Categories, tags, and the mayonnaise problem

In one of our local grocery stores, mayonnaise is located in the aisle with salad dressing. In another, mayonnaise is located with condiments (such as ketchup and mustard).

According to Wikipedia, mayonnaise is a condiment. A variety of sources talk about mayonnaise as a base for, but not necessarily being, salad dressings of various sorts.

What intrigues me here is the decision making process of the store managers or, if there is such a thing, the “person who decides what products get placed on what shelf in which aisle” when evaluating where they should shelve mayonnaise in their store.

And, even more so, how they came to these different decisions.

Left or right? (Or, Design considerations for public facing restrooms)

When designing and building restrooms in public facing spaces, for example at a restaurant or a gas station, there are many things to consider. How many stalls and/or urinals, how many sinks, paper or air dryers, etc. Some of this, I’m sure, is dictated by public law, some by architectural standards, and some (I hope, anyway) is determined by the artistic and aesthetic desires of the designers themselves.

Having been at a few places over the weekend, I noticed something else about the design of these spaces that hadn’t occurred to me before: in some places, the Men’s room was on the right, and in some places it was the Women’s room that was on the right. And some doors open in, some open out.

Which got me wondering:

What is the decision-making process that goes into deciding which restroom – Men or Women – goes on the right, and which goes on the left? Which door opens out and which opens in? And what about those occasional “family” restrooms, what goes into the planning for those in terms of their placement?

Qualitative or quantitative: some thoughts on automobile fuel gauge design

The absolute best user interface idea ever in a car is that little arrow next to the fuel pump icon on the fuel gauge, you know the one I mean. (And if you’ve never noticed this before, you’re welcome 🙂

Maybe not absolutely necessary after you’ve had your car for a while, but very (very) useful when driving an unfamiliar car, like a rental. Other than that, I have to admit never really paying much attention to the fuel gauge in a car (at least not until the low fuel light starts blinking!). Not until I found myself in one of those aforementioned rental cars, anyway.

In my experience the fuel gauge in most vehicles, such as my Nissan Frontier, is based on textual indicators, specifically Full and Empty.

Fuel gauge in a Nissan Frontier

On the other hand, the VW Passat I once rented had a a gauge based on numerical indicators, with a full tank represented by 1 and an empty tank interestingly not indicated by either text or number.

Fuel gauge in VW Passat
Fuel Gauge in VW Passat

Having the fuel gauge top out at 1, with the halfway point being 1/2 and empty (presumably) 0, is somewhat reasonable in a mathematical sense. And interestingly, the value of “half” works in either/both the textual and numerical senses.

But most people aren’t really interested in the math of the situation, they’re not thinking, “Oh, I’m almost at zero fuel.” They’re thinking (as the low fuel light blinks at them), “Oh, the tank is almost empty.”

I can’t help wondering how the systems engineers and the user experience team at VW decided to use to indicate a full tank. What was the decision-making process, and what were the evaluation criteria? Is this a case of engineers being engineers? Perhaps a cultural thing, something uniquely German? Or is there something else at play here?

If you know, please share.

“OK” and “Correct” are not the same thing

Have you ever noticed, when you pay with a credit/debit card just about anywhere, after the questions to enter your PIN, do you want cash back, etc., the machine asks you a question along the lines of, “$99.99, is this OK?”

Well, chances are it’s not OK. But chances are very good that it is correct

This is one of those things that I’ve noticed, and sometimes commented on (to the obvious pain of the cashier, “No, it’s not OK”), for a while. But it wasn’t until I saw one recently that actually said, “$99.99, is this correct?” that I really noticed it.

And wondered why the rest of them don’t do it that way, too.

The “making of”

I like movies. I watch them a lot. Probably too much. Though I of course prefer good movies, “good” is a randomly moving target sometimes. I have been known to get sucked into what turns out to be just an awful movie, but still get something out of it. This comes in large part from my interest in the overall process of making a film, my appreciation of a movie beyond just the story.

To me, watching a movie and only seeing/hearing the story is like looking at the Mona Lisa and just seeing a portrait of a woman. It’s not just “a” work of art that appeals to me, it is from an appreciation of “the work” of art that I derive pleasure. Everything that went into it.

You probably won’t be surprised that I often enjoy the “making of” documentaries (audio, visual, written) as much, or even more, than the actual thing being made. And this isn’t limited to just movies. I love it when bands include mini-documentaries with CD releases, and interviews or talks by authors about how they developed the ideas and narratives of books simply fascinates me.

It’s hard to overstate how much I’ve learned from them.

In defense of meetings

I started and saved a draft of a post titled “In defense of meetings” back in summer of 2013. Just a title, no content, not even any notes.

I have no idea what I had in mind to write.

Grandparents and Graybeards

If TED Talks are supposed to spread ideas, why are so few of them given by wise elders who have lived long, interesting and rich lives? Many Talks are organised by young people. Do biases influence the events? We pay too little attention to the unsung Gandalfs of this world.

Source: a friend on Facebook

Instead of marginalizing older people among us, elders could be given important roles in calling dysfunctional/ toxic leaders to task and in helping us to identify the servant leaders among us who might help to transform our world.

Source: Elders as Transcendent Leaders

How would grandmothers help us live longer? According to the hypothesis, grandmothers can help collect food and feed children before they are able to feed themselves, enabling mothers to have more children. Without grandmothers present, if a mother gives birth and already has a two-year-old child, the odds of that child surviving are much lower, because unlike other primates, humans aren’t able to feed and take care of themselves immediately after weaning. The mother must devote her time and attention to the new infant at the expense of the older child. But grandmothers can solve this problem by acting as supplementary caregivers.

Source: New Evidence that Grandmothers Were Crucial for Human Evolution