Explaining the world one sketch at a time

Hotel drying technique: a guest washes their underwear in the sink before rolling in a towel, wringing well and leaving it to dry overnight. Clean, fresh underwear in the morning!

Hotel Drying Technique

Here's a helpful technique when you want to freshen-up some clothing at a hotel and need it to dry quickly. It's useful when you've packed one day short or need an extra day's wear out of something. The hotel drying technique: Wash the item in the sink/shower. Rinse out as much as you can directly with a squeeze. Lay a towel flat and place the item on top. Roll the towel up tight, making multiple layers of clothing, towel, clothing, towel. Wring the towel well, working your way up and down. A lot of the water will transfer from the clothes to the towel. Repeat as necessary, perhaps placing the item in a different, drier patch of the towel. Leave the item to dry that last bit overnight while you sleep. With any luck, your underwear will be wearable again in the morning. And if it's not quite there, there's often a hair dryer to help finish off. Of course, the technique works anywhere, but it's convenient in hotels where you don't have to worry about drying the towel afterwards. This tip was discovered by my wife—like many of my most handy lifehacks—in this case while backpacking together in Central America. Also see: Hotel HQ; Enjoy your hotel room more
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Self-serving bias illustration: two tennis players think on their contrasting fortunes, the winner proud of their athleticism (character), and the loser blaming the umpire (the situation).

Self-serving bias

A self-serving bias is one where we attribute our failures to external factors and our successes to our own admirable qualities and efforts. So, a tennis player might internally credit their athleticism and skill for their victory, while the loser may blame the umpire's decisions, their racket or the court. You might have seen it in professional sports. Self-serving bias may be rational and positive, maintaining our self-esteem and a positive view of ourselves. Conversely, it can hide reality (and give referees and umpires a more draining job) or cause us to reject negative but objective feedback. Self-serving bias is a form of attribution bias where we misattribute behaviours or events to characteristics rather than circumstances or vice versa. Self-serving bias is covered nicely (pdf) by Donelson R. Forsyth in the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, 2nd Edition.
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The Overton Window illustration: with the example of two children lobbying their parents on bedtime policies and the range of politically acceptable ideas

The Overton Window

The Overton window is a simple device to consider the full spectrum of policy ideas and identify the range of politically acceptable ones. Attitudes generally change slowly, as does policy to support them—with exceptions. Ideas that seemed radical or unthinkable at one time may gradually become plausible and popular. As this happens, the Overton Window shifts or expands. Consider how attitudes have changed towards slavery, segregation, women's rights, animal welfare or gay marriage. Or consider policies made alongside the development of driverless cars or supporting sustainable energy. At one time, prohibition—banning the production and sale of alcohol—was popular enough to become policy in the US, though it would be unlikely to be proposed now. Generally, the public is unlikely to elect politicians if they stand on policies too far outside the Overton window. And elected politicians will have difficulty enacting policies outside the window. Named after Joseph Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, the original model was a cardboard window that could slide over paper, and looking through the window, you could see policy options in one direction towards more government control and in the other towards less government control. He called it the window of political possibilities. The Centre named it after him after his death. He made the slider vertical to avoid associations with the political left or right.
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Design by committee illustration: A person demonstrates a camel as the solution to all the requirements for Horse 2.0

Design by committee

A camel is a horse designed by a committee, so the saying goes. It's not fair on camels, which are remarkable animals, but the idea that meeting everyone's requirements leads to a weaker product without a strong vision has a lot of truth to it. Like a remote control with 50 buttons or a policy so watered-down by different requirements that it has no effect, design by committee can be the death of an initiative. Part of strong product leadership and creating designs that wow is having an opinion, saying no, and not trying to please everybody. Much easier said than done. To bring it home, the movie Pentagon Wars has an entertaining satirical scene about the evolution of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle (11 mins). The clip shows how the plan for an infantry transport vehicle became "a troop transport that can't carry troops, a reconnaissance vehicle that's too conspicuous to do reconnaissance. And a quasi-tank that has less armor than a snow-blower but has enough ammo to take out half of D.C." Perhaps most informative is the effect on the motivation and morale of the designers—"Can you make it amphibious?" Also see: groupthink, the tyranny of small decisions, the Abilene paradox, the bandwagon effect. Or Jeff Bezos' guidance: Be stubborn on vision. Be flexible on details.
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The Droste effect illustration: where the picture contains the picture which contains the picture which contains the picture...

