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  • In the great 1980s movie "The Blues Brothers,"

  • there's a scene where John Belushi goes to visit Dan Aykroyd in his apartment

  • in Chicago for the very first time.

  • It's a cramped, tiny space

  • and it's just three feet away from the train tracks.

  • As John sits on Dan's bed,

  • a train goes rushing by,

  • rattling everything in the room.

  • John asks, "How often does that train go by?"

  • Dan replies, "So often, you won't even notice it."

  • And then, something falls off the wall.

  • We all know what he's talking about.

  • As human beings, we get used to everyday things

  • really fast.

  • As a product designer, it's my job to see those everyday things,

  • to feel them, and try to improve upon them.

  • For example, see this piece of fruit?

  • See this little sticker?

  • That sticker wasn't there when I was a kid.

  • But somewhere as the years passed,

  • someone had the bright idea to put that sticker on the fruit.

  • Why?

  • So it could be easier for us

  • to check out at the grocery counter.

  • Well that's great,

  • we can get in and out of the store quickly.

  • But now, there's a new problem.

  • When we get home and we're hungry

  • and we see this ripe, juicy piece of fruit on the counter,

  • we just want to pick it up and eat it.

  • Except now, we have to look for this little sticker.

  • And dig at it with our nails, damaging the flesh.

  • Then rolling up that sticker --

  • you know what I mean.

  • And then trying to flick it off your fingers.

  • (Applause)

  • It's not fun,

  • not at all.

  • But something interesting happened.

  • See the first time you did it, you probably felt those feelings.

  • You just wanted to eat the piece of fruit.

  • You felt upset.

  • You just wanted to dive in.

  • By the 10th time,

  • you started to become less upset

  • and you just started peeling the label off.

  • By the 100th time, at least for me,

  • I became numb to it.

  • I simply picked up the piece of fruit,

  • dug at it with my nails, tried to flick it off,

  • and then wondered,

  • "Was there another sticker?"

  • So why is that?

  • Why do we get used to everyday things?

  • Well as human beings, we have limited brain power.

  • And so our brains encode the everyday things we do into habits

  • so we can free up space to learn new things.

  • It's a process called habituation

  • and it's one of the most basic ways, as humans, we learn.

  • Now, habituation isn't always bad.

  • Remember learning to drive?

  • I sure do.

  • Your hands clenched at 10 and 2 on the wheel,

  • looking at every single object out there --

  • the cars, the lights, the pedestrians.

  • It's a nerve-wracking experience.

  • So much so, that I couldn't even talk to anyone else in the car

  • and I couldn't even listen to music.

  • But then something interesting happened.

  • As the weeks went by, driving became easier and easier.

  • You habituated it.

  • It started to become fun and second nature.

  • And then, you could talk to your friends again

  • and listen to music.

  • So there's a good reason why our brains habituate things.

  • If we didn't, we'd notice every little detail,

  • all the time.

  • It would be exhausting,

  • and we'd have no time to learn about new things.

  • But sometimes, habituation isn't good.

  • If it stops us from noticing the problems that are around us,

  • well, that's bad.

  • And if it stops us from noticing and fixing those problems,

  • well, then that's really bad.

  • Comedians know all about this.

  • Jerry Seinfeld's entire career was built on noticing those little details,

  • those idiotic things we do every day that we don't even remember.

  • He tells us about the time he visited his friends

  • and he just wanted to take a comfortable shower.

  • He'd reach out and grab the handle and turn it slightly one way,

  • and it was 100 degrees too hot.

  • And then he'd turn it the other way, and it was 100 degrees too cold.

  • He just wanted a comfortable shower.

  • Now, we've all been there,

  • we just don't remember it.

  • But Jerry did,

  • and that's a comedian's job.

  • But designers, innovators and entrepreneurs,

  • it's our job to not just notice those things,

  • but to go one step further and try to fix them.

  • See this, this person,

  • this is Mary Anderson.

  • In 1902 in New York City,

  • she was visiting.

  • It was a cold, wet, snowy day and she was warm inside a streetcar.

  • As she was going to her destination, she noticed the driver opening the window

  • to clean off the excess snow so he could drive safely.

  • When he opened the window, though, he let all this cold, wet air inside,

  • making all the passengers miserable.

  • Now probably, most of those passengers just thought,

  • "It's a fact of life, he's got to open the window to clean it.

  • That's just how it is."

  • But Mary didn't.

  • Mary thought,

  • "What if the diver could actually clean the windshield from the inside

  • so that he could stay safe and drive

  • and the passengers could actually stay warm?"

  • So she picked up her sketchbook right then and there,

  • and began drawing what would become the world's first windshield wiper.

  • Now as a product designer, I try to learn from people like Mary

  • to try to see the world the way it really is,

  • not the way we think it is.

  • Why?

  • Because it's easy to solve a problem that almost everyone sees.

  • But it's hard to solve a problem that almost no one sees.

  • Now some people think you're born with this ability

  • or you're not,

  • as if Mary Anderson was hardwired at birth to see the world more clearly.

  • That wasn't the case for me.

  • I had to work at it.

  • During my years at Apple,

  • Steve Jobs challenged us to come into work every day,

  • to see our products through the eyes of the customer,

  • the new customer,

  • the one that has fears and possible frustrations

  • and hopeful exhilaration that their new technology product

  • could work straightaway for them.

  • He called it staying beginners,

  • and wanted to make sure that we focused on those tiny little details

  • to make them faster, easier and seamless for the new customers.

  • So I remember this clearly in the very earliest days of the iPod.

  • See, back in the '90s,

  • being a gadget freak like I am,

  • I would rush out to the store for the very, very latest gadget.

  • I'd take all the time to get to the store,

  • I'd check out, I'd come back home, I'd start to unbox it.

  • And then, there was another little sticker:

  • the one that said, "Charge before use."

  • What!

  • I can't believe it!

  • I just spent all this time buying this product

  • and now I have to charge before use.

  • I have to wait what felt like an eternity to use that coveted new toy.

  • It was crazy.

  • But you know what?

  • Almost every product back then did that.

  • When it had batteries in it,

  • you had to charge it before you used it.

  • Well, Steve noticed that

  • and he said,

  • "We're not going to let that happen to our product."

  • So what did we do?

  • Typically, when you have a product that has a hard drive in it,

  • you run it for about 30 minutes in the factory

  • to make sure that hard drive's going to be working years later

  • for the customer after they pull it out of the box.

  • What did we do instead?

  • We ran that product for over two hours.

  • Why?

  • Well, first off, we could make a higher quality product,

  • be easy to test,

  • and make sure it was great for the customer.

  • But most importantly,

  • the battery came fully charged right out of the box,

  • ready to use.

  • So that customer, with all that exhilaration,

  • could just start using the product.

  • It was great, and it worked.

  • People liked it.

  • Today, almost every product that you get that's battery powered

  • comes out of the box fully charged,

  • even if it doesn't have a hard drive.

  • But back then, we noticed that detail and we fixed it,

  • and now everyone else does that as well.

  • No more, "Charge before use."

  • So why am I telling you this?

  • Well, it's seeing the invisible problem,

  • not just the obvious problem, that's important,

  • not just for product design, but for everything we do.

  • You see, there are invisible problems all around us,

  • ones we can solve.

  • But first we need to see them, to feel them.

  • So, I'm hesitant to give you any tips

  • about neuroscience or psychology.

  • There's far too many experienced people in the TED community

  • who would know much more about that than I ever will.

  • But let me leave you with a few tips that I do,

  • that we all can do, to fight habituation.

  • My first tip is to look broader.

  • You see, when you're tackling a problem,

  • sometimes, there are a lot of steps that lead up to that problem.

  • And sometimes, a lot of steps after it.

  • If you can take a step back and look broader,

  • maybe you can change some of those boxes

  • before the problem.

  • Maybe you can combine them.

  • Maybe you can remove them altogether to make that better.

  • Take thermostats, for instance.

  • In the 1900s when they first came out, they were really simple to use.

  • You could turn them up or turn them down.

  • People understood them.

  • But in the 1970s,

  • the energy crisis struck,

  • and customers started thinking about how to save energy.

  • So what happened?

  • Thermostat designers decided to add a new step.

  • Instead of just turning up and down,

  • you now had to program it.

  • So you could tell it the temperature you wanted at a certain time.

  • Now that seemed great.

  • Every thermostat had started adding that feature.

  • But it turned out that no one saved any energy.

  • Now, why is that?

  • Well, people couldn't predict the future.

  • They just didn't know how their weeks would change season to season,

  • year to year.

  • So no one was saving energy,

  • and what happened?

  • Thermostat designers went back to the drawing board

  • and they focused on that programming step.

  • They made better U.I.s,

  • they made better documentation.

  • But still, years later, people were not saving any energy

  • because they just couldn't predict the future.

  • So what did we do?

  • We put a machine-learning algorithm in instead of the programming

  • that would simply watch when you turned it up and down,

  • when you liked a certain temperature when you got up,

  • or when you went away.

  • And you know what?

  • It worked.

  • People are saving energy without any programming.

  • So, it doesn't matter what you're doing.

  • If you take a step back and look at all the boxes,

  • maybe there's a way to remove one or combine them

  • so that you can make that process much simpler.

  • So that's my first tip: look broader.

  • For my second tip, it's to look closer.

  • One of my greatest teachers was my grandfather.

  • He taught me all about the world.

  • He taught me how things were built and how they were repaired,

  • the tools and techniques necessary to make a successful project.

  • I remember one story he told me about screws,

  • and about how you need to have the right screw for the right job.

  • There are many different screws:

  • wood screws, metal screws, anchors, concrete screws,