Director, Design Lab and Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Cognitive Science, University of California, San Diego
The well-rounded product will enhance the heart as well as the mind, being a joy to behold as well as to use.
(Q) Could you recollect your initial thoughts when you were starting out as a young faculty about advancing the understanding of cognition?
(A) I was dismayed by the sorry state of psychology. The field was ruled by behaviorists who ignored the mind. In fact, at my first faculty meeting as a newly hired Instructor at Harvard, after i was introduced, B. F. Skinner stood up and denounced me and my field. I resolved to understand the mechanisms underlying thought and cognition (and in the years that passed, i added action, interaction, and emotion). That’s what I have been working on all my carer, with one major switch. Today, I focus not on theory and research but rather on application of all that is already known: hence, the switch to design, which I think of as Applied Cognitive Science.
(Q) What were few of the major motivating events/things that helped you pursue such a high quality of research, writing and consulting over the last few decades?
(A) I learned long ago that every good scientist can do good work. The great scientists, however, stepped back and asked, why are we doing this work? What are the fundamental principles guiding this work? So i have always looked at the entire system, trying to make major contributions to our deep understanding rather than small, incremental progress on thye details. Details are necessary, but so is the overarching structure.
(A) Follow your instincts. Do not do what others expect you to do. If you follow the path recommended by others you will probably fail to do fundamental groundbreaking research. Follow your instincts. Work on the things that excite you the most. If you aren’t excited by what you are doing, change. You will never do a great job in areas that do not excite you. (Don’t be good, be great.)
(A) Our work is often irrelevant. The field does many small, trivial experiments. We need larger visions. When I moved to industry, I was expecting to apply my scientific knowledge. To my dismay, I discovered that much of it was not applicable. We had major gaps in understanding, and the work was usually too specialized to be useful. I resolved to always make sure my work could be applied, that it was at the correct level of study. That it could make a real, practical difference in people’s lives. I always welcome informed criticism of my work. When people agree with me, it is nice to hear, but i do not learn. When people disagree intelligently, I learn. (Corollary: If anyone is to find problems with my work, I want that person to be me. Science advances by critiques of previous work: so seek out intelligent critique.)
(A) Follow your dreams.