Last night i went to a pub quiz with some friends. Now, i don’t know if you frequent pub quizzes often, but the key to success, in my experience, is to include at least one nerd in each key subject. You need someone who is good at geography (not me), someone great with contemporary popular culture and soap operas (not me), someone good at science and tech (occasionally me) and someone great at sport (is it a roundish ball or the flat one: me).
Yesterday, we veered towards the arts, but with a solid grounding in technology. So when the question came up ‘What colour is the second G in the Google logo?’ i thought we would be on solid ground. Except that we hadn’t a clue. I mean, we knew it was blue or red, or possibly green, and we certainly all knew what the logo as a whole looked like (we could easily recognise it), but the details eluded us.
The same thing happened with the question about the logo for the England National Football team: other than the Three Lions, what are there a hundred of on the crest. We guessed ‘stars’, but the answer is red roses.
How was this happening? How is it possible that for two absolutely iconic logos that we would recognise instantly, even in dim lighting, we were unable to recall the details?
Well, i’m pleased to report that it isn’t totally down to my failing short term memory, no, rather it’s down to the incredible efficiency of my mind and the economies that we use to save space and time. Or, at least, that’s what i’m telling myself.
When we remember situations, we tend to do so with some find detail and lots of patched in backgrounds. Think back to where you were last Christmas. Chances are that you will remember a meal with family or friends, you will know who was there, maybe what you ate, you will recall images of christmas decorations, knives and forks, probably some candles and maybe pulling crackers. But are you remembering the actual meal, or an amalgamation or all Christmas meals, some kind of iconic Christmas myth that serves as a general memory? Maybe there are nuances, a new sister in law, but it’s unlikely that you’ve memorised the exact set of cutlery you used, unless it was new and noteworthy.
Cutlery is cutlery, so i tend to use my mental stock image unless it stands out as being red, or blunt or missing. This is an efficient approach to memory: remember the important details, like who was there and the time the turkey burnt, but fill in the napkins and candles.
So what about Google? I see this logo a hundred times a day, in gmail icons, in search pages, in App icons, how on earth could i misremember what colour part of the logo was? Well, largely because it is so iconic. I don’t remember the detail of the logo every time i see it, i remember the concept, the icon, the badge. At a glimpse at a hundred paces i can recognise what it is, i don’t need to consciously identify the colours. Indeed, Google is one of those brands who are so confident in their iconic status that they deliberately play with this and have a different actual icon every day, each one referencing the ‘original’ one. Each one identifiably ‘google’, but different in the details.
And what should we take away from this for designing learning? Other than the fact that you shouldn’t invite me onto your pub quiz team. Well, understanding that people remember the unusual details, but can paper in the familiar. If we want people to remember details then we need to create disturbance: things that are the same are forgettable, or it’s easy to fill in an iconic placeholder, whilst things that are different stand out. I drive to work everyday, but i only really remember a generic image of the drive. I do however remember clearly the time that my wheel fell off. That kind of thing sticks in your mind, although that’s a different story altogether.
How are you creating difference in your stories? What makes things stand out and how can we use this effect to overcome the efficiency of our memories? We don’t want a learning experience to just blend into the background, to become unforgettable, we want things to be remembered, and we do this by making them relevant, timely, different, by creating disturbance and interest.