7:00 PM19:00

For Whom the Bell Curves

The End of Average

In the late 1940’s, the Air Force was trying to figure out why their jets were crashing. The technology worked in the lab, but it failed at scale. After eliminating every other possibility, engineers turned their attention to the cockpit.

“Back in 1926, when the army was designing its first-ever cockpit, engineers had measured the physical dimensions of hundreds of male pilots… For the next three decades, the size and shape of the seat, the distance to the pedals and stick, the height of the windshield, even the shape of the flight helmets were all built to conform to the average dimensions of a 1926 pilot.”

When scientists revisited those numbers from 1926, they discovered that none of the 4,063 pilots measured fell within the average range of all ten dimensions. Upon learning this, the air force did something really cool:

“By discarding the average as their reference standard, the air force initiated a quantum leap in its design philosophy, centered on a new guiding principle: individual fit. Rather than fitting the individual to the system, the military began fitting the system to the individual. In short order, the air force demanded that all cockpits needed to fit pilots whose measurements fell within the 5 percent to 95 percent range on each dimension.”

“When airplane manufacturers first heard this new mandate, they balked, insisting it would be too expensive and take years to solve the relevant engineering problems. But the military refused to budge, and then — to everyone’s surprise — aeronautical engineers rather quickly came up with solutions that were both cheap and easy to implement. They designed adjustable seats, technology now standard in all automobiles.”

By designing for everyone, the cockpit fit no one. The air force realized this and unwittingly created a paradigm shift in design thinking. Instead of fitting the individual to the system, the system should fit the individual. 

Today's Bell Curve


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5:00 PM17:00

Atlanta Applied Artificial Intelligence Panel

  • 12655 Edison Drive Alpharetta, GA, 30022 United States (map)
  • Google Calendar ICS

Panel with V.Mahidhar, VP of Artificial Intelligence Solutions for GenPac, and myself. 

Atlanta Applied Artificial Intelligence is a group of C-level converts to AI. They knew how hard it was to think about their enterprise in an AI mindset. All the hype around AI doesn't help, so they formed an exclusive meetup for Fortune 500 execs to talk understand the opportunities and constraints of AI for their businesses. 

Vikram and I had a lively talk about how to apply AI from a business perspective and a product perspective. Here's one topic we dove into:

Where should AI live? In business or IT? 

Business is trained to think in bets and scale. By contrast, IT does not like to take risks. On the surface, it would seem that AI should belong in Business and I don't disagree. But UX changes the game somewhat. Not only can UX think in terms of risk and scale, their focus on the gestalt end result gives them a different sort of insight. But that talk is for a later time.


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