Minding Design.

Linking behavioral science and the design of spaces, services, and objects.

One tool, one function

Many of the physical tools we have, like a skillet, a hammer, or a snow shovel, are defined by a function rather than their physical qualities. A skillet could be used to drive in nails but we’re unlikely to use it this way. Do we have a bias to assign an exclusive function to each tool?

It seems so. In a study testing how fast people make tool-function pairings, “participants showed fixity immediately upon learning an object’s function… Adults appear deeply compelled to attach functions to objects, but in so doing, they may be less likely to perceive an object’s potential for other uses.“

The tech tools we use, like computers or smartphones have endless functions. Does that mean we have a single “dominant” function for each of these tools (maybe different for each person)? Or, does the last function we performed with a device become the “dominant” one for our next interaction with it?

If we want to perform a non-dominant function with a device like a smartphone, maybe it makes sense to choose a different, more specialized, tool. While a smartphone can act as a mediation timer, using it for that function might lead to distraction if the dominant function (e.g., web browsing) is automatically primed when interacting with the object.

What leads to office clutter?

Hotels as public spaces