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The Tinkered Mind
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December 3rd, 2020
It’s a source of endless conjecture, conspiracy and wonder that different unconnected ancient civilizations all around the world all built pyramids. The most prominent conspiracy theory is that aliens had something to do with it. A more sensible explanation lies in the simple and blatant fact that these structures were all built.. by humans and that as a species we carry a deeply embedded form of language that gravitates towards building such things.
We see, for example the exact same phenomenon in other species. Like bees, or beavers, or ants. Different pockets of such species have imaginably gone unconnected with one another for similar timeframes in the past as humans underwent before the construction of the great pyramids that we see that contain such similarity. And yet beehives around the world are all fairly similar, and ant hills aren’t all that different, whether it be in North America or Africa. Local differences surely exist, but then again, the Aztec pyramids are certainly a bit different than the pyramids built by the ancient Egyptians.
The fulcrum of realization here lies in the human tendency to gravitate toward the same basic shapes: a square bottom with right angles, fitted with triangular sides. There is clearly something elemental about these forms that is an innate part of human understanding that probably exists on a far deeper level than language.
We can approach the same point with a modern example: we need only juxtapose and compare a fantastic and intuitive app, with another app that is confusing, convoluted and difficult to use. What exactly is the second missing that divorces it from the realm of the first? In short, it fails to honor the deep sense of pattern and understanding that humans have on that fundamental level. This is exactly the sort of system that an intuitive app is in harmony with. This system or language maps a set of subtle tendencies that we use to understand things. It relates to where the eye moves while looking at something - which direction it moves, and why. What draws in the eye, and how do we make sense of the shapes we encounter and the flow of their appearance and disappearance. In some sense the layout of an app tells a story, but it is a story without a protagonist and divorced from the usual arc and theme of the forms we generally associate with stories. This story of pattern is one of conceptual process, and it is the story of how understanding arises within the mind.
Intuitive design is in harmony with this story, this bloom of understanding. The more effort required to use and understand an app, the further it’s design is from that language and story of understanding.
Design, in these ways is not a cerebral, intellectual activity, it is primal, atavistic. Good design functions on a level that is deeper than a need to use spoken language.