Herd Immunity

Herd immunity means we’ll ever only be as strong as our biggest fool. Right on queue, out biggest fool, Jack Dorsey, goes out and gives the anti-vaccination movement a ringing endorsement. As reported by NBC News, Jack went on Ben Greenfield’s podcast. He then tweeted this out:

“Thanks Ben. Appreciate all you do to simplify the mountain of research focused on increasing one’s healthspan! Grateful for you.”

It’s honestly hard to be this stupid. At a time when even Facebook is cracking down on anti-vaxxer misinformation, Jack decides to double down.

As tribute to his stupidity, here’s this week’s book excerpt. (Yes, I did write about vaccinations in a design book!) Book’s out in April, btw. Stay tuned for more info.


excerpt from Ruined by Design

Hi. Let’s piss some people off by talking about vaccines.

The measles vaccine was introduced to the United States in the 60’s, and then in 1971 it was rolled into MMR vaccine. Measles is the first M, the second M is mumps, and the R is Rubella. That’s probably how you got the vaccine as a kid. Your first cocktail!

According to the CDC, prior to the vaccine, 3 to 4 million people in the United States were infected per year. 48,000 were hospitalized, and 400 to 500 died. Those numbers are yearly. By 1981, the measles vaccine had reduced those numbers by eighty percent. At this point, the CDC began recommending a second dose. In 2000, the CDC declared the measles epidemic eliminated in the United States. There’s data for all of this. Go online, check out CDC.gov. They’ve got piles of data. This story can end right here as a raging success: There was a problem. Smart people designed a cure, and put it in a vaccine. We all got a shot plus a lollipop, and everyone lived happily ever after.

To be fair, measles wasn’t totally eliminated in the United States. There were always a few cases here and there, usually around fifty a year or so. In 2014, however, the CDC reported 667 cases of measles. Why? According to Jane Seward, CDC deputy director of the Division of Viral Diseases, as quoted in The Atlantic:

 “The vast majority of our cases every single year are unvaccinated people who choose not to be vaccinated. They are living in a family who are unvaccinated and they have friends who are unvaccinated. They might go to a school with a high proportion of people who are unvaccinated.”

People stopped believing the data. Somewhere between when the measles vaccine was first made available and when our collective memory of children dying from the measles had passed into legend, we stopped believing the data. Despite a total lack of data, parents started believing the vaccine was actually dangerous to their children. Why? Because people are not data-driven mammals. People make decisions based on feelings and emotion more than they make decisions based on data. I’m guilty of this myself.

Silicon Valley claims to be obsessed with data. (I blame Moneyball.) Take a look through any of the Silicon Valley rags or the tech section of the three newspapers still standing and you’ll see about three stories a day on data. How to get it. What to do with it. Who’s selling it to whom. Who needs it. How to protect yours. We’ve collected more data in the last ten years than we can process in the next hundred. No one can exactly remember why we’re collecting it, but everyone’s afraid to stop. Yet, with all this data at our disposal, we’ve created a garbage fire run by platforms of vitriol. Here’s some more data: we’re idiots.

Like any good designer, I work with data. If you’re designing something for people to use and no one can use it, that’s data. You’d be a fool to ignore the data. If I’m hired to fix a system that’s been in place for a few years, I’ve probably got a few years of data to study, and I’d be an idiot to ignore it. (Just like parents would be idiots to ignore decades of data on measles vaccines.) While you’re designing, you’re like a scientist. You study every data point. It’s the smart thing to do. Then you gotta persuade people the work is right. Hold onto your butts…

The minute you put a design solution in front of data-driven Silicon Valley types, they start talking about feelings. 

“This feeeeeels wrong.” 

“I’m not feeeeeeling it.” 

“Oh, I like the feel of this!” 

It’s a little crazy-making, but it’s also understandable. I told you people don’t make decisions based on data; they make them based on feelings. For the record, men have so many more feelings than women do. We make all our decisions based on feelings; we just lie and say it’s data. Want proof? Watch a guy buy a TV sometime. 

So, while you should absolutely include the study of data in your approach, recognize that when you get to the point where you’re trying to persuade someone about good work, you need a story. Work like a scientist but present like a snake-charmer. When I’m trying to persuade someone, I start by painting a picture in the person’s mind. There’s a future where you do what’s right, and I paint that rosy. There’s a future where you do what’s wrong, and I paint that dismally. My goal is to get you to walk into that rosier future, the one where everything works out. If you want to persuade someone, you need to take them on a little journey. Think of all the things that have ever persuaded you in your life. Think of all the memorable speeches you’ve seen. Think of how they moved you. Those people did the work. They collected the data. Then they used it to tell a story. 

If you’re not persuading people, you’re not telling a good enough story.


Share this newsletter with a friend, please.

Take care of yourselves and each other.

xo, M