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The computer-human division

From: Foundations of UX: Logic and Content

Video: The computer-human division

Our society publishes an unimaginable volume of information, In our investigation of how humans and computers use logic to handle Humans are great at understanding, meaning, and scope.

The computer-human division

Our society publishes an unimaginable volume of information, and that volume increases at an exponential rate. As a result, there's simply far too much information out there for anyone to process. And just sifting through that information can be a task that makes finding a needle in a haystack sound easy. The great thing about living in the information age, is that in spite of the volume and complexity of this information, we can find pretty much anything we want with a simple web search.

This is thanks to the division of labor between man and machine. By identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each, we have created solutions that provide the information we want, right at our fingertips. In our investigation of how humans and computers use logic to handle information, we have established a clear line of separation between the two. Humans are great at understanding, meaning, and scope. Computers are great at logic, filtering, and volume. Knowing this ,we can divide tasks into two groups and hand them off to the party most fit to handle them.

Consider the following scenario. You're going on a trip, and you need to find flight that gets you there on time, is convenient, and doesn't cost too much. To find this flight, we need to do a series of actions. We need to find all flights departing and arriving within the time frame. Then, sort these flights based on departure and arrival destinations. Next, sort based on number of stopovers. Sort based on price. And finally, pick the best flight. Looking at this list, it's clear that steps 1 through 4 are logic operations, collecting information and sorting it based on complex parameters.

To ensure correct answers and avoid logical errors, these tasks are best performed by a computer. Step 5, on the other hand, is a different matter. If you've made a search like this, whether it be for a trip or a new computer or any other type of service or product with many options, you know that the final deciding factor is often something intangible. In the case of a flight, your final decision may be based on a combination of exact departure time, number of stopovers, and price.

You may be willing to pay a bit more for a direct flight or leave at an inconvenient time for a cheaper price. These are factors that cannot be left to a computer, because they're outside the logic scope of the search. You are no longer sorting the data logically. You're interpreting it based on outside parameters, seeing the bigger scope or picture. Services like Pinterest have embraced this man/machine dichotomy to provide a user experience that gives you the best of both worlds. A search for gluten-free cupcake gives you hundreds of individual pins with cupcakes ordered from the most relevant and popular, to the least.

The computer does the logic search and organization for you, finding everything cupcake related and presenting it in the order it thinks you'll find most useful based on text and organization. But the designers know that your human brain will be looking for something more indefinable. So, you're presented with images that help you find what you like, rather than what is logically the best match for your search. To see this in full effect, try making a search for a color, like blue or yellow.

The top results are usually very strong representations of the color, and as you scroll down, you'll find other images related to the color. The computer knows what you're looking for on a taxonomy level, but only the human brain can add meaning to find exactly the right thing. So, when you're creating new user experiences, take some time to classify each task and consider who does it best, the human or the computer. In many cases, the most obvious answer is not the right one.

In tasks you thought were best handled by the computer, may be better handled by the human or vice versa. It is in the end, all a matter of perspective.

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Foundations of UX: Logic and Content

26 video lessons · 4767 viewers

Morten Rand-Hendriksen
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