Last year I read Malcolm Gladwell’s book entitled Blink and since then, one study he described resonated with me and has popped up in my mind numerous times.

He describes an experiment done by psychologist Samuel Gosling which had 80 college students fill in a personality questionnaire about themselves. He then had their close friends fill in the same questionnaire. Gosling then used total strangers who had never met the students they were judging to fill in another questionnaire after spending 15 minutes looking around the student’s dorm room.

What did he discover? The strangers were not very accurate at measuring extraversion or agreeableness (how helpful and trusting someone is). However, they were more accurate than the friends were at measuring conscientiousness, emotional stability and their openness to new experiences. On balance, the strangers ended up doing a much better job.

Gladwell writes:

What this suggests is that it is quite possible for people who have never met us and who have spent only twenty minutes thinking about us to come to a better understanding of who we are than people who have known us for years. Forget the endless “getting to know” meetings and lunches, then. If you want to get a good idea of whether I’d make a good employee, drop by my house one day and take a look around.

Gosling says that a person’s bedroom shows:

  1. Identity claims: how we would like to be seen by the world.
  2. Behavioural residue: inadvertant clues we leave behind (dirty laundry on the floor, alphabetized CD collection etc)
  3. Thoughts and feelings regulators: changes we make to our most personal spaces to affect the way we feel when we inhabit them: a scented candle in the corner, decorative pillows etc.

By looking at someone’s bedroom, or house – and not just what they own, but what they don’t own – you learn so much about a person.

I remember some of the bedrooms and houses of people I’ve gone to visit – sometimes I barely knew the person yet their rooms made a lasting impression and I could guess a lot about the person they would be, had I got to know them better. We recently had some people over to our house who we’d known for some time but as they entered our house, they started making comments about how they liked the furniture and space etc. Entering into someone’s house for the first time is fun – so many things to observe and take in.

I’ve been thinking about how this applies to blog and web design. Blogs are often deeply personal – full of deep thoughts and inner feelings. MySpace users spend hours working updating their page and customising it to be unique and to express who they are.

But I’ve a feeling that the tools often hinder our dreams.

Unlike a bedroom where you can push around furniture, buy a new piece of art to hang on the wall or paint the walls without too much skill required, blog and web design is still – despite recent advances – often a frustrating experience for people. So blog templates are common and everyone’s bedroom looks rather familiar and unintriguing.

Yes, blogs aren’t all about the design but imagine if going to a new blog was always like visiting someone’s house for the first time: something which immediately expresses so much about the personality of the blogger you’re visiting.

If you looked around your lounge or bedroom and took photographs of five things which expressed something of those three items above, what would they be and why? Are there items you have thought about adding to your blog’s design to make it seem more like an expression of you? What would they be?

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