Web App Masters: Serious Play

by Luke Wroblewski March 22, 2010

Stephen Anderson's Serious Play: Designing Seductive Business Apps talk at the Web App Masters Tour in San Diego, CA outlined how principles from psychology could be used to motivate Web application users.

  • Seduction: the process of deliberately enticing a person to engage in some sort of behavior
  • What motivates people to change their behaviors? Increasing motivation = psychology. Removing friction = usability
  • People react to game mechanics within Web apps (badges, points, etc.) as skeptics, cynics, or enthusiasts. But why do they work?
  • Motivating human behaviors through psychology is timeless. When the points system may become old and tired but core psychological motivators will still matter.
  • Putting psychology principles into action... First, Second, translate problems into behaviors to change. Third, decide what things might encourage that behavior

Examples of Psychological Motivators

  • Fun: can change behavior for the better (examples at thefuntheory.com)
  • Scarcity: we infer value in something that has limited availability or is promoted as being scarce. When you see supplies are low, you are encouraged to take action. Examples: limited tickets left, limited amount of points to allocate, limit amount of characters, etc. The more of an incomplete picture you see, the more you want to see the rest of the image.
  • Set completion: desire to compile a complete set of items.
  • Ownership bias: want to ensure representations of you are accurate.
  • Social proof: people tend to follow the lead of others when they don’t know what they should do.
  • Recognition over recall: do not ask to recall things, let people recognize through visual presentations.
  • These principles are going to be available as a card set of 50 insights that can be used as an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to the design of Web sites, Web apps, and software applications. Learn more at Get Mental Notes

Examples on Web Apps

  • LinkedIn profile completeness meter: gives you indicator of what you can do to get complete. Works because of levels, challenges, and our innate need for completeness –psychology drives the interaction.
  • Foursquare is a location check-in service. You earn points, mayorships, and badges on Foursquare for getting out and discovering places. These game mechanics are in place on many sites like Stackflow, Foodspotting, and the 160 (for music).
  • Collecting (badges), ownership bias & lose aversion (mayorships), feedback loops (immediate response for doing things –points), curiosity (when do you get badges & why), status (leaderboards are a sign of status), variable rewards (unsure when things will be given to you), and limited duration.
  • In Cubeless you need to gather points to unlock ability to add photos, etc. 60-70% of Sabre employees use Social Q&A system. 60% of questions are answered within one hour, each question receives an average of 9 answers. Status, feedback loops, privileges, limited duration, and reciprocity are all in use on Cubeless.
  • Game mechanics can help train people on software. Palm Pilot had a game called Giraffe –which worked like Space Invaders but with graffiti characters. Had to write correct characters as they fell. Microsoft released an app called Ribbon hero. You score points for using Word and play challenges that help you learn new skills. The system has hints to help you get points.