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in the great 1980s movie "the blues brothers," there's a scene where john belushigoes to visit dan aykroyd in his apartment in chicago for the very first time. it's a cramped, tiny space and it's just three feet awayfrom the train tracks. as john sits on dan's bed, a train goes rushing by, rattling everything in the room. john asks, "how often doesthat train go by?"
dan replies, "so often, you won'teven notice it." and then, something falls off the wall. we all know what he's talking about. as human beings, we get usedto everyday things really fast. as a product designer,it's my job to see those everyday things, to feel them, and tryto improve upon them. for example, see this piece of fruit? see this little sticker?
that sticker wasn't therewhen i was a kid. but somewhere as the years passed, someone had the bright ideato put that sticker on the fruit. why? so it could be easier for us to check out at the grocery counter. well that's great, we can get in and out ofthe store quickly. but now, there's a new problem.
when we get home and we're hungry and we see this ripe, juicy pieceof fruit on the counter, we just want to pick it upand eat it. except now, we have to lookfor this little sticker. and dig at it with our nails,damaging the flesh. then rolling up that sticker -- you know what i mean. and then trying to flickit off your fingers. (applause)
it's not fun, not at all. but something interesting happened. see the first time you did it,you probably felt those feelings. you just wanted to eat the piece of fruit. you felt upset. you just wanted to dive in. by the 10th time, you started to become less upset
and you just started peelingthe label off. by the 100th time,at least for me, i became numb to it. i simply picked up the piece of fruit, dug at it with my nails,tried to flick it off, and then wondered, "was there another sticker?" so why is that? why do we get used to everyday things?
well as human beings,we have limited brain power. and so our brains encode the everyday things we do into habits so we can free up space to learn new things. it's a process called habituation and it's one of the most basic ways,as humans, we learn. now, habituation isn't always bad. remember learning to drive? i sure do. your hands clenched at 10 and 2on the wheel,
looking at every singleobject out there -- the cars, the lights, the pedestrians. it's a nerve-wracking experience. so much so, that i couldn't eventalk to anyone else in the car and i couldn't even listen to music. but then something interesting happened. as the weeks went by,driving became easier and easier. you habituated it. it started to become fun and second nature.
and then, you could talk to your friends again and listen to music. so there's a good reason whyour brains habituate things. if we didn't, we'd noticeevery little detail, all the time. it would be exhausting, and we'd have no timeto learn about new things. but sometimes,habituation isn't good. if it stops us from noticing the problems that are around us,
well, that's bad. and if it stops us from noticing and fixing those problems, well, then that's really bad. comedians know all about this. jerry seinfeld's entire career was builton noticing those little details, those idiotic things we do every daythat we don't even remember. he tells us about the time he visited his friends and he just wanted to take a comfortable shower. he'd reach out and grab the handleand turn it slightly one way,
and it was 100 degrees too hot. and then he'd turn it the other way,and it was 100 degrees too cold. he just wanted a comfortable shower. now, we've all been there, we just don't remember it. but jerry did, and that's a comedian's job. but designers, innovators and entrepreneurs, it's our job to not just noticethose things,
but to go one step furtherand try to fix them. see this, this person, this is mary anderson. in 1902 in new york city, she was visiting. it was a cold, wet, snowy dayand she was warm inside a streetcar. as she was going to her destination,she noticed the driver opening the window to clean off the excess snowso he could drive safely. when he opened the window, though,he let all this cold, wet air inside,
making all the passengers miserable. now probably, most of those passengers just thought, "it's a fact of life, he's gotto open the window to clean it. that's just how it is." but mary didn't. mary thought, "what if the diver could actually cleanthe windshield from the inside so that he could stay safe and drive and the passengers could actually stay warm?"
so she picked up her sketchbookright then and there, and began drawing what would becomethe world's first windshield wiper. now as a product designer,i try to learn from people like mary to try to see the world the way it really is, not the way we think it is. because it's easy to solve a problemthat almost everyone sees. but it's hard to solve a problemthat almost no one sees. now some people thinkyou're born with this ability or you're not,
as if mary anderson was hardwired at birthto see the world more clearly. that wasn't the case for me. i had to work at it. during my years at apple, steve jobs challenged usto come into work every day, to see our products through the eyes of the customer, the new customer, the one that has fears and possible frustrations and hopeful exhilaration that theirnew technology product
could work straightaway for them. he called it staying beginners, and wanted to make sure that wefocused on those tiny little details to make them faster, easier and seamlessfor the new customers. so i remember this clearlyin the very earliest days of the ipod. see, back in the '90s, being a gadget freak like i am, i would rush out to the storefor the very, very latest gadget. i'd take all the time to get to the store,
i'd check out, i'd come back home,i'd start to unbox it. and then, there was another little sticker: the one that said, "charge before use." what! i can't believe it! i just spent all this timebuying this product and now i have to charge before use. i have to wait what felt like an eternityto use that coveted new toy. it was crazy.
but you know what? almost every product back then did that. when it had batteries in it, you had to charge itbefore you used it. well, steve noticed that and he said, "we're not going to let that happen to our product." so what did we do? typically, when you have a productthat has a hard drive in it,
you run it for about 30 minutes in the factory to make sure that hard drive's going to be working years later for the customer after they pull it out of the box. what did we do instead? we ran that product for over two hours. well, first off, we could makea higher quality product, be easy to test, and make sure it was greatfor the customer. but most importantly,
the battery came fully chargedright out of the box, ready to use. so that customer, with all that exhilaration, could just start using the product. it was great, and it worked. people liked it. today, almost every productthat you get that's battery powered comes out of the box fully charged, even if it doesn't have a hard drive.
but back then, we noticed that detail and we fixed it, and now everyone else does that as well. no more, "charge before use." so why am i telling you this? well, it's seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem,that's important, not just for product design,but for everything we do. you see, there are invisible problemsall around us, ones we can solve.
but first we needto see them, to feel them. so, i'm hesitant to give you any tips about neuroscience or psychology. there's far too many experienced peoplein the ted community who would know much moreabout that than i ever will. but let me leave you witha few tips that i do, that we all can do,to fight habituation. my first tip is to look broader. you see, when you're tackling a problem,
sometimes, there are a lot of stepsthat lead up to that problem. and sometimes, a lot of steps after it. if you can take a step backand look broader, maybe you can change some of those boxes before the problem. maybe you can combine them. maybe you can remove them altogetherto make that better. take thermostats, for instance. in the 1900s when they first came out,they were really simple to use.
you could turn them up or turn them down. people understood them. but in the 1970s, the energy crisis struck, and customers started thinking abouthow to save energy. so what happened? thermostat designers decided to add a new step. instead of just turning up and down, you now had to program it.
so you could tell it the temperatureyou wanted at a certain time. now that seemed great. every thermostat hadstarted adding that feature. but it turned out that no onesaved any energy. now, why is that? well, people couldn't predict the future. they just didn't know how their weekswould change season to season, year to year. so no one was saving energy,
and what happened? thermostat designers went backto the drawing board and they focused on that programming step. they made better u.i.s, they made better documentation. but still, years later,people were not saving any energy because they just couldn'tpredict the future. we put a machine-learning algorithm ininstead of the programming that would simply watchwhen you turned it up and down,
when you liked a certain temperaturewhen you got up, or when you went away. and you know what? it worked. people are saving energy without any programming. so, it doesn't matter what you're doing. if you take a step back and look at all the boxes, maybe there's a wayto remove one or combine them so that you can make that process much simpler.
so that's my first tip: look broader. for my second tip, it's to look closer. one of my greatest teachers was my grandfather. he taught me all about the world. he taught me how things were builtand how they were repaired, the tools and techniques necessaryto make a successful project. i remember one story he told me about screws, and about how you need to havethe right screw for the right job. there are many different screws:
wood screws, metal screws,anchors, concrete screws, the list went on and on. our job is to make productsthat are easy to install for all of our customs themselveswithout professionals. i remembered that story that my grandfather told me, and so we thought, "how many different screws can we put in the box? was it going to be two, three,four, five? because there's so manydifferent wall types."
so we thought about it, we optimized it, and we came up with three differentscrews to put in the box. we thought that was goingto solve the problem. but it turned out, it didn't. so we shipped the product, and people weren't havinga great experience. we went back to the drawing board just instantly after we figured outwe didn't get it right. and we designed a special screw,a custom screw,
much to the chagrin of our investors. they were like, "why are you spendingso much time on a little screw? get out there and sell more!" and we said, "we will sell moreif we get this right." and it turned out, we did. with that custom little screw,there was just one screw in the box, that was easy to mountand put on the wall. so if we focus on those tiny details,the ones we may not see and we look at them as we say,
"are those important or is that the way we've always done it? maybe there's a way to get rid of those." so my last piece of adviceis to think younger. every day, i'm confronted with interestingquestions from my three young kids. they come up with questions like, "why can't cars fly around traffic?" or, "why don't my shoelaceshave velcro instead?" sometimes, those questions are smart.
my son came to me the other dayand i asked him, "go run out to the mailbox and check it." he looked at me, puzzled, and said, "why doesn't the mailbox just check itselfand tell us when it has mail?" (laughter) i was like, "that's a pretty good question." so, they can ask tons of questions and sometimes we find outwe just don't have the right answers. we say, "son, that's just the waythe world works." so the more we're exposed to something,
the more we get used to it. but kids haven't been around long enough to get used to those things. and so when they run into problems, they immediately try to solve them, and sometimes they find a better way, and that way really is better. so my advice that we take to heartis to have young people on your team, or people with young minds.
because if you have those young minds, they cause everyone in the roomto think younger. picasso once said, "every child is an artist. the problem is when he or she grows up,is how to remain an artist." we all saw the world more clearlywhen we saw it for the first time, before a lifetime of habits got in the way. our challenge is to get back there, to feel that frustration, to see those little details,
to look broader, look closer, and to think younger so we can stay beginners. it's not easy. it requires us pushing back against one of the most basic wayswe make sense of the world. but if we do, we could do some pretty amazing things.
for me, hopefully, that's betterproduct design. for you, that could mean something else,something powerful. our challenge is to wake up each day and say, "how can i experience the world better?" and if we do, maybe, just maybe, we can get rid of thesedumb little stickers. thank you very much.