A Farm of Two Cows: Measuring in Story

Our global-scaled, highly centralized, and standardized world emerged from a more chaotic, local, and human-scaled medieval reality. I do not aim to overly romanticize the middle ages, when one was likely to have copious lice and cough to death by 40.  However, lessons from small isolated societies like those in medieval Europe may prove instructive of how to approach strategizing experiences for varied user groups.

Consider the evolution of Western measurements. For the most part, early measures were human-scaled.  Scholars note that terms like “stones throw” and “within earshot” were common, albeit somewhat arbitrary, units of distance.  Volume was also measured in terms of human experience: one purchased a “cartload” of wood or a “handful” of walnuts. While carts and hands vary from person to person and place to place, these fuzzy measures were generally negotiable in context and on the ground.      

Measurement of property was particularly zen. It’s practically useless information to a farmer how many acres or stone throws is her piece of land.  More significant is the lay of that land for the use-case of cultivation.  Land was therefore defined in more user-centered measures: days of work it required to plow, seeds required for a good crop, average yield.  Farms in Ireland were measured as a “farm of one cow” or a “farm of two cows” to indicate their true value - grazing capacity. Raw physical area is a useless measure when use is what matters, not quantity.  A ‘farm of two cows’ is a powerful, use-centric measurement. And it is a story about cows, farmers, and families.  It is utility and human experience over quantity and external standards.

And utility is relative, relational, and temporary.  Whether designing digital experiences, packaging, or a brand’s messaging here at Neologic, we aim to measure our results in cart-loads and hand-spans.  The imperial and prescriptive rules of design and search-tricking tips of content strategy are secondary.  First, we consider the folks on the ground - the users and all their various priorities, proclivities, and predilections.  Sometimes, this requires facing a large and contradictory set of user groups.  The key, then, is not to impose universal measurements and cold neutrality.  Rather, we design to the denominator - to the human scale.  Our experiences will need to fit and flow with users’ lifestyles.

Pamela Pavliscak, Research Director and Founder at Change Sciences talks about building experiences with ‘strong ties and loose connections.' This is what designing to the human dimension accomplishes - it appeals to our common humanity while allowing us to interface on our own terms. This creates a more seamless experience, a better fit to the real lives of our users, customers, audience.  

Will the experience you strategize and design be surveyed as cold acres or measured in story?