When Categorisation Goes Wrong

Magic Beans

A few months ago, I attended a design conference. Aside from the great and insightful experience that it was, this is a personal story about categorisation, and how my distracted brain let me down.

The story is just four-and-a-half minutes long, and I welcome all laughter at my expense.



Ho ho ho ho! For this UXmas: When Categorisation Goes Wrong.

Hi, I'm David. I'm 27 years old and I'm trying to break into the field of user experience design. I'd like to tell you a short personal story about categorization. As humans our brains are trained to categorize from a very young age. We serve things in categories constantly as this helps us wrap our minds around things. 

As web designers we group things together in hopefully intuitive ways that help our audiences distinguish function. 

A few months back I attended a design conference called Design Matters 17 in Copenhagen, the capital of my country. I'd attended conferences before but I was still a little anxious. I wanted to learn as much as possible whilst also actively gaining as many design contacts as possible. Now, one of the themes of the conference was 'embracing failure'. And this story certainly has something to do with that.

I'd prepared myself well—I'd put together a plan. I was going to use every minute that wasn't a talk by talking to other designers. At the door, we were given goodie bags standard fare for conferences and conventions and the like. The bag itself was a fairly well-made canvas bag with the conference logo on it. Having just arrived and being a little distracted I took quick stock of what was in the bag: One note pad, one pen, one giant eraser with 'Control-C' printed on it, one bottle of bottled water, several bags of hard candies—good ones—and one green can that said 'magic bean'. How my brain categorized it: office supplies and snacks. 

The first day of the conference had gone on without a hitch. I'd made a lot of connections and I felt greatly inspired by the talks of the day, highlight of which had been Molly Nix from Uber's talk on building trust and self driving cars.

Being self taught it was a great experience to be amongst other designers and I thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience. But the story isn't so much about the conference itself. It's about the goody bag. More specifically, the contents of said bag. I feel like this is where I should tell you that I'm a very snacky person. It almost doesn't matter what snacks they are, or if I'm hungry or not. I just can't help myself.

So, by the end of day two at the conference I had very little left in the bag. Except that can. I consumed the very last piece of hard candy as I sat and waited to be picked up by my GoMore ride. 

Now, GoMore is this Danish ride-sharing service in which people who are going someplace fill up their otherwise empty cars with complete strangers who happen to be going in the same direction. 

As I sat and tiredly reflected on the past two days a car pulled into the lot and stopped. It didn't park, it just sat there. That's usually how you recognize your lift. Sure enough, it was my ride. I got into the back seat and greeted the two strangers we then go for the highway.

About 30 minutes and a bunch of small talk later there was a lull in the conversation. I dug into my goody bag for the third time to make sure I hadn't left anything edible behind, but ah I had—the unopened can. I opened the can without really bothering to turn on the light to check the label. I pinched some of the surprisingly granular contents between my fingers and I put some into my mouth. As you've probbably guessed at this point it wasn't a snack. 

Now, on further examination the label said 'magic bean' and had the depiction of a sprout on it. On the back were instructions that told you to simply open the can, add water, and wait. In other words I had just put dirt into my mouth. Because I'd been distracted at the time and because my brain had formed an association anyway, the can had been sorted into the snacks category. Did I tell the people in the car what I'd just done? Of course not. I suddenly spat the dirt into a small plastic bag and pretended that nothing had ever happened. On top of my great experience at the design conference mingling with great minds and finding inspiration in great works of design, I was gently reminded by the universe that I'm a big goofball and that even great packaging design will be misinterpreted by some people. 

Well, that was my story. I hope you enjoyed it. Happy holidays. 

Goodie Bags

David Skødt

David Skødt

I am a junior UX designer, self-taught and—as of writing—unemployed. I come from Denmark, a small and cold country in the northern part of Europe referred to as Scandinavia. Aside from design, I am obsessed with food, movies and rock climbing.

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