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Ever wondered about what drives the decisions that your users make and why users interact with your website in a certain way?Simon Ker10 mins
There are loads of videos online that talk about what “good UX” is. They explain principles and methods that allow you to implement it and ways that you can test and measure it.
Simon, our Head of UX Design, digs a little deeper and asks himself why these principles and methods might have come about in the first place...
I’ll start off by introducing you to a book… “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman. You might have heard of it already, it’s a very fairly famous book, and, if you've not read it yet, I can’t recommend it enough, I have the audiobook in the car and listen to it all the time.
The book explores how your mind works and introduces us to the concept of the mind having two separate mechanisms for processing thought.
It operates automatically with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. This is the system that allows you detect that one object is more distant than another, know the sum of 2 + 2 or drive a car on an empty road.
It’s more intuitive and it could be thought of as the way you unconsciously react to everything around you.
This allocates attention to effortful mental activities and complex computations. This is when you engage your brain to really work something out and is what I would have previously considered “thinking”.
System 2 allows you focus on the voice of a particular person in a crowded and noisy room, calculate the sum of 28 times 13 or parallel park your car on a busy street.
The book explores several studies and tests that have been carried out that support and explain the two systems.
One example in the book highlights the way System 1 makes quick decisions for you. It takes the example of “the bat and ball puzzle” which goes like this… don’t try to solve the puzzle but rather, listen to your intuition.
“A bat and ball cost $1.10 The bat costs one dollar more than the ball How much does the ball cost?”
Kahneman goes on to to say … “A number came into your mind, the number, of course is ten. The distinctive mark of this puzzle is that it evokes an answer that is intuitive, appealing and wrong. It is safe to assume that the intuitive answer also came to the mind of those who ended up with the correct number — they somehow managed to resist the intuition”
Kahneman then highlights an interesting fact:
“Many thousands of university students have answered the bat-and-ball puzzle, and the results are shocking. More than 50% of students at Harvard, MIT, and Princeton gave the intuitive—incorrect—answer. At less selective universities, the rate of demonstrable failure to check was in excess of 80%.”
What does this mean for the user experience of your website? Well I’m sure that a lot of you will identify that, knee-jerk, system 1 answer with the same system that you engage when navigating through common, repetitive UI items such as modal boxes, form elements, email sign-ups, captcha responses and cookies.
A large proportion of you will have found yourself in a situation where you have blindly clicked on the wrong button in a dialogue box and have either lost unsaved data, sent a message that you had meant to save as a draft or installed some browser search bar from hell.
What the findings from the bat and ball puzzle suggest, is that we could assume that over 50% of our users are likely to have an impulse that tells them which call to action they should click on when they navigate a website.
It follows that there is a possibility that a good proportion of those users might act on their impulse and that is where the UX Designer comes in. It is our job to ensure that as many users as possible have the experience that they are expecting, even the impulsive users!
Although “Thinking, Fast and Slow” is not a UX book per-se, most, if not all of the concepts that it explores offer insight into principles that are talked about in more UX specific titles.
A good example of this is a favourite of many UX designers… “Don’t make me think” by Steve Krug. Steve states that his first law of usability is, as the title of the book suggests, “Don’t make me think”. Steve explains that “As far as is humanly possible, a web page should be self-evident. Obvious. Self explanatory”, “I should be able to ‘get-it’ without expending any effort thinking about it.”
I think that, in most scenarios this is a principle that most users of the web will agree with. In “Thinking, Fast and Slow” Kahneman explores why “not thinking” is desirable for us and what the effects of being made to think are!
He talks about the physical and mental effects of being made to think harder than normal. Tests have shown that your pupils dilate, your muscles contract, you sweat more and you expend more energy than usual.
In other words it is physically more uncomfortable to focus your attention and Kahneman even talks about studies that suggest that users that are made to concentrate to understand something also start to distrust the credibility of it. So, in most cases, UX designers will try to mitigate the amount of thinking required to navigate a user interface.
They will purposefully try to put things where the user expects them to be, use headings and labels that users will be familiar with and try to limit the amount of text required to get a message across.
As a result of this, however, really usable websites can sometimes be a little safe or unoriginal in their design. Which might be ok, but a lot of the time “safe” and “unoriginal” aren’t things you see in the brief.
So what do we do? Personally, I think it’s really