RDC Blog

January 2012

Welcome to the Research Design Connections blog, started in 2007. Recent blog entries are available here. Earlier blog entries (one for every working day since the beginning of May, 2007) are available to subscribers.

This is a forum to discuss recent research of interest to designers. To comment on a blog entry, please send an e-mail message to sallyaugustin@researchdesignconnections.com.

March 2015

Research by Studte and her team confirms that napping during the day has benefits.  Their findings support the development of spaces for napping at workplaces, schools, healthcare facilities, etc.  The scientists report that “Many studies have shown that sleep improves memory performance, and that even short naps during the day are beneficial.”  Their new research confirms the positive effects of sleeping for short periods of time (in other words, napping) on memory and learning.

Sara Studte, Emma Bridger, and Axel Mecklinger.  2015.  “Nap Sleep Preserves Associative But Not Item Memory Performance.”  Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, vol. 120, pp. 84-93.

March 2015

Orbach and her colleagues collected information via electronic, sociometric badges that links workplace design and employee communication.  The data they gathered at their study indicates that “workers who were encouraged to utilize flexible seating arrangements in a remodeled space had a higher proportion of face-to-face [and IM] interactions with colleagues outside of their team. . . . We also observed that the likelihood of communication between employees was inversely related to the distance between their seating locations [i.e., more distance, less communication].”  Orbach and colleagues conclude that “Organizations can no longer count on formal hierarchical structures as the primary tool for managing information flow. Informal tools, such as office layouts, group lunches, and chats by the coffee machine, are the management tools of tomorrow as the informal relationship that they enable becomes more and more meaningful than hierarchical formal procedures. While it may seem fantastic, it appears that the identity of your boss is less important than the identity of your neighbor.”

Maya Orbach, Maegen Demko, Jeremy Doyle, Benjamin Waber, and Alex Pentland.  2015.  “Sensing Informal Networks in Organizations.”  American Behavioral Scientist, vol. 59, no. 4, pp. 508-524.

March 2015

Anthropologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, studied the hormonal balance of men returning home.  They determined (and reported in the Royal Society journal Biological Letters) that “Absence, it seems, really does make the heart grow fonder. . . .That’s according to . . . anthropologists, who found that levels of the “love” hormone oxytocin increases among Tsimane men when they come home to their families after a day of hunting. . . .The Tsimane are an indigenous population of forager-farmers and hunters who live in the lowlands of Bolivia’s Amazon basin. . . . So how can the findings among a group of indigenous hunter-gatherers in central Bolivia be applied to modern Western culture? ‘I think the ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ effect could potentially be very widespread,’ said Jaeggi [a study author]. ‘Reconnecting with their families after a day of separation would have been a very common challenge for men throughout evolutionary history, and oxytocin could help with that. Another interesting correlation, Trumble [another study author] noted, is that the average Tsimane hunt lasts eight and a half hours, roughly equivalent to a workday here.”  Understanding hormonal changes concurrent with homecoming can aid interpretation of research insights, for example.

“Glad to Be Home.”  2015.  Press release, University of California, Santa Barbara, http://www.news.ucsb.edu (Andrea Estrada).

March 2015

Repositioning the distribution points for bicycles and increasing the number of bikes available could increase ridership in bike-sharing programs by almost 30%.  A press release from the University of Chicago’s Booth business school, indicates that “Although bike-sharing systems have attracted considerable attention, they are falling short of their potential to transform urban transportation. . . . it is possible for cities to increase ridership without spending more money on bikes or docking points—simply by redesigning the network. . . . [Researchers] studied the effects on ridership of station accessibility, or how far the commuter must walk to reach the station, and bike-availability, or the likelihood of finding a bike at the station [in Paris]. The team observed 349 bike stations every two minutes and gathered a total of 22 million data snapshots, or the equivalent of 2.5 million bike trips. . . . [They] determined that a 10 percent reduction in distance traveled to access a bike-share station can increase ridership by 6.7 percent, and that a 10 percent increase in bike-availability can increase ridership by almost 12 percent. By taking these commuter preferences into account, the central Paris bike-share system could increase ridership by 29.4 percent.”

“Location, Location, Location:  Bike-Sharing Systems Need to Revamp to Attract More Riders.”  2015.  Press release, University of Chicago Booth School of Business, http://www.chicagobooth.edu.

March 2015

Getting odd reports about odors in spaces or linked to objects?  Rodriguez and her team completed research that may help explain your data.  They determined that “In two studies, participants were asked to view images of heavy [overweight or obese] and thin individuals while smelling substances that, unbeknownst to them, were odorless. Across both studies, the results showed that the substances were perceived to smell worse when they were paired with images of heavy individuals than when they were paired with images of thin individuals.”

A. Rodriguez, A. Tomiyama and A. Ward.  “What Does Weight Stigma Smell Like?  Cross-Modal Influence of Visual Weight Cues on Olfaction.”  International Journal of Obesity, in press.

March 2015

Weather can create challenges that are difficult for workplace design to overcome.  A press release issued by the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management indicates that “The best time to invest in U.S. Treasury securities may be spring, thanks to seasonal variations in investor risk tolerance linked to depression. A team of finance researchers found that the monthly return on those securities showed an average swing of 80 basis points between October –when returns peaked –and April, when they bottomed out. ‘Maybe it seems like a small number, but in the world of Treasuries, that kind of a systematic difference is huge,’ says study co-author Lisa Kramer. . . . She and her fellow researchers found that the fluctuation was linked to seasonal depression, called seasonal affective disorder (SAD) in its severest form. That was true even after controlling for other possible explanations, such as investors using Treasury securities as a hedge against stock market volatility, Treasury debt supply fluctuations, auction cycles, data mining, and even bad weather.”  The study reporting these findings will soon be published in Critical Finance Review.

“Winter Months SAD for US Treasury Securities, Study Reveals.”  2015.  Press release, University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management, http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca

March 2015

People viewing art have clear expectations for the direction of apparent motion in still images such as artwork.  Walker asked,  “What artistic conventions are used to convey the motion of animate and inanimate items in still images, such as drawings and photographs?”  He reports that  “One graphic convention involves depicting items leaning forward into their movement, with greater leaning conveying greater speed. . . . people . . . expect to see, or prefer to see, lateral movement (real or implied) in a left to right direction, rather than a right to left direction. . . . This left-to-right bias is also observed when designers italicize text to convey notions of motion and speed. It even applies to typography in Hebrew where the reader's eyes scan from right-to-left.” 

Peter Walker.  2015.  “Depicting Visual Motion in Still Images:  Forward Leaning and a Left to Right Bias for Lateral Movement.”  Perception, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 111-128.

March 2015

The fonts in which messages are presented influence our responses to them.  So does how easy it is to pronounce what’s written in that font.  Manley and his team learned that when interventions were presented to patients, “The easier the font was to read, the less complex the intervention was perceived.”  In more detail: when “the title and font of the PIS [participant information sheet] had been manipulated [by changing how easy the title was to pronounce and how easy the font it was written in was to read] to create four experimental conditions (i.e., Double Fluent; Double Awkward; Fluent Title-Awkward Font; Awkward Title-Fluent Font). . . . [study participants] rated the Double Awkward condition as significantly more complex than the Double Fluent . . . and Awkward Title-Fluent Font . . . conditions.”  The implications for descriptions of design-related research programs are clear.

Andrew Manley, Tina Lavender, and Debbie Smith.  2015.  “Processing Fluency Effects:  Can the Content and Presentation of Participant Information Sheets Influence Recruitment and Participation for an Antenatal Intervention?” Patient Education and Counseling, vol. 98, no. 3, pp. 391-394.

March 2015

Nighttime light can be bad for nature—so deploy it responsibly.  A press release from the University of Exeter, reporting on work published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, indicates that “Artificial night time light from sources such as street lamps affects the growth and flowering of plants and even the number of insects that depend on those plants for food. . . . Researchers from the University of Exeter simulated the effects of street lighting on artificial grassland plots containing a community of invertebrates at night, exposing them to two different types of light treatment – a ‘white’ light similar to newer commercial LED street lighting systems and an ‘amber’ light simulating the type of sodium street lamp still found in much of the UK. . . . The low intensity amber light was shown to inhibit, rather than induce, flowering in greater bird’s foot trefoil, a wild relative of peas and beans that is a key source of food for the pea aphid in grasslands and road verges. . . . the number of aphids was significantly suppressed under the light treatment in mid-August due to the limited amount of food available.”

“Light Pollution Shown to Affect Plant Growth and Food Webs.”  2015.  Press release, University of Exeter, http://www.exeter.ac.uk.