David Sharpe

Answer this question: How many animals of each kind did Moses take on the Ark? Even though it doesn’t take much thought to realize it was Noah, not Moses, who built the Ark, most people answer “two” because of hard-wired cognitive shortcuts, called heuristics, that influence our perception and judgment — even our emotions.

This example comes from On Second Thought: Outsmarting Your Mind’s Hard-Wired Habits, a new book by Wray Herbert that explains how such rules of thumb, which helped our primitive forbears make “automatic” life-and-death decisions in a hostile environment, are still at work today, helping us to navigate an increasingly complex modern world.

Recently, experiments have shown that how well we absorb and interpret information depends not just on the content but on the container. In one example, half of the subject group read questions or instructions printed in a clear, plain black typeface; the rest saw the same questions in a light gray cursive script that was more difficult to read. For a question such as, “Which country is famous for cuckoo clocks, chocolate, banks, and pocket knives,” nine out of 10 people who read the clear black typeface correctly answered “Switzerland,” but of those reading the question in the difficult typeface, only about half got it right.

Use your smartphone to download the free Microsoft Tag Reader at http://gettag.mobi, then photograph this tag. It will take you to our redesign video.
Use your smartphone to download the free Microsoft Tag Reader at http://gettag.mobi, then photograph this tag. It will take you to our redesign video.

Of course, it isn’t always so ... black and white. But it’s pretty clear that the way something looks influences how quickly we process the information it contains, and even how much we like it and how valuable we think it is. Marketers put this knowledge to good use. If you don’t believe me, stop in the breakfast cereal aisle at your local grocery store and see how long it takes you to give up trying to process the dozens of options available before simply grabbing a box of Kellogg’s Corn Flakes. My point (finally) is that the magazine looks different this month because we’ve redesigned it, both editorially and graphically. That means that there’s new stuff, such as the online table of contents in the magazine and the new Dashboard department; and familiar stuff, like the Before + After feature; plus some stuff that’s a mix, like the Opinion section, which features our familiar columnists but adds a rotating lineup of additional writers. (Click here to see a video about the REMODELING magazine redesign.)

It’s good information, and good-looking, too. That should make it easier for you to face the life-and-death decisions that will determine your success in the complex environment we call the remodeling business. The first of those good decisions was to pick up this magazine.

I hope it becomes “automatic.”

—Sal Alfano, editorial director, REMODELING.