Conceptual integrity

I was listening to an interesting off-topic podcast when a charming philosopher called Peter Hacker popped up and said this:

If the conceptual framework is awry then incoherence ensues. Questions that make no sense will be asked. Experiments will be designed to answer questions that make no sense. And the results of experiments will be misunderstood and misinterpreted. These are serious matters.

He was attacking the foundations of modern neuroscience. But it rang so many bells for me that I stopped in the middle of St James’s Park to rewind and write it down.

Because I see this in businesses I work with all the time - smart, motivated people working really hard to find answers to questions that just don’t make sense. It’s maddening.

In fact, user experience designers get so frustrated with this that we often end up blaming the visible tools used to get these answers (web analytics, A/B testing, focus groups) rather than the invisible assumptions that led to the questions.

So where do these assumptions come from?

They come from what Peter Hacker calls the conceptual framework. Or what Dorian Taylor, in one of my current favourite posts on user experience design, calls ‘conceptual integrity’:

The chief export of the principal user experience professional on the scene is conceptual integrity—a term I see and hear far too scarcely in this line of work. To borrow from Brooks again, who, by the way, coined the term in the 1970sconceptual integrity is the state when the mental model of both the user and application is unified across the whole team, lest there otherwise be a different mental model for every person on the team.

Developing and communicating conceptual integrity is a lovely way to think about the user experience work we already do in organisations.

And if it channels the energy of all of the smart, motivated people working in organisation in a more productive direction, then it’s a challenge that I like the sound of…