It’s All in the Memes

Sep 29 2017 Published by Neil Gains under book review

Memes in Digital Culture is a short and well-written guide to the use of memes in digital culture which I read on a flight back to Asia from the UK. Limor Shifman really gets to the heart of what memes are, how they work and what makes some more successful than others.

The word meme was coined long before the internet became an integral part of our lives, most famously by Richard Dawkins in The Selfish Gene. Limor Shifman points out that Dawkins successful memes incorporate three key traits, longevity, fecundity and copy fidelity, and that all three are enhanced by the internet. Memes transmitted online have high fidelity (accuracy) when digitalised, they can be diffused to multiple places immediately and arguably have longer life when information is stored indefinitely. Read more »

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Principles of Design #66 – Similarity

Nov 23 2015 Published by Neil Gains under design

It is a key principle of design that elements that are similar are perceived by users to be more closely related than elements that are dissimilar. This principle comes from Gestalt psychology, and while often seeming obvious is important to the way that users interact with objects, helping them simplify and structure the world. A simple matrix with alternative rows of dots and squares, this becomes a set of rows only with the similar elements grouped into holistic lines. In the same way, even complex displays is interpreted as having different areas and groupings depending on the colour, shape or size of different elements and to what degree they appear similar. Read more »

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Sweet talking emotions

Jul 01 2014 Published by Neil Gains under sensory branding

A recent paper by a team from Princeton University and the Free University of Berlin has shown that taste related words engage the emotional brain more strongly than equivalent literal words. They showed that the brain processes everyday metaphors differently from more literal language, with greater emotional engagement. For example, ‘she smiled at him sweetly” created more activation of the emotion centres of the brain than the expression “she smiled at him kindly”, even though they have equivalent meaning and were understood equally well.

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Principles of Design #57 – Symmetry

May 04 2014 Published by Neil Gains under design

Symmetry has always been associated with beauty (although for a twist on this read about Wabi-Sabi aesthetics here). It is found in most natural forms, and is generally favoured in natural selection and specifically in sexual selection (symmetric faces are perceived as more attractive than asymmetric faces). The human body shows the principle of symmetry well, with two eyes, two ears, two arms and two legs, but other animals and plants show this just as well. In nature, symmetry is largely a function of the force of gravity and a kind of ‘regression to the mean’ (averaging of form).

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Principles of Design #56 – Wabi-Sabi

Mar 19 2014 Published by Neil Gains under design

Wabi-Sabi is a design principle that is also a (Japanese) world view, philosophy of life and aesthetic principle. Wabi-Sabi centres on the acceptance of transience and imperfection, and is based on beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent and incomplete”. It derives from one of the three marks of existence from Buddhism: impermanence. [The others are suffering and absence of self-nature.] Read more »

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Thinking About Analogy

Sep 22 2013 Published by Neil Gains under brain science

Douglas Hofsatdter’s first book, Godel, Escher, Bach, had a profound influence on me while I was at university. First published in 1979, I don’t remember when I first read the book. but have since re-read more than once (and it’s not a short book!).

In the book, Hofstadter explores common themes in the lives and works of Kurt Godel (logician), M.C.Escher (artist) and Johann Sebastian Bach (musician), drawing out concepts fundamental to mathematics, symmetry, intelligence and philosophy of mind. Specifically, Hofstadter discusses how self-reference and formal rules allow systems to develop meanings which ‘emerge’ from the system however meaningless the individual elements of that system. That is, the book describes how thinking emerges from the mechanics of neurons firing, creating a unified sense of self, in the same way that a colony of ants self-organises to produce social behaviours which ‘emerge’ from the acts of individual ants. Read more »

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Touching, Smelling and Interacting with Mobile: IBM’s Predictions for 2017

Dec 18 2012 Published by Neil Gains under sensory

Every year IBM make five predictions about the future five years out (they call it “5 in 5″), and this years are fascinating, especially for anyone interested in the human senses. This year the five predictions cover the five senses, and I can’t wait to see if they come true. Read more »

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Principles of Design #45 – Cathedral Effect

Aug 22 2012 Published by Neil Gains under design

The Cathedral effect describes the influence of the perceived height of a ceiling and human thinking, and is (at least in part) a priming effect. High ceilings are known to encourage abstract thinking (creativity) and low ceilings encourage concrete thinking (focus on detail). Most people prefer high ceilings to low ceilings, and the Cathedral effect demonstrates that the environment can impact our approach to problem solving (either enhancing or undermining ability, depending on the nature of the problem to be solved)

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Principles of Design #44 – Law of Prägnanz

Jun 11 2012 Published by Neil Gains under design

The Law of Prägnanz is the tendency for all of us to interpret ambiguous images as simple and complete rather than as complex and incomplete. It is one of the key principles underlying Gestalt psychology and is also sometimes known as the law of good configuration, law of simplicity, law of pregnance, law of precision or law of good figure. Read more »

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How to Use Your Imagination

May 18 2012 Published by Neil Gains under creativity

Chance favours the prepared mind

The approaches that businesses use for brainstorming are widespread (almost universal) and date back to the work of Alex Osborn in the late 1940s. In his new book Imagine, Jonah Lehrer argues that some of the assumptions for these tools are wrong, and that we need to rethink, at least in part, how we understand and practise the creative process, basing his arguments on scientific studies and latest brain science. Read more »

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