November 17, 2011


I’ve been asked about the meaning behind this site’s title enough to finally give it more explanation.

I’ve always been interested in cognitive and behavioral psychology. In particular, how technology and human interaction with computers is influencing how humans think and behave. I think it’s safe to say our everyday behaviors are a collection of our many experiences. This includes experiences that we recall, experiences we can’t remember no matter how hard we try, and experiences we don’t even recall having. When deciding what to name this blog I thought about the writings of several psychological theorists. There were many but the three that stood out at the time were Noel Burch,  Christopher Bollas and Jean Piaget.

Noel Burch

In the 1970′s Burch talked about The Flexibility of the Four Stages of Competence. This theory essentially states there are four stages of understanding between ignorance and mastery. Below I’ve given a brief, high-level view of Burch’s competency model.


  1. Unconscious Incompetence describes someone who has a deficit and doesn’t know it.
  2. Conscious Incompetence describes someone who has a deficit and knows it.
  3. Conscious Competence describes someone who is competent and has to be thoughtful when demonstrating this competence.
  4. Unconscious Competence describes someone who is competent and can demonstrate the competence without deliberate thought. That is the competence has become “second nature”.

Jared Spool has recently written about Burch’s theory, For some reason he suggest this theory has been “lost for decades”.  Psychologist and sales professionals have been actively using these concepts for many years.

Christopher Bollas and Jean Piaget

Bollas coined the phrase “the unthought known”. In part, Bollas’ theory states that as infants our actions play a larger role in our unconscious than simply thinking about an action. That is to say, our unconscious and ultimately our future actions, are shaped by our experiences at an early age. The unthought known is something we “know” but would have a difficult time explaining why it is that we know it. Jean Piaget had a very similar thought in regards to human learning when he defined his theory on Constructivist Learning. Constructivism being the idea that humans, at any age, create meaning via the interaction between experiences and ideas. In Constructivism, empirical experience is the key factor in how and how much we learn.

Influence on My Design

Burch, Bollas and Piaget have influenced how I approach design. The first step for me was to understand that behavior is heavily influenced by the unconscious mind. Next, it was important to recognize that human behavior with technology is no different. That is, often we simply aren’t thinking critically about our actions. We’re just going with the flow and mindlessly completing tasks. To me, the unconscious mind should be a foundational affordance in all of our designs.

Posted In Theory, User Experience.