2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight: Let's Get Physical - Design + Embodied Cognition

Written by Megan Simpson | February 15, 2014

Michael Hendrix explains how embodied cognition applies to design at SXSW 2014

Michael Hendrix serves a partner at IDEO, a globally renowned design and innovation company. During this installment of the Session Spotlight, we’ll learn about his 2014 SXSW Interactive Panel, “Let's Get Physical - Design + Embodied Cognition” where he’ll discuss how designers can create better human experiences. To learn more about him, follow Hendrix on Twitter @rmichael, where he writes about design and music related things.

SXSW: What does “Let's Get Physical — Design + Embodied Cognition” address?
Hendrix: Quips like, “that’s over my head”, “her looks could kill” or “he’s cold-hearted” reveal deep connections between our physical senses and our emotional experiences. Today scientists are discovering new truths about visceral understanding through language metaphors. Drawing on recent university studies and real world examples, I will give an entertaining presentation on how this emerging science of embodied cognition applies to design. I’ll share how our bodies and minds are not separate, but unified and dependent, shaping our thoughts and experiences, and how this knowledge can help designers reignite their intuition and creativity in the practice of design.

SXSW: Why are you qualified to speak about this?
Hendrix: I've been exploring this topic for the last 18 months, initially introducing it at FUSE, and then hosting an expert panel for AIGA Boston and also sharing at Creative Mornings. I've written an article on the subject for Metropolis entitled "Designing with Metaphors." Overall everyone is quite curious about it, scratching their chins, nodding their heads and wanting more answers. That's great feedback for me because it has challenged me to dig deeper and develop practical applications for others to use.

SXSW: What kinds of people will want to attend this session?
Hendrix: Anyone suspicious of emotions. People in creative fields that trust their intuition but still haven't been able to convince others as to why. Anyone who has ever second-guessed their ideas only to later discover they should have just gone with their initial thought. Rationally-minded people that don't trust anything without analysis but believe there must be something more because the data doesn't always add up to great experience. Designers, filmmakers, UXers and architects should all attend.

SXSW: If a registrant attends your session, what will he or she know at the end of the session that they didn’t know before?
Hendrix: Since René Decartes suggested we were only "minds" in the 1600's we've struggled with over-rationalizing everything. This has created a divide between what is rational and irrational, and has made intuition suspect. An emerging school of psychology is now clearly debunking this misperception, showing that we understand the world viscerally - with our five senses first - and our rational mind second. This is great news for designers because, ironically, it's rational evidence that intuition is a powerful and legitimate design approach.

SXSW: What’s the best book or article you’ve read in relation to “Let's Get Physical - Design + Embodied Cognition?”
Hendrix: It's a little heady, but Metaphors We Live By, by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson is a solid introduction to the concepts of the talk. I take it further by sharing how these concepts are actionable to those in the creative field, ultimately empowering people to make better designs.

SXSW: Have you recently changed your social media habits in an effort to give yourself more privacy?
Hendrix: I absolutely have reduced my social media time…partly out of privacy, but more so because I find it to be a distraction with little pay-off. In some ways it’s become the "boob tube” of the 21st century. Everyone feels informed but there is little substance.

SXSW: What’s something we wouldn’t know about you by reading your official bio?
Hendrix: I collect guitars and rare bourbon. I'm also a musician.

Watch this website for more installments of the 2014 SXSW Interactive Session Spotlight. Click here for the complete list of programming for March in Austin. For tips on interesting sessions to attend, visit the new Recommendation page. Register now to attend “Let's Get Physical - Design + Embodied Cognition” and other incredible programming at SXSW Interactive 2014.