The apparent attraction of average faces

By Gordon Rugg

In a previous article, we looked at what happens when you take two concepts that are normally viewed as opposites, and instead treat them as two separate concepts. We used the example of what happens when you treat liking and disliking as two separate concepts, and ask people to rate items in relation to both liking and disliking.

The result is that people are willing and able to do so. The image below shows types of response that we’ve seen in real data.

Item A has been rated low both for liking and for disliking; it’s just boring, with little to be said for or against it.

Item B has been rated high both for liking and for disliking; it produces strong but ambivalent feelings. An example that we saw involved university departmental websites, where some were strongly liked because they signalled high quality, but simultaneously strongly disliked because that same signal of high quality was viewed as implying unforgivingly high expectations.

Item C has been rated high like/low dislike by some participants, and low like/high dislike by others. This is informally known in the UK as the Marmite effect, where people either love something or hate it, with few people in between.

This approach of uncoupling apparent opposites is well established in some fields, but isn’t yet widely known outside them. We’ve been using it for a while in software evaluation, where it’s invaluable for improving software mockups before committing to the final design. We’ve also blogged about ways of using it to represent expressive and instrumental behaviour; handedness; and gender roles, going back to the literature where we first encountered it, in Bem’s work on androgyny (Bem, 1974).

The advantages of using this approach are clear when you see examples. In the next section, we’ll look at the background theory on which it works. We’ll then apply it to an apparently paradoxical finding about facial attractiveness, to show how the underlying issues can be swiftly and easily teased apart via this representation.

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When liking and disliking aren’t opposites

By Gordon Rugg

Treating liking and disliking as opposite ends of the same scale looks so obvious that few people ever think about it. They’ve been viewed as opposites since at least Classical times, when Catullus wrote about the paradox of loving and hating the same person. However, this approach doesn’t actually work very well when you try applying it systematically in contexts like surveys or evaluation or market research. There are usually pros and cons that you’re asking the respondent to compress down into a single number, and respondents usually don’t look very happy about it.

So what happens if you instead try treating liking and disliking as two separate scales? The answer is that it gives you a lot of powerful new insights, because liking and disliking are often not opposites.

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Iterative non-functional prototyping

By Gordon Rugg

Sometimes, product development is straightforward. The client tells you what they want; you produce it; they’re happy with it, they pay you, and everything is fine. This is known in the field as the waterfall model of development; once the client has signed off on the requirements, the process then moves irrevocably onwards, like a river going over a cliff.

When you and the client are dealing with familiar territory, this approach usually works reasonably well. Sometimes, though, things don’t work that way. You’re particularly likely to hit problems when you’re developing something that’s new territory for you and/or the client.

One common problem involves the client changing their mind part-way through development.

Another involves the client being unhappy with what you produced.

Communication problems are another frequent source of trouble, with you trying to make sense of just what the client wants, and getting more and more frustrated.

If you’re in that situation, or you think there’s a risk of getting into it, you might want to try iterative non-functional prototyping. It’s a lot simpler than it sounds, and it’s a fast, cheap, efficient way of getting to the heart of what the client wants, particularly when clients don’t actually know just what they want at the start. It involves looping through mockups systematically until the requirements are clear.

This article gives a short introduction to the core concepts and the process. It should be enough to let you get started; there’s supporting material elsewhere on this blog which goes into more detail about the underpinnings, which I’ve linked to within the article.

Waterfalls and loopsbannerv1Images from Wikimedia Commons: Attributions are given at the end of this article

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New Hyde and Rugg website

By Gordon Rugg

The new version of the Hyde & Rugg website is now live, here:

Among other things, it contains a resource section which pulls together our articles on a range of topics, including academic craft skills for students, elicitation methods, requirements, design, and education theory.

There’s also a section about our research, plus a section on the codes we’ve worked on. Again, these pull together our previous blog articles into a structured framework.

Over the next few months, we’ll be adding more material, particularly in the sections on academic craft skills and on our research.

We hope that you’ll find the site a useful complement to this blog.


People in architectural drawings, part 6; conclusion

By Gordon Rugg

This article is the last in a short series about finding out what people really want. I’ve explored that topic via discussion of idealised dream buildings, to see what regularities emerge and what insights they provide into people’s dreams and desires.

In today’s article, I’ll pull together strands from those discussions, and see what patterns emerge.

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Detail from: “Neuschwanstein Castle above the clouds” by Arto Teräs – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons –
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Observation, stumbles and smiles

By Gordon Rugg

If you’re designing something that’s going to be used, as opposed to something decorative, then it’s a really good idea to make it fit for its purpose.

How can you do that? Observing the users is a good start.

“Observing” is a broad term that includes various specialised forms of observation and analysis. In this article, I’ll describe a simple way of doing basic observation of users, which involves watching out for four key alliteratively-named actions:

  • stumbles
  • scowls
  • swearwords
  • smiles

It’s simple, but it’s powerful, and it usually catches most of the main problems, and it gives you a good start towards designing something that the users will like.

Not great art, but useful: Four things to watch for in task analysisbannerv1

Sources of original images are given at the end of this article

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The Knowledge Modelling Book

By Gordon Rugg

Over the last year, we’ve blogged about various aspects of knowledge modelling. That’s allowed us to go into depth about specific topics.

We’re now pulling that information together into a structured format, as an online book. This article contains the core structure of the book, with links to our previous blog articles about the topics within the book. Those articles cover about half of the material that the final version of the book will contain.

We’ve gone for this format, rather than a single downloadable document, because it’s more practical at this point. The knowledge modelling book covers a lot of topics, and even the current partial draft would be a very large document, with a lot of illustrations.

We’ll update this draft fairly frequently, via further blog articles. Some of those articles will be case studies showing how concepts from the book can be applied to real examples. Other articles will be about the broader and deeper context of the book; in particular, the introductory sections and the discussion sections for the main sections. At some point, we’ll put a more reader-friendly version onto the Hyde & Rugg website, which we’re currently updating.

We welcome constructive feedback and suggestions.

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