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TEDTalks: Tony Fadell: The first secret of design is … noticing

I listened to Tony Fadell’s TED talk yesterday. Tony designed the first iPod before leaving Apple to design the Nest thermostat.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • “We get used to everyday things really fast.” Tony uses an example of stickers on fruit. When he was growing up, fruits didn’t have price stickers. The only reason stickers came about was to make the piece of fruit scannable at the grocery store. But when you ate the fruit at home you always had to scratch off the sticker. It sucked but you got “numb to it over time.” Stickerless fruit is the exception today.
  • “Humans have limited brain power.” When you learn something new, like driving, you pay attention to everything. But then we habituate the activity, and we start flipping radio stations and thinking about stuff other than what’s in front of us.

So how do we avoid habituation?

Tony outlines three ways of keeping that beginner’s mind so you can notice the details.

  1. Look broader. Thermostats always wasted energy. Nest learns your habits and adapt its algorithm to control the AC when it’s actually needed. If you want to make something better, change the way it works.
  2. Look closer. People shouldn’t have to be professionals in order to get something done. Nest offers one screw that mounts to all walls.
  3. Think young. Kids ask tons of questions. They point out flaws in the obvious and ask why? Kids question the status quo which makes adults rethink their approach. A lifetime of habits sits in our way.

The more we’re exposed to something the more we get used to it. “How can I experience the world better,” Tony asks the audience so that we can “get rid of these dumb stickers.”

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By Wells Baum

Wells Baum is a daily blogger who writes about Life & Arts. He's also the author of and four books.