Mind Slips


Idea taken from the book “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman.

As it’s name suggests, this book focus strongly on the User Interaction (UI) of “everyday things”. And these are not limited to just physical objects.

The principles mentioned in the book can still be used today in ‘intangible’ processes.

One of the key takeaways from this book is the concept on ‘Mind Slips’.

Your Mind Slipped

Ever walked into a room and suddenly could NOT remember what you are doing there? What were you supposed to be doing there? Were you there to retrieve something? Were you there to deposit something?

What was it you were doing?!

There. You just experienced a ‘Mind Slip’.

When/Where do Mind Slips Occur?

In “skilled behavior”, according to Don Norman.

This refers to behaviors that you have already mastered or are part of your regular routine. Things like putting the water to boil, or typing.

And they result mostly from the lack of attention. And they can happen when we are multitasking.

Mind slips rarely occur when you are focusing or are learning a new behavior / skill.

Types of Mind Slips

Don Norman notes 6 types of Mind Slips in the book;

  • Capture Errors:

When the initial phase of an action is similar to that of another action. You end up doing the unintended action

Eg. You head to the toilet to pee. But end up brushing your teeth. 

**This mind slip reminds us that work processes or SOPs should be well thought out. Especially if the dysfunction of these work processes would lead to negative, irreversible damage.

  • Description Errors:

Usually occurs when interacting with objects. Description errors occur when the right interaction is done on the wrong object, simply because the action is not specific to the object. This occurs when we are distracted or tired or just not focused.

Eg. Throwing laundry into the bin instead of the laundry bag (when they are placed side by side, and look similar). Or, pouring broth instead of oil into a pan (when they are stored in similar looking containers).

**This mind slip to me, is the most eye opening as it suggests that we should take a look at how we organise objects at our living or working spaces. I would think that the organisation of objects and the layout of a workplace dealing with processes that relies heavily on humans would have to be done up with a greater degree of thought and design thinking.

  • Data-driven errors:

Certain actions are ‘data-driven’, meaning you will take in data from your surroundings and act on it. Data-driven errors occur when an incoming data intrudes with the ongoing action and screws it up.

Eg. Dialing the fast food delivery number because you were looking at a flyer, but in actual fact you were supposed to call a family member. 

  • Associative Activation errors:

Similar to data-driven errors, but associative activation errors are due to internal ‘data’, or associations.

Eg. Saying something awkward out loud in a social setting when you were supposed to be just thinking about it.  

  • Loss-of-activation errors:

Forgetting the rest of the action sequence. Similar to the situation mentioned in the introduction.

Eg. Walking into a room and are suddenly unsure what you are doing there.

  • Mode errors:

Common with digital applications or hardware with different functions mapped to the same action, at different modes. Mode errors commonly occur when the instrument doesn’t clearly indicate the mode it is currently in.

Eg. Trying to start the stopwatch on your digital watch but end up resetting the settings.

These are just a summary based on my takeaways. Read Chapter 5 of The Design of Everyday Things if you want to learn more.

So what?

So what has mind slips have to do with anything?

Well, we started this post with the introduction to the book “The Design of Everyday Things” by Don Norman.

The mind slips give us an insight into the importance of design thinking. Not just for the design or packaging of your product, service or brand.

More importantly, we should be designing (or redesigning) processes and action sequences in our business or even our daily lives to reduce the potential of mind slips occurring.

Throwing the laundry into the trash bin isn’t too big a deal.

But, constantly processing the wrong drink order can piss your clients off and be detrimental to your business.

What are some ways you can optimise your business processes?


Feature Image Source: Cover of “The Design of Everyday Things”

Written by Yen Yee

Yen Yee

An aspiring digital entrepreneur who continues to learn and find her way around in the online world.


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