Human Interaction Design

July 2, 2010 § 4 Comments

A story to share.

Sitting at the bar the other night, an acquaintance of mine walked by with his new girlfriend at his side. She’s also an acquaintance of mine, almost a full-fledged friend. I turned to say hello to him. His face lights up, he sticks his hand out to shake mine and then goes in for a full man-hug.

I hug him back.

“Dude!” He says. “Great to see you!”

His exuberance caught me by surprise.

“Good to see you, too.” I reply in kind, smiling. Always nice to get some love.

“I haven’t seen you in forever!” He says.

“Yeah, it’s been a while. How you been?” I ask, trying to keep my voice up to match his mood.

“It has, it has been a while. I’m doing well!” He says. He then looks down, snaps his fingers a couple times, then raises his head and looks me in the eye. “I haven’t seen you since that time you were walking out of the Red Garter Lounge with Josh.”

(For those who need the obvious spelled out for them, the Red Garter Lounge is a house of moderately ill repute.)

“That’s weird.” I say. “I’ve never been there.”

“Really?” He asks, his face paling, grasping for answers.

“No, man.” I say, shaking my head. “I don’t even know where it is.”

“Oh my God, man. I’m so sorry.” Scrambling, he asks, “You know a guy named Josh Smith?”

“No.” I say. “Never heard of him.”

Then his face, once drawn, suddenly lights up. He puts his hand on my shoulder, leans in a touch. “Man, I’m so sorry, you look just like this guy I know. It’s amazing.”

“That’s funny.” I say. “You’ve told me that before.” (He has.)

“No, man. You really do.” Pause. “But it’s cool you’re not him. Because that guy’s a douchebag.”

I furrow my brow. “But you seemed so happy to see that guy. You even hugged me thinking it was him.”

“Yeah, I know.” He said. “But trust me, that guy’s a douchebag.”

“Cool, I guess.” I said.

We talked for a few more moments and then he left.


This story, albeit extreme in example, illuminated the many ways we interact with each other. Nearly all of us do this on some level. Sometimes, it’s a relative we can’t stand and end up treating them like royalty. Sometimes, it’s an old acquaintance that we never had strong feelings for and we ask them a million questions about their lives to feign interest.

Other times, it works the other way. Sometimes, we really like someone, but we don’t want them to think we like them too much, so we dampen our mood. Or maybe we try really hard to act a certain way because we think a person will accept us better if we act that certain way. We are weird beings.

We act this way to grease the skids of society. Our personal worlds—and the world at large—tend to function better when we are all getting along, our actual feelings aside. This is basic human interaction. How we act in a scenario where we are changing the face of our actual feelings is human interaction design.

That guy in the bar that night obviously thinks my doppelganger is a douchebag. Why would he treat me so exuberantly, then? Maybe the guy in the bar likes hanging out with douchebags because he himself is a douchebag. Maybe the guy in the bar is in a one-down position at work and needs to be nice to the douchebag. Or maybe he acts that way because he feels compelled by religious or spiritual reasons. Who knows. Ultimately, though, his overreaction to seeing his douchebag friend ultimately served to let the world function a little better. All this even if his act of exuberance bred discomfort in him.

Or he could just be a heartless manipulator who doesn’t feel discomfort. All of which would make his design much more complex and disturbing.


§ 4 Responses to Human Interaction Design

  • jefftzucker says:

    Addendum: A huge blind spot in my post is that of religion’s and/or spirituality’s role in human interaction. Some may be changing the face of their actual feelings in a design, but it’s one of being true to God or The Golden Rule or just what feels *right*. In this sense, it is a selfless act.

    A selfish act would be the person doing something merely for personal gain. The worst of the selfish actors would be those with no conscience or moral compass.

    However, those folks at the extreme end of either spectrum tend to freak most people out.

    Both the selfish and the selfless grease the skids of society in their own way. (There is “why an act takes place” and there is what that “why” serves to cause.) It’s when the grease starts to grind that many are sent packing.

  • John says:

    I will go one more step…people hate the thought that anyone doesn’t like them, even people they don’t like…this is far more pronounced in the midwest, where people seem to internallize things more and fuel nice emotional blow-outs later in life…

  • jefftzucker says:

    John – Good point. Sometimes we just want someone to like us or not not like us. Then we feel false and weird and end up with some strange middle-age teenaged angst about the world being full of phonies and fakes and how we perpetuate it. That or a Porsche, a healthy Lunesta habit, and alcohol.

    I heard a story from a friend on the West Coast that a friend of his took his new fiancee to meet his parents in the Midwest. After the visit, his fiancee said to him, “That went well, I think they liked me.”

    To which he replied, “You can’t tell. They would’ve treated you the same either way.”

  • Kip says:

    This was a fun post, Jeff.
    So, is there a certain product you would design for this scenario?

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