There is no general theory of problem-solving, or even a reliable set of principles that will usually work. It’s therefore interesting to see how our brains actually go about solving problems. Here’s an interesting feature that you might not have guessed: when faced with an imperfect situation, our first move to improve it tends to involve adding new elements, rather than taking away. We are, in general, resistant to subtractive change. Leidy Klotz is an engineer and designer who has worked with psychologists and neuroscientists to study this phenomenon. We talk about how our relative blindness to subtractive possibilities manifests itself, and what lessons might be for design more generally.
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Leidy Klotz received his Ph.D. in Architectural Engineering from Penn State University. He is currently Copenhaver Associate Professor of Engineering Systems and Environment and Architecture at the University of Virginia. Before becoming a professor, he worked as a school designer, and before that was a professional soccer player for the Pittsburgh Riverhounds. His new book is Subtract: The Untapped Science of Less.
- Web site
- University of Virginia web page
- Google Scholar publications
- “People Systematically Overlook Subtractive Changes,” Adams, Converse, Hales and Klotz, 2021.