UX - Don't Scare Your Users

Ever logged into a website to find that it has changed? Did you find that this annoyed you more than it should have?

Simon Ker10 mins


Simon, our Head of UX Design explains why these changes are so frustrating to us and how to avoid springing a change on your users.

UX - Don't Scare Your Users

Simon, our Head of UX Design, is a designer with a confession… It annoys him when Google change their logo and he hates it when Facebook change the way their news feed looks, and when Apple removed all of the ports from their latest laptop? Well, don't get him started!

Here he talks about how NOT to freak your users out...

Prefer to read it?

A lot of people don’t like change and they can be quite vocal about it which means it can be dangerous to change something that your users or customers are already used to. So you need to consider what might be going on with the user to trigger this reaction to change...

Why is it that people get so worked up about certain things not being as they are used to? You wouldn’t want to eat the same food every day or wear the same clothes!

In the case of a website, you might think that it is because you had just gotten used to the way it works and now you have to get used to it all over again… and that might be part of it...

But your reaction to a change in your favourite website is rarely as pragmatic as that in nature. You don’t think to yourself “Oh cool they have changed Facebook, it’s about time we had a change! Lets see if this improves my user experience”...

Nope, its usually more along the lines of:

Why have they moved that?

Where have they put the ...

Well that’s... very annoying

That's it, i’m never using Google again.

Of course… 2 weeks later you are no doubt happy with the new layout and you probably can’t even remember how it looked before.

So why?...

Do you want to know the weird thing?

Living organisms are programmed to fear things that are unfamiliar. In the book “Thinking Fast and Slow” by David Kahneman he talks about...

Wait didn’t you bang on about that book in episode 1?

I’m a slow reader!

Anyway, in the book, David talks about the work of psychologist Robert Zajonc who looked at the effect of repetitive exposure to arbitrary stimulus. He explored, what he called, the stimulus effect, which not only showed that the more you are exposed to something, the more you feel comfortable with it. It also showed that your reaction to something new is fear and distress.

It’s not just humans that have this reaction, it seems to be a trait that is shared with most living organisms. He talks about a study where two sets of fertile chicken eggs were exposed to different tones. After they hatched, the chicks consistently emitted fewer distress calls when exposed to the tone they had heard whilst inhabiting the shell.

If you introduce a big change to something that your users are already familiar with and you run the risk of not only annoying them you could potentially trigger a reaction of fear and distress. Probably not the result you were hoping for.

What can we do to about this?

You can’t stop changing and improving your UI’s as your business needs to evolve and grow so you need to approach UX development very carefully.

Here are some tips:

1. Introduce change gradually

If you have a new design for a messaging app, for example, you might be able to get away with introducing small changes over a number of weeks. This is something that facebook does. You might notice something almost insignificant has changed

Since when did the comment box have rounded corners?

But, it’s not enough to trigger that rage reaction.

2. Allow Users to opt into a new UI

My bank recently did this and they added a big button at the top of the screen that said something along the lines of “We are changing the way our site looks soon. If you want a sneak peek, click this button”.

Users that click on that button are then shown the new UI until they click “take me back to the old design” or forget that this is something new altogether. If they do decide to go back to the old UI, at least it is then less of a shock when they are forced to accept the new layout when it is rolled out.

3. Usability Testing

This is the most important one. You should be doing usability testing on a regular basis anyway. If you aren’t getting feedback from your users on a regular basis you are missing a vital piece on information that you need when building or developing a UI - what do my users want? What do they like?

When changing an existing UI that has existing users, you can very easily ask them for their help in return for a prize, a perk or even cash payment.

Just sit down your users with the new interface and ask them to carry out the tasks that they normally do most often. You might not even ask them to do something that specifically relates to the change that you are testing and if none of your testers use the feature that you are changing, is it worth keeping?

Ask them to speak aloud their thoughts, record the screen and record their facial expressions (there are loads of user testing services that can do this for you) and the evidence and information that you get back will highlight any questionable moments. This will enable you to think about your roll-out approach off the back of this.

Hope this was useful and if you have any questions or comments or would like to get in touch with us about a project that you might have, you’ll find contact information and a form at the bottom of this page.


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