An Event Apart: Crafting the User Experience

by Luke Wroblewski August 9, 2011

In her presentation at An Event Apart in Minneapolis, MN 2011 Sarah Parmenter discussed how principles from human psychology can reframe how we think about Web Design. Here's my notes from her talk:

The Impact of Psychology on Design

  • We naturally make use rapid cognition. We take 3-5 seconds to form a first impression of someone. We take 1-3 minutes to confirm or dispute our original impression of someone. Sometimes it can take years to make up our mind.
  • Our mind relegates a good deal of sophisticated thinking to the subconscious. It does a great job of managing things for us in the background.
  • Sensation transference: we directly transfer aesthetic properties to products. Most of us don’t make a distinction between the packaging and the product itself.
  • In 1972, 18% drank Coke. 4% drank Pepsi. In 1981, 11% drank Pepsi. In a blind taste test people 57% preferred Pepsi. Coke went and tinkered their formula and created new Coke. It cost many millions to create but most people did not like it.
  • Even though after the formula tinkering, 56% preferred Coke in blind taste-tests. Coke attributed their loss of drinkers to taste testing vs. the brand they had. But people liked the brand so new Coke turned out to be a big mistake.
  • Another example of sensation transference: 7-up added 15% more yellow to the color of the can and people complained the taste was more lime-y. But the flavor had not changed.
  • It is possible to influence our visitors actions and their reactions. We need to predict the reactions we want and design accordingly.

Speed, Simplicity, Surprise, Social Behavior, Stirring Emotions

  • Speed: most people make up their minds in 2-6 seconds subconsciously about something. Pre-conditioning graphics push products on people. Example: grocery store moved popular lunch products to front of store and increased foot traffic by 50%. One-click shopping minimizes the time you have to consider a purchase so you buy more.
  • Simplicity: we often try to say too much. Removing irrelevant elements drives people to important elements. Example: Coke posted 1 tweet and one post on their Facebook page about a viral video. Sales on vending machines went up but they didn’t use any ads to promote it.
  • Simplicity is about context. Teens might have more time but less money. Adults might have more money but less time. Examples of simple messages: MailChimp, 37signals, TypeKit, Soft Facade.
  • Copy used to be written in third person on the Web. Now we are seeing a revert to simpler copy that grabs our attention instantly: a simpler form of first person communication. Changing a tagline on Cityclick lead to a 90% increase in sign-ups.–“create a Website for your business”. Used to say “Businesses need to be online to reach the biggest audiences.”
  • There is a difference between true simplicity and perceived simplicity. If things go faster than you assume they will, you feel even better.
  • Color is represented with different colors around the World: red, green, yellow, blue. So you have to be aware of context even when you are doing things simply.
  • Surprise: create something delightful that people don’t expect. On a mobile event site, found people were trying to interact with an image of an iPhone on the page. Inserted a discount code in the phone as an interaction secret door. People felt like they earned the prize. It was delightful. Appeal to people's curiosity.
  • Social Behavior: social proof and herding behavior is how we look to others to guide what we do. If we see others doing something, we are more likely to do it. Workers feed their tips jars to make it clear what you are supposed to do.
  • Marketing professor stood on a street and looked at the sky. When he added three friends that also looked, they had to close the street cause so many people were stopped looking up. We don’t like to miss out on stuff –so seeing what people are doing influences our behavior.
  • Social influence helps shape values. Social proof is not social media.
  • Stir emotions: aspirational displays show us how we could live our lives. We want to be like the images we see. This doesn't translate well to the Web. White space in Web design makes products look more expensive. Stories can influence behavior.
  • The purpose of psychology is to give us a completely different idea of things we know best. Instead of just starting with a gird and layout for your Web sites, add some psychology into the mix and see what can happen. We can manipulate people towards our intended purposes and goals.