Learning to design is learning to see, an adventure that gets more and more captivating the further you go. A love letter to my profession.
Our mind is not a camera. Seeing is not a passive act. We see what we expect to see, or, as Anaïs Nin put it so beautifully: “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” The idea that our perception is as much a result of what we are able to know as of what we expect to find is not new. Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason is based on this insight:
Up to now it has been assumed that all our cognition must conform to the objects; but let us once try whether we do not get further by assuming that the objects must conform to our cognition.
In the meantime, cognitive psychology has followed Kant’s “Copernican Revolution-in-reverse”. Our perception is defined by what cognitive psychologists call a “perceptual set”.
Perceptual set is a tendency to perceive or notice some aspects of the available sensory data and ignore others. Perceptual set works in two ways:
1. The perceiver has certain expectations and focuses attention on particular aspects of the sensory data
2. The perceiver knows how to classify, understand and name selected data and what inferences to draw from it. —Perceptual Set, by Saul McLeod
The way expectation can influence our cognitive set can be illustrated quite easily: