Thomas Edison believed that the concept of understanding comes from the two simple words under and stand. Consider the ‘Chinese room‘ argument, a thought experiment. Suppose a man is in a room with a book of rules. Chinese sentences are passed under the door to him. The man looks up in his book of rules how to process the sentences. Eventually the rules tell him to copy some Chinese characters onto paper and pass the resulting Chinese sentences as a reply to the message he has received. Then this does not signifies that the man understands Chinese.
Understanding is a psychological process related to an abstract or physical object. We do the understanding process like understanding books, people, etc., for various purpose, especially understanding the people is more important among all. First, one should know the fact that mind cannot understand other minds i.e. cognition of cognition is not possible.
“Na tat svabhasam drsyatvat” (Sanskrit)
“Nor is it(the mind) self-luminous, for it is in the realm of perception.”
The mind is something that can be observed as an object, and not the source of knowledge, just as the moon is not a source of light but a reflection of the sun. The mind can neither perceive itself nor perceive another mind, for if this were the case there would be complete confusion of the knowledge and memory of the different minds. The mind is just an instrument; it can only interpret the things. That’s the reason often people disagree with the things because it was just interpreted according to one’s mind and knowledge.
If the mind can understand another mind, then when a teacher teaches in a class then everyone can easily understand at the same level. But it does not happen, so the way to understand an individual is through their body signs. As well said, face is the index of mind. Through the face reaction and body movements, one can judge the condition and state of an individual.
Face is a snapshot of a moment, so it does not help to find the characteristics of a person. But the palm will reflects the characteristics of the person. Knowing on how to interpret the major lines (like head, heart lines) in the palm will help you to judge the person’s characteristics; also worth to learn palmistry to that extent.
The above information is enough to the level of social interaction. But what if you want to design something for a particular type of audience or how to understand their concepts in a given context? There are many ways to achieve it. (Usually people call it user studies, to gather data about the user.) Of all ‘Contextual Inquiry‘ is an effective way. The contextual inquiry or contextual interview, is an interactive talk with individual (user) to understand their work. The basic principles are: go where the user works, observe the user works, and talk to the user about the work. It is not an typical interview, it a collaborative talk. We need to develop apprentice-master interaction model with user i.e. we learn from the user, as if they were teaching us. We need to focus on the context and probe into the ongoing experience with concrete data. A establishment of good partnership is a good sign of the contextual inquiry. It comes by practice. The gathered data and understanding the user will help us to come up with an elegant design.
The same thing can be extended to a population and helps to understand the population. Usually people try to categorize all the problems and ideas as they receive from the users into an affinity model, which will help them to understand and solve their problems. This helps to set the proper user goals for a project and the designer knows what exactly need to be addressed as the part of the solution.
There is also an interesting technique known as ‘card sorting‘, to understand an individual and their mental model (conceptual model). In card sorting technique, user is asked to categorize the give set of words (cards) and then based on the their categorization, one can understand the user’s mental model.
For example consider the followings words:
Banana, Chicken, Book, Ring tones, Mango, Eraser, Memory Card
Some users on categorization try to place Banana and Chicken in a separate category like veg and non-veg (especially if the user is a vegetarian), but some place in the same category like eatables. Hence, interviewing the users after the card sorting, helps to understand the user’s mental model and there upon one can organize their information design according to that.
So understanding users is an important aspect in a design process and challenging too.
Understand and Act.