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Gladwell at SXSW 2005 - but where do we go from here?

posted by DL Byron on March 13, 2005

Malcom Gladwell’s keynote was pretty good. He had some interesting things to say and was a good speaker (animated, engaging, funny).

I understand why he spoke at (as the introducer said, interweb geeks are in to his stuff), but I was left thinking: where do we go from here? How do we apply these ideas (snap judgements & how/when they are good and/or bad) to the stuff we’re doing? Or, what I’m doing (mostly designing web sites, CD-ROMs and web applications).

People make snap judgements - sometime good, sometimes bad, but they happen nonetheless. OK - fair enough. So, maybe we can follow that idea and say people make snap judgements when they first look at a web site. Let’s say that they not only make these judgements about the web site, but about the company, and it’s products or services. This is a theory I’ve espoused to clients for awhile. Your web site can’t suck because it’s a reflection of your company/organization. Sort of a no-brainer.

And assuming this hypothesis is true: so what? What can we do about that? Well, we can make sure that sites are well designed. But we’re already trying to do that, so I’m not sure there is anything new here.

Then there is the idea that sometimes people make better decisions with less information. Maybe you can boil that down to: less clutter (information), more clarity. Again, not an unfamiliar idea. But when does this apply and when doesn’t it? Good designers already advocate reducing unnecessary information - the question becomes: which things can we get rid of. That is a very difficult question. Clients always want to add more stuff, include everything they can (“It’s the web, we can put everything up there!”)

Knowing that less information can be better is one thing, being able to determine which is the important stuff is quite another. And my sense is the answer is never quite the same.

In the example of the doctors who more accurately diagnose heart attacks with only 4 key pieces of information, it took extensive research to figure that out. I haven’t read Blink, so I don’t know if there are other examples where the solutions were a little easier to get to. In the interactive world do we have the time, money, desire and patience to do a bunch of research about how removing seemingly necessary things might help improve a web site? (“Seemingly necessary” being the key phrase there - this assumes that we’ve already gotten rid of all the obvious cruft.)

I know most (all?) of my projects don’t have the resources to chase such an elusive, uncertain goal. What if we do all that work and simply discover that there is no way to improve on what we already have? Or what if the results show that different people respond drastically different to various things? People process things differently and look for different things, how do you serve all those needs elegantly? With so many variables at play, is it even worth the risk?

Gladwell is clearly a thinker, and he has great stories, but to what end? Can we connect the dots and forge some insight? Can these ideas actually improve the way things are done in the interactive world?

I obviously don’t have the answers and I’d be curious to see if anyone has any thoughts on this. It’d be nice to come away with something more than “Huh, interesting stories.”

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Mar 14  |  -b- said:

Dude! Your mega post, pushed all my crappy little posts down the page.

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