Psychology and the user experience, Part Two

Posted by on Nov 16, 2011 in psychology, thoughts, usability | No Comments

In the first part of the Psychology and the user experience, we discussed Weibull distributions and their application to site visit durations. In this next part, we’ll look at some psychological principles applicable to our field. The following concepts are unashamedly taken from Susan Weinschenk’s excellent article The Psychologists View of UX Design, UX Magazine:

1. Don’t Make Me Think!
If you don’t already know Steve Krug’s book Don’t Make Me Think then please beg, steal or borrow a copy. It’s an entertaining read and it doesn’t take long to get through. The 3-second take-away; people are unwilling to think more than they have to. Here are a few considerations stemming from that principle:

  • People will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.
  • Progressive disclosure: it’s better to show people a little information and let them choose if they want more details. Fortunately this can be helpful for SEO too.
  • Instead of just describing things, show people an example.
  • Affordance: pay attention to the affordance of objects on the screen you are designing. I.e. if something is clickable make sure it looks like it’s clickable.
  • Only provide the features that people really need. Don’t rely on your opinion of what you think they need; do user research to actually find out. Giving people more than they need just clutters up the experience.
  • Provide sensible defaults. Defaults let people do less work to get the job done.

2. People Have Limitations

  • Information overload: people can only look at so much information on a screen without their eyes and brains starting to hurt. Only provide the information that’s needed at the moment (see progressive disclosure above?).
  • Make the information easy to access/read/understand (read more).
  • Use headers, short blocks of text and bulleted lists.
  • People can’t multi-task. It’s not just men and the research is very clear! Turns out people can train themselves to multitask.
  • People prefer short line lengths, but they read better with longer ones! It’s a conundrum, so decide whether preference or performance is more important in your case. Just bear in mind that people are going to ask for things that aren’t best for them.

3. People are Social

  • People will always try to use technology to be social. This has been true for thousands of years.
  • Social validation: people look to others for guidance on what they should do, especially if they are uncertain. E.g. ratings and reviews.
  • Reciprocity: If you do me a favour then I will feel indebted to give you a favour back. Research shows that if you want people to fill out a form, give them something they want first and then ask for them to fill out the form, not vice versa.
  • Imitation: when you watch someone do something, the same parts in your brain light up as though you were doing it yourself (called mirror neurones). We are programmed with our biology to imitate. If you want people to do something then show someone else doing it.
  • Dunbar’s number: Research suggests you are only likely to have strong ties to 150 people. Strong ties are defined as ties with people you are in close physical proximity to. But weak ties can be in the thousands and are very influential (e.g. Facebook).

Read the full list of Susan’s ideas.

UX Mag have gone a step further and translated Susan’s principles into a heuristic checklist that can be used to evaluate interfaces. They’ve even created it in Google docs to make sharing that much easier.

That’s it for now. Feel free to add any comments you might have.

Leave a Reply