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A Critical
Design Sprint Tool

A Critical Design Sprint Tool

The Rules of the Cold-Reading Cards

A tool for designers to learn about persuasive techniques of cold-reading and think critically while using them in design.

This work is currently in-progress.

A mixed reality system that supports conversation and memory recall, to help aging adults connect with others and preserve memories in the moment.

Brief: Develop a tool to apply, embody, or visualize some of the theory you have learned from outside design, within a practical design context.

Duration: 2 weeks (Fall 2017)

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The Challenge

As the digital product design uses more and more techniques from behavioral psychology, designers need to be more intentional and aware of the consequences of their design choices.

The Solution

Deriving from scientific persuasion techniques, this tool introduces techniques of cold-reading to designers. It invites designers to do a self-critique by taking them through a critical design sprint that includes a whiteboard challenge. 

Don’t believe in fortune, but don’t live without it.

The literal translation of Turkish proverb about fortune-telling offers an insight into how some of us like to hear desired things about our futures although we already know that they are ungrounded.

While doing research for my thesis on trust and conversational interfaces, with the help of my thesis advisor, Dr. Dan Lockton, I came across the notion of “cold reading”.

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What is Cold Reading?

Cold reading refers to a set of techniques that people such as scam artists, mediums, fortune-tellers, and palm readers use to convince their clients that they know much more about them than they do.

Cold readers can gain a lot from their clients by analyzing how they speak. They will do some high probability guesses to see which ones are true while their clients are revealing more information about themselves.

As a reader proposes a “possible future”, their clients’ interpret and favor the readings in a way that confirm their beliefs or living ideals. In other words, readers guide their reading by taking advantage of their clients’ confirmation biases.

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Cold-Reading and Persuasive Design

While every “reader” has their own technique, a psychology professor, Ray Hyman, outlined such techniques as “the rules of cold-reading” in an article in 1977. By doing a Google search, I saw that they are used in many fields related to design. 

I decided to use these persuasive techniques to make designers think critically while using them since they tend to be classified as dark patterns. In a way, “to confirm my own confirmation bias”, I reframed these techniques as a critical design sprint.

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The process of Persuasive Design by Human Factors International
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Making with Theory: A Critical Design Sprint

Different from other design sprints, this sprint consists of a 10–15 minutes whiteboard challenge in one session. In my tests with my classmates, we always worked as peers: a person to take the challenge and another person to help him/her during the process with brainstorming etc. as well as moderating the challenge.

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Five Steps of the Sprint

Here are the five steps of the sprint as December 2017:

  1. Choose a Domain: Roll the dice of domains to find out which industry you will design for. 
  2. Learn the Cold-Reading Technique: Draw a technique card and learn how cold-readers use it to trick their clients.
  3. Find the Solution: Find an existing interaction design solution in your domain that uses similar design pattern to the technique in your card in 5 minutes.
  4. Reverse Design the Solution: Role-play the designer of the solution. Write down the problem, your users’ goals and needs, and reasons to use the reading technique in 5 minutes.
  5. Pitch Your Solution and Self-Critique: Using your notes, pitch your solution to your peer. Discuss what value using your technique will bring in your domain and what can go wrong using it in 5 minutes.
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Deciding on the Medium of Artifact

I tried building the challenge artifact in different mediums to guide designers. I started with designing the cards to be printed. After printing them, I decided to transform them into a digital artifact so that all designers around the world can easily access and try it.

At first, I experimented with an iOS app to see how would be the navigation and micro-interactions feel like. Since my theme was about cards, I experimented with card stacks, fanning animations, using Framer and CSS.

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Some of my Hi-Fi screens for the possible iOS app
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A screenshot of my quick card stacking interaction prototype in Framer
A very quick card fanning prototype that I hacked together in CSS. Try it yourself.

Final Design: A Mobile Website

Finally, I decided to turn these cards into a mobile website so that anyone can visit it on the web without downloading an app.

Although it isn’t finalized yet, the website will have all materials and techniques that guide the challenge. I mainly used an Invision mock-up to explain the challenge to my friends. Since it consists of only one card and a domain, I also used a physical dice mockup that I did earlier as well as referring cards from a slide deck.

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Going Forward

Learnings from the Pilot Study

  • All participants find the study interesting and different in terms of being critical about things that they would normally propose in a real design challenge.
  • At first, some had issues with finding an existing interaction design solution that uses a similar technique to their card. Giving them an example from another card helped a lot.
  • Some techniques were linked with interaction design easier than others. I.e. “Use a gimmick such as a crystal ball or palm reading” was easier than “Set the stage for your reading”.
  • Some of my participants gave examples explicitly from conversational interfaces. It was very interesting to see them associating these techniques with my thesis context.

Among the process, we developed and tested several prototypes. We started with simple paper mock-ups, and bodystorming to quickly test our experience design ideas. After we decided on our interaction scenario, we wireframed our user interface in flat by using traditional UX tools at first.

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Closing Thoughts

This work helped me to dive on a different side of design and psychology. While I had ethical concerns at first, I have seen that designers are already using these techniques but they haven't been framed in this way before.

Acknowledging this made me frame this theory of cold-reading in a way that it would be both useful for practice but also will ask designers to self-critique themselves while they were thinking about using them.
 

Among the process, we developed and tested several prototypes. We started with simple paper mock-ups, and bodystorming to quickly test our experience design ideas. After we decided on our interaction scenario, we wireframed our user interface in flat by using traditional UX tools at first.

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Next Steps

Although I moved away using any kind of deception or dark persuasion methods in my thesis, I will finalize the mobile site as a way to give back to the design community. I believe being able to critically approach to these techniques are very important in our era.

As designers, we should always be aware of the consequences of our design decisions and show our intentionality through our designs even if we don’t think about using such patterns.

Among the process, we developed and tested several prototypes. We started with simple paper mock-ups, and bodystorming to quickly test our experience design ideas. After we decided on our interaction scenario, we wireframed our user interface in flat by using traditional UX tools at first.

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