions of the very great limits of that science.

We need to rebalance our relationship between how we respect being humans and how we create models and technology.

Respect humans, respect science

So, the stickers are not about my deep loathing of science or technology. They’re about my love of humans.

Humans are greater than algorithms, neuroscience and data. Not because those things are wrong. Simply because, currently, we use them to entrap and oversimplify what it is to be human and what experiences humans are capable of comprehending together.

We need to respect the limits of our science and technology and respect the vastness of ourselves and our fellow humans.

We can choose to bind or uplift people.

I prefer the latter.



Alastair Somerville

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