I’ve noticed over the years that this is a topic that few understand — the relationship between design and psychology.  Let me start by saying that I believe fine art is meant to evoke emotion, thought, and intrigue. It is meant to be interpreted. On the other side of the coin, design is created to guide users to a certain interpretation. It combines an understanding of the human psychology — how people behave, tendencies, perceptions, etc — and creativity to develop a tailored solution to improve a person’s well-being.  

A recent example where I helped a team solve a design problem through human psychology was with a piece of safety equipment. Our company has brilliant engineers who developed a great feature into a product that customers weren’t using and our company could not figure out why! In these environments, there are potentially hazardous gases that could explode given the right conditions (heat, humidity, gas, oxygen levels). Static electricity in these environments is a big no-no, and there are strict regulatory standards that require manufacturers to avoid any chance of an electric spark while equipment is operational.  As a result, most manufacturers tell customers that they need to turn off their equipment before performing maintenance to prevent any power surges or potential electric discharge that could cause an explosion.  This may not seem like a big deal but let me briefly share the steps that go into this in a typical oil and gas refinery:

  1. Worker goes to the device and checks what its identifier number is. (20 min)
  2. Worker goes to the electrical box to turn off that device (20 min walk)
  3. Worker goes back to the device to start maintenance (20 min walk)
  4. Worker completes maintenance (1 hour)
  5. Worker goes back to electrical box to turn device on (20 min walk)
  6. Worker goes back to the device to check the device is operational (20 min walk)

This entire process typically takes at least 2.5 hours for one device.  Over 60% of the time spent is traveling back and forth to prevent electric discharge. 

Our engineers created a solution inherent in the design to eliminate the need to go to the electrical box and be able to maintain the device even when it was still powered on. This sounds like a great idea until no one uses it.  I began to study the different reasons beginning with looking at our sales literature, our manuals, training materials because I thought that it must be a training issue and it wasn’t clearly communicated through those channels.  After pouring through this material, it did not seem to be an issue with our training material. 

As I took a step back, I started looking at how normal people maintain devices in our regular lives that are under power (i.e. changing light bulbs, using a hair dryer, using an iron).  As human beings, we have perceptions that are deeply rooted in our previous experiences. Take a look at the creative proposal below about how I solved this problem.

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