Understanding Human Experience

Mental Models for Values, Perceptions, and Behaviours

The conversation about design is evolving as the scope of design expands from physical artifacts to living systems. Increasingly, we are exploring ideas about organizational transformation and social change. In other words, we are expanding the scope of design from the physical to the metaphysical: to the social, the economic, and the political. These are issues of connection, capacity, and power.

Reinterpreting the Role of the Designer

Service Design and Biophilia

This last aspect, on closer examination, has surprisingly revolutionary consequences for what should be the content of design in general, and the mission of service design in particular. If what we have said is true, it is difficult for design not to enter the fragile and sometimes unfathomable territory of the “action-patterns” of human existence. However, for the reasons set out above, design is not omnipotent and “service design” even less so. It must instead be “responsible” — that is, responsive — towards everyone and everything, young and old, rich and poor, beautiful and ugly, those blessed or spurned by life: it must do this without embracing invention for invention’s sake in pursuit of self-sufficiency and innovation, but must rather marry the knowledge of “responding” to what is beautiful and ugly here and in the world. This type of design is in fact an “active philosophy” dedicated to making space for life. Why should not design — service design — be a love for life? And why should not life, in all its incredible variety, be the key giving us access to design?

This principle of biophilia — the love of life — thus offers us the basis for a new aesthetic of service design.

Design as a Catalyst for Change

“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”
—R. Buckminster Fuller

The Design Challenge

Values, perceptions, narratives, and social identities are far more compelling than data, facts, information, and rational thought in the way that we understand our environment and make decisions as social creatures.

Social Change

Telling a Better Story

For example, if the Earth is not flat and the Earth revolves around the Sun, such knowledge fundamentally changes our perceptions of the world and our relationship to the cosmos.

Social change begins with better stories. If we are better able to comprehend our environment and to understand our context in both our physical and social reality, the stories that we tell ourselves change, because our perceptions are filtered through a different lens. Transforming our interpretations leads to better responses to stimuli, according to cognitive behavioural psychology.

The primitive limbic systems in our brains are designed to trigger the fight or flight response as a matter of survival in a world of physical threats. Senses are attuned to dangers in the environment and events perceived as threats will automatically trigger a physical and biological response of increased heart rate, a release of adrenalin, and a heightened state of awareness, along with emotions of anxiety, fear, and panic.

When this intellectual, emotional, and physical state of anxiety is prolonged, we call this stress. People who live in this constant state of fear and scarcity will tend to engage in behaviours that are focused on survival and self-preservation. This interpretation of constant threat leads to isolation and aggression, as members of a group engage in a competition for scarce resources and demonstrations of strength and dominance to control the group, protect resources, and destroy enemies. However, such isolation and aggression has a tendency to undermine the survival of the group.

Creativity, communication, and collaboration are actually the strengths that have contributed to the survival of the human species.

Mapping the Human Experience

The Human Genome Project for Social Design

Basic Form Study at the Bauhaus

Basic Form Study at the Bauhaus
Basic Form Study at the Bauhaus
Basic Form Study at the Bauhaus

Hannes Meyer conceived of the architecture curriculum at the Bauhaus in the form of a body with a head, a torso, arms, and legs, representing an approach that combined science (brain/intellect) with art (heart/intuition).

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Hannes Meyer’s architecture curriculum at the Bauhaus. Translated (poorly) into English by Stephen Bau and Google Translate.

The Human Genome Project

However, the scientific approach tends to divide and dissect to better understand the parts and inner workings of each system, since each area demands specialized training, knowledge, and understanding because of the complexity involved. Unfortunately, the unintended consequence of this separation of specialized disciplines leads to a lack of holistic understanding.

Such specialization is also the tendency among the disciplines of user experience design (UX). To better understand how to design for humans, it makes sense to develop a mental model of awareness, motivations, and social relationships that are the foundation of human experience.

Experience and Reality

The other curious characteristic of these ideas is that they occur in groups of three, both in the physical and the metaphysical. Humans have a curious affinity for the rule of thirds, not just in the aesthetics of art, but in all of life.

On the other hand, there seems to be a relationship between the ideals that we can conceive of and the imperfect realities within which we exist. In that sense, it is possible to conjecture that the physical is a metaphor for the metaphysical, or vice versa.

three: progress and the evolution of ideas
three: progress and the evolution of ideas
three: progress and the evolution of ideas

Processes

  • Middle
  • End

Ideas

  • Antithesis
  • Synthesis

Philosophy

  • Ontology
  • Axiology

Rhetoric

  • Pathos
  • Logos

Science

  • Experiment
  • Results

Atoms

  • Neutron
  • Electron

Phases

  • Liquid
  • Gas

Additive Color

  • Green
  • Blue

Subtractive Color

  • Magenta
  • Yellow

Mental Models

In user experience design, a mental model is what the user believes about the system at hand.

Mental models are in flux exactly because they’re embedded in a brain rather than fixed in an external medium. Additional experience with the system can obviously change the model, but users might also update their mental models based on stimuli from elsewhere, such as talking to other users or even applying lessons from other systems.

Reality

  • Time
  • Energy
  • Mass

Energy equals mass times the speed of light squared.

On the most basic level, the equation says that energy and mass (matter) are interchangeable; they are different forms of the same thing. Under the right conditions, energy can become mass, and vice versa.

Time

  • Past
  • Present
  • Future

Space

  • Length
  • Width
  • Height

Perception, Cognition, Emotion + Action

If we consider a separation between the internal and external experience of being human, we can conceive of the differences between the intellectual, the emotional, and the physical as internal experience.

Person (Internal)

  • Mind
  • Heart
  • Body

Experience

  • Consciousness
  • Spirituality
  • Reality

Psychology

  • Awareness
  • Motivation
  • Connection

Agency

  • Knowing
  • Being
  • Doing

Ideals

  • To know truth.
  • To make beauty.
  • To do good.

Spiritual Transcendence

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

  • Faith
  • Hope
  • Love
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Senses (External)

Contrary to popular belief, we have at least six physical senses, rather than the traditionally held concept of five senses. The vestibular system located inside the inner ear is often mistakenly omitted:

  • Taste
  • Touch
  • See
  • Hear
  • Smell
  • Balance

Resilience and Symbiosis

To better understand our materials as experience designers, we need more holistic mental models of the human experience, as a way to understand what we are designing for.

Unintended Consequences

The unintended consequences of the tools that we have designed to shape our environment are the weaponizing of those tools as the means for controlling and manipulating populations, protecting access to scarce resources, and eliminating threats to religious, national, and corporate prosperity and security.

Metaphysical Design

Shaping our Social, Economic, and Political Environments

Crafting An Arts Education

The Vocabulary, Syntax, and Grammar of Human Experience

This exploration was also a way to build on some of the relationships that started with a book design project in 2014 to document the creative community in the Metro Vancouver area, called WeMakeStuff Volume 02.

WeMakeStuff Volume 02

Bez Arts Hub

A culture for building community. A community for creating culture.

The centre curates a range of arts events and also offers space rentals and event services.

A Service Design Project

  • Project Duration: A work in progress
  • Primary Stakeholder: Bez Arts Hub

Challenge

Solution

Results

Why solve this problem?

There is a gap in local opportunities for professional mentorship in the arts that also includes a focus on whole-person development in the context of the caring and supportive relationships of a collaborative creative community.

Design Workshop

How might we better understand our materials in order to design for the human experience?

Beginning with an open card sort, participants organized ideas into patterns to represent the interconnected nature of human experience.

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Card sort

The organization of ideas inspired sketches of the connections between concepts as it relates to the personal and professional development of an artist.

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Mind map sketch

By observing and listening to people as they worked through the card sort and sketching exercises, it was possible to develop a new way of conceiving of the experience of the artist by creating a mental model of a whole person.

Bez Arts Hub: Why Do I Dance?

Why do I dance? Oh, Wow. I dance because I feel like I have to.

Contemporary dance. Very typically it has been very simply explained as being outward expression of an inward emotion, concept or idea.

What happens very often when people are watching contemporary dance is they’re trying to find the meaning in it. People can add their connection to it, their own personal experience, so that actually everybody gets something slightly different from it. The idea is not to just express my message but to get everybody’s message included in it, so that the audience experience is not just a passive thing. It actually becomes an active thing.

Very few of the other art forms engage us body, soul, spirit. Dance is one of the few that engages every part of who we are. If you say that a picture is worth a thousand words, well, we’ve got a moving picture. We’ve got thousands of words. Dance is actually giving us a whole plethora of artistic expression in a single form.

A lot of what happens in a person can often be suppressed, repressed. All of those silenced emotions the body ends up then housing those emotions. They don’t disappear, but they stay in us, in our bodies, until it’s the right time to begin to express them. The physical actually gives voice to things that they never had words for. The body becomes the words where they didn’t have words.

We as Christians have become disembodied, so that there’s actually not a physical form that we add to our worship or our faith. One of the forums where dance is least appreciated is in the church. It’s an unhealthy thing for Christians to cease adding their voice into the creative voice. Our voices need to be heard in there as well. If we keep not valuing our artists, our voice will keep disappearing.

If you talk to a dancer, there’s this sense they can’t not dance. Ultimately they have to be obedient to whatever God has put them here on Earth for. If God keeps asking them to dance, they actually have no choice, and the rest of us need to help them to find ways that they can keep doing that.

Become patrons of the art. Support artists. Find ways to make sure that our artists continue to have a means by which they can continue to pursue their art. Value your artists.

Why do I dance? I dance because I have to.

Spirituality and Metaphysics

Drawing Inspiration from Ancient Sacred Texts

Over the past week, I have created some mental models of the human experience. To me, it has been a way for me to use my education in communication and design to understand how humans have conceived of God and how the divine is trying to communicate to humanity about his design through stories and through his creation.

The process started long ago, as a child raised in an evangelical Christian home, where my father and mother ran a Christian bookstore. I was steeped in the culture, and became very familiar with the Bible. When I had studied graphic design and discovered the Bauhaus, I made the connection with the German word, bau, meaning “to build.”

I connected my own Chinese surname, Bau, meaning “abalone,” to a calling to build a community centred around the arts, faith, and culture.

I also found connections throughout the scriptures. These ideas became a central theme of my work.

One New Humanity

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them and kept them safe by that name you gave me. None has been lost except the one doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.

“I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

“Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

— John 17:6–26

Paul reiterated similar ideas about unity and oneness in his letter to the Ephesians.

Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands) — remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

— Ephesians 2:11–22

The Embodiment and Incarnation of Love

Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

— Ephesians 4:15–16

Love Builds

As Solomon was securing the materials and labour to build the temple, he sent the following message:

“But who is able to build a temple for him, since the heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain him?”

— 2 Chronicles 2:6

Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.

— Psalm 127:1

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?” Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.

— John 2:18–21

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.

— Matthew 16:18

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands. As the prophet says:

“ ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me? says the Lord.

Or where will my resting place be? Has not my hand made all these things?’”

— Acts 7:48–50

By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved — even though only as one escaping through the flames. Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple.

— 1 Corinthians 3:10–17

But knowledge puffs up while love builds up.

— 1 Corinthians 8:1

For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

— Hebrews 11:10

The Third Day

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. And there was evening, and there was morning — the third day.

— Genesis 1:9–13

On the third day Abraham looked up and saw the place in the distance.

— Genesis 22:4

We must take a three-day journey into the wilderness to offer sacrifices to the Lord our God, as he commands us.

— Exodus 8:27

On the third day from now you will go up to the temple of the Lord.

— 2 Kings 20:5

After two days he will revive us; on the third day he will restore us, that we may live in his presence.

— Hosea 6:2

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

— Hebrews 10:24–25

The Builder

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Mental Model of Human Experience: Builder

The Destroyer

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Mental Model of Human Experience: Destroyer

The Creator

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Mental Model of Human Experience: Creator

In Hebrews, Abraham is described as looking forward to the city with foundations whose architect and builder is God.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

I was curious about why the NIV capitalized “the Day.”

The theme of Hebrews is the day of rest, the seventh day.

If I am wondering about the meaning or significance of a word in the Bible, I will find the first instances of the word in the text. Of course, the days are very significant in Genesis 1. But Jesus keeps telling people that the only sign that he will give is the sign of Jonah, who was three days and three nights in the belly of a fish. Jesus also said, “Destroy this temple and I will raise it in three days.” Abraham also made a three-day journey to sacrifice his son, but God provided a sacrifice. Moses told Pharoah that they would take a three-day journey into the desert.

The Times of Israel

  • They crossed from death to life through the waters of the Red Sea.
  • They crossed the waters of the Jordan to reach the promised land.

The Times of the Gentiles

  • They crossed from death to life through the waters of baptism.
  • They were commissioned by Jesus to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

This follows the same pattern in Genesis 1.

  • Day 1: Light
  • Day 2: Water
  • Day 3: Land: vegetative life
  • Day 4: Light
  • Day 5: Water
  • Day 6: Land: human life

It seems that God has been planning from the very beginning that he would use a design process to build his body with living stones, with human beings, with us. His design was to use the light of justice to inspire us through faith, to offer us the water of life as a gesture of kindness to empower us through hope, and to provide the good things of the earth to help build us in love. Light, water, and land are the symbols that he has used throughout the scriptures to reinforce the symbolism that we understand through our family relationships.

  • A father is a provider who imparts an identity and moral principles to his children.
  • A mother is a comforter who breaths for her unborn child, groans in the pains of childbirth, is a compassionate presence, and speaks encouragement to her children.
  • A son acts as a brother to his siblings and a friend to his neighbours, fulfilling the father’s plans and the mother’s promises by restoring and building a home for his family.

In Genesis, God told us a story that included all the elements that he would use as symbols of what was to come.

Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.

Notice that the text doesn’t say Sun or Moon. They were referred to as lights. The physical is a metaphor for the metaphysical. Just like the parables were not meant to be taken literally. Everything was symbolic. The days were always meant to be signs to help us understand the times that we are living in.

So, at the core of the story is the idea of love. The Earth is how God has incarnated his love in the universe as the seed of the woman, the promise of a new life that is being gestated as a living system. The now and the not yet is in the process of being born, and we are in the third trimester, the third day, if you will. The Day of birth is imminent.

The builders collective is the creative, collaborative community on the Earth who are involved in the work of building and of love.

The challenge is that there are people who believe a different narrative that centres around the self and fear and hate. This leads to strategies for success and competition in an environment of survival, scarcity, and domination. The strategy is to accumulate intelligence, property, and power by focusing on surveillance, security, and aggression in order to control, protect, and destroy.

Builders Collective

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The Evolution of a Designer

Design for Resilience

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Resilience Magazine: Reimagining Our Social Architecture

Art Might Save Us

An Embodied World: Divine Incarnation

Theology is a Place and a Story

“Our masks are falling. We know we can’t live in them anymore. They’re destroying us. But we haven’t yet figured out what it means to live together, without those masks. And that’s where the quest, the daring, the exploration — that’s where the bigness of love as the ultimate truth about the world and our lives has to be present. I believe that we can’t do it on our own if we don’t have that guiding force.”

Designer, writer, educator, social architect, founder, Builders Collective, Leading with Design. https://stephenbau.com

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