Design Notes

Why so much “science” used in design is bullshit: Android, Losada and Frankfurt by MJ Parnell

  • This paper by Fredrickson & Losada in 2005 proposed a mathematical model to predict the minimum ratio of positive to negative emotions a person needed. It became very influential in positive psychology and was cited a large number of times.

  • However it turns out an investigation of the paper revealed that the authors had plugged in arbitrary values in their equations giving the appearance of “mathematical validity”. Yet despite this it took years before anyone had realized and many people (both in academia and in industry) has used this “source” to justify different decisions and theories. A prominent example was the Android UX team who used this to justify design changes to OS.

  • This is a larger symptom of people trying to justify their design decisions with “research” post-hoc with neuroscience or psychology without trying to get a deeper understanding of the results presented and just trying to fit the narrative of what we’ve created is justified.

  • Presents a need to understand the issue a priori and make rational decisions based on that. Work with empirical research in a meaningful way by truly understanding what is happening and why. And where rationalization doesn’t work accept that a large component of design is intuitive.