Currently, happiness is having a participant show up on time for my experiment. A participant who doesn’t mind that things might run a little longer sometimes, or not as expected. Also somebody who can see well, and isn’t colourblind, so I don’t have to send them away.

Happiness is a boyfriend who has dinner ready by the time I make it home when I’m tired from sitting in the lab a whole day, switching between 3 screens to make sure everything is going alright.

Happiness is finding a new connection, a potential new friend, among the participants. Somebody who’s also working on their PhD, and could probably use some support and has funny experiences to exchange.

Happiness is having friends who can make you laugh, despite the fact that you’re nervous and tired and cranky and worried. Who can give you a new outlook on things, and remind you that, at the end of the day, this is also something you will get through.

Happiness is knowing that there’s an opportunity for sleeping in on the weekend!

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Why do I tend to go for the hardest choice? Sometimes because it’s more fun, but when you’re running the actual experiment and have to turn away participants because, sadly enough, they’re not the target group, things can feel a little sour.

Less than 4 months before my funding is up. Scary. 3 more weeks before this experiment will be finished. Also scary, the last experiment I might run in a while. Until I find a post-doc, that is. In which case I need to get my butt in a chair, and write the proposal draft this weekend. This post is meant to remind me of that bit. There’s more to life than data-entering and exploration, even while running a massive experiment.

Recent events have made me consider that maybe accepting some professional help isn’t such a bad idea to help with stress management. CompanyManager has indicated that for such things VagueCompany can arrange for a coach to help you. Yes, there is also a psychologist, but what I would prefer in that case is a behavioural therapist. So, would a coach be really the direction to go? Also, are they bound to not tell CompanyManager anything? Because obviously this works better if there aren’t too many inhibitions when trying to formulate my thoughts on stress management, and stress-factors.

Still debating these factors, while at the same time trying to not stress out too much about it. It seems somewhat silly to get stress out about somebody helping you with stress management. It probably also means that it’s time to get help :)

Maeda’s book is in keeping with one of his own tenets: don’t make things too long or overly complex. He actually manages to say all he needs within a 100 pages. Nevertheless, it took me a while to get through “Laws of simplicity”, because it’s a lot of information, densely packed.

He summarizes his laws of simplicity as follows:

  1. REDUCE: the simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
  2. ORGANIZE: organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
  3. TIME: savings in time feel like simplicity
  4. LEARN: knowledge makes everything simpler
  5. DIFFERENCES: simplicity and complexity need each other
  6. CONTEXT: what lies in the periphery of simplicity isn’t peripheral
  7. EMOTION: more emotions are better than less
  8. TRUST: in simplicity we trust
  9. FAILURE: some things can never be made simple
  10. THE ONE: simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful
  • AWAY: more appears like less by simply moving it far, far away
  • OPEN: openness simplifies complexity
  • POWER: use less, gain more

In a way, what to take away from reading was fairly easy to start with. Think about the things you design, and think about them in a meaningful way:
Why is that function there? Why does it function the way it does? Could it be made easier, simpler? Or will it be worth it for users when they learn what the function does and learn it well? In other words, is the learning curve worth the effort needed to get to know your design, and if so, how will you convince users to go through the learning curve?

Executing this kind of thinking at all times isn’t easy though. It means that you have to reflect on your design, keeping in mind your users all the time. Not only that, if you work in a team, you have to convince everybody else of this too.
Keeping everybody focused on simplicity (or at least relative simplicity if you can’t make things simple) is a hard task to execute. So, just because you are trying to keep things simple, doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve.

Considering that I don’t really design products, how to apply these principles for me? Well, they can also be applied to writing papers, and blog posts. Externalize reasonings, ask ‘why why why’ all the time and make it explicit. You know why, but you cannot assume that readers do. And sometimes, when you explain why things cannot be that simple, people take the time to follow through your complex reasonings.

Last year, I made the resolution to start blogging. But, what was the theme to be? My focus? Personal, research-related? Anonymous or semi-anonymous? I don’t always like to make decisions, so instead of deciding I wrote some blog-posts and saved them up. I’d post them whenever the time is right, or when I’d have enough material. That only gave me more questions though: when would the time be right, and when would I have enough material? Today I finally had enough of my shilly-shallying about, and sat down to actually write something.