The Droste effect

The Droste effect is an endless picture-in-picture—a part of the picture contains the whole picture, which contains the picture, which contains the picture, and on. Most of us are likely familiar with it from the fun visual effect you often see when sharing your screen on a video call, which contains the video call where you're sharing your screen, on which is the video call where... Always entertaining. Google calls it an infinity mirror. The name derives from a Dutch brand of cocoa powder, Droste, where the classic advert was a picture of a nurse carrying a tray with a box of the cocoa powder, with the picture of the woman on it carrying the tray with a box of the cocoa... Articles about the Droste effect often mention the amazing M.C. Escher's Print gallery, a picture without beginning or end.
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Chihuahua syndrome illustration: an analyst wonders at the number of dog breeds when most of them are misspellings of chihuahua

Chihuahua syndrome

Chihuahua syndrome refers to messy data from variations in spelling or input—Chihuahua is easy to misspell. The quality of your data matters—errors can creep in anywhere, particularly when people enter data. Garbage in, garbage out. Here's Chris Groskopf quoted in Seeing with Fresh Eyes—Meaning, Space, Data, Truth by Edward Tufte: "There is no worse way to screw up data than to let a single human type it in, without validation. I acquired a complete dog licensing database. Instead of requiring people registering their dog to choose a breed from a list, the system gave dog owners a text field to type into, so this database had 250 spellings of Chihuahua. Even the best tools can't save messy data. Beware of human-entered data." —Chris Groskopf Capitals, spaces, misspellings, hyphens, numbers stored as text, numbers entered as letters (I, O), accents, straight/curly apostrophes, dates out of order, languages, dialects, abbreviations, and more are all routes for misleading your analysis. Spend time with your data. The name The chihuahua syndrome is from Edward Tufte.
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Dark patterns: using design to deceive, like hiding the 'I don't need insurance' option in the country list rather than as its own option

Dark patterns

Dark patterns are when people design interfaces intending to deceive or trick. Sadly we are all familiar with these. They're everywhere.  It could be the free trial that unexpectedly led to a subscription or the subscription that was easy to sign up for but had to be canceled by mailing in a letter. Or it could be an outward attempt at giving control over privacy but with options so confusing as to do the opposite. Perhaps you tried to adjust cookie preferences on a news website but could only find a button to 'Accept all' after editing your preferences—grrrr! Tricking people like this into sharing more information than intended has come to be known as Privacy Zuckering. Remember popups that could only be closed once you found a tiny 'x' that moved around the screen? I recently wanted to pause a subscription only to be told it would invalidate all the accumulated unused credits I'd paid for (I'm still paying). The Pudding published a great analysis of unsubscribing from online services. At times this may be unintentional—there's naturally less incentive to work on great account closing and unsubscribe experiences than on signing up. The example in the sketch was a real one I experienced (I wish I'd grabbed a screenshot) from an airline website where the designers buried the option not to buy insurance within the country select list. And they're not just online. Sneaky casinos employ design in the physical world for their gain, such as removing references to time passing, such as clocks or windows, using mazelike navigation and the continual winning sounds of jingling coins.  "Dark patterns" was coined by Harry Brignull and documented at the Deceptive patterns site and now a book.
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The isolation effect: remembering better what stands out from a set of otherwise like items in a set. Also known as the Von Restorff effect

The isolation effect

The isolation effect is our tendency to remember an item that stands out in some way from a set of otherwise similar items—you might easily guess, for example, which name we are more likely to remember from a list of Tom, Terry, Angelica, Theo and Tyler. When presenting information, the isolation effect is practical if you wish to draw attention to specific items. By standardising the presentation of other items in a list, maybe by muting the colours, making them the same size, or removing features that stand out, you can draw people's attention and improve people's memory of your chosen items. The isolation effect is standard in web design by using distinctiveness: red notification bubbles on a set of otherwise homogenous apps, a "most popular" plan more prominent than the other options, or a Call-To-Action (CTA) button in a contrasting colour. The isolation effect is also known as the Von Restorff effect after the German psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff. See, for example, Hunt, R.R. The subtlety of distinctiveness: What von Restorff really did. Psychonomic Bulletin & Review 2, 105–112 (1995) for a summary of Von Restorff's most cited paper on the effect.
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