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  • Richard Herriott

You have six minds

My last post concerned research or the lack of it among communication designers. This post looks at a research approach aimed at using known aspects of cognitive psychology to find out what to design and how to deliver it to users.



The most reassuring sentence in the book is this: “Always try to negate the other possibilities, as opposed to only looking for information that confirms your hypothesis. Look carefully at the underlying emotional drivers for each person….” I put this sentence at the top of my review because it indicates Whalen is serious about the research methodology he is describing.


The main argument in the book is that although we consider our mind to be a singular “thing” running a smoothly unified process of “being me”, it is composed of sub-sections. These approximate to a few brain areas. Whalen used the term “six minds” as shorthand for this.

The six minds are 1) Language 2) Wayfinding 3) Decision making 4)Emotion 5) Vision/attention and 6) Memory.


  • Vision and attention: where do your eyes go to first on a webpage, object or the environment? Were you looking for words, colours or images?

  • Wayfinding: How do you navigage a physical place, a website or the system states of a device?

  • Language: Did you search for key words? Is the terminology correct? We touch here on ontology!

  • Memory: How did the user experience conform to what had previously experienced?

  • Decision making: How did you go about following the task you faced as you used the device, building or service?

  • Emotion: What was worrying? How did the experience relate to your immediate goal and then your bigger life goals and desires? Emotion is important - it often blocks reason.


The book first goes into details about the six minds and what they means for user experience. Then Whalen produces readable worked examples of realistic user investigations to find out what people thing. The key message here is get out of the office. You will always be amazed at what life is like in another setting and you will see surprising things in what users say and do. The final section of the book looks at how to turn the data and the analysis into design outcomes. His examples are broadly from web-design and service design but could easily apply to tangibles. He also relates the model to the double diamond approach; I would suspect the methodology is also compatible with a number of other design models like DSKD´s 6C model and waterfall models.


Each chapter ends with concrete recommendations as to what to do with the information presented. The book is pleasantly “light” in reading style but founded on a substantial body of knowledge and experience. My previous blog indicated a certain reluctance among (Australian service) designers to get out of the office and do user research. Whalen´s books shows that it´s not that hard to research and it produces meaningful results in the form of better product and, I suppose, happier clients.




Design For How People Think – Using Brain Science to Build Better Products. John Whalen. O´Reiilly, 2019

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