Four Rights and an Ambulance

Ok, so here’s the deal.  I was walking downtown and crossing over the expressway, so I had a fairly clear view of the surrounding area.  Suddenly, the sirens kicked in and to my right, on the next street over, an ambulance whirls by.  That street was a one way; my street was the opposite way.  So the blaring continues and after the appropriate time the ambulance is behind me, barreling down this street.  I smirk to myself, as I am wont to, that this in a hurry lights flashing honking as it goes truck has essentially just made a large U-Turn.  But then it approaches the light and turns right.  It’s third right.  It has now performed the legendary Circle.

Why would it do this?

Now, we can make excuses for this behavior or explanations for it but we’re missing something.  It has to do with our perceptions or more accurately my perceptions.  Since I’m the one telling the story and I would never be unreliable in this manner ;).  What we perceive is filtered in our brains to construct a model of a situation, incorporating memories and facts as we know them.  I watched an ambulance drive in a circle, right?  I saw it across the street and then eventually it was on my street and turned right.

But who is to say that I saw just one ambulance?  As it was, on this walk and assuming that I saw just one ambulance drive in a circle, I saw two other ambulances.  Three! Within fifteen minutes.  But in all likelihood, it was probably four.

The thing is our models aren’t right or wrong.  They’re just the way we process the various inputs we receive.  It is what makes us so amazing and such wonderful computers.  But we also need to consider what happened in this walk that I noticed these ambulances.  Like what details drew my attention?  What details would have drawn your attention?  Because we are different in this, we all have different rules that affect this.  So while I saw ambulances, you might have seen the guy with the weird hat or how that girl is totally listening to your favorite song.

And let’s bring this back to design…

We view the world through our own lenses, we see different things then the person right next to us and going further we remember different things as well.  Now, I think it is a wonderful research concept to explore how big this difference is but the point is that there is a difference.

We talk about this a lot as a UX’er: We are not the User.  This means, for the uninitiated, that how I would use the work isn’t how someone else would use it.  So we design towards best practices to try and mitigate my difference from you.  And to some extent compensate for the difference between us all.  But we’ll never be perfect here; there will always be discrepancies and issues that some users suffer from.  Have we done enough to make that a small enough number?

Perhaps I should have titled this:

Four Ambulances and a Right.

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