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It’s Halloween and dark magic is in the air; along with mythical creatures and hand drawn patterns of power.

So, just another day in UX.

The industry’s belief in invisible and unmeasurable powers needs killing. Unicorns and Dark Patterns do not help it grow or build trust.

The problem with magical thinking is it is a trick – a manipulation of the audience. The audience is entertained by moments of confusion. Is that a good core ideal for most products and services?

I was reminded of the magical thinking problem earlier this week whilst watching a documentary on the discovery of the constituent parts of air.

Air is clear. It is all around us. Yet the transparency hides complexity.

As the early scientists tried to discover what air was, they ran up against both magical thinking and an early version of pseudo-science.

Phlogiston was invented to explain gaps in knowledge. As some gases were discovered, people needed to explain why physical experiments had “odd” results. Phlogiston was the balancing elemental power that fixed results.

Yet, it was false. It hid reality. It explained results now by decoying people away from ideas of other gases, other chemical reactions.

In UX, this is similar to its only partial acceptance of human psychology; let alone new concepts like embodied cognition.

Dark Pattern design is an example of science used in an incomplete and unhelpful way. It is an explanation of the measurable user behaviour but it is both a magical manipulation and a scientific falsehood. It shows contempt for users whilst explaining its actions partially.

Behavioural Design is too often Phlogiston for UX.

It explains but it hides more interesting and more real ways of explaining success and failure in design and manufacture. A complete explanation is, for me, the most suspicious explanation (cf. my distrust of A/B testing).

In the social, cognitive and sensory design of UX, much of the content is, like air, transparent. That doesn’t mean it’s unmeasurable or indescribable: just that we need to try harder.

UX needs to lose the magic and explore the wonder of humans.

Written by

Sensory Design Consultant, usability researcher and workshop facilitator. www.linkedin.com/in/alastair-somerville-b48b368 Twitter @acuity_design & @visceralUX

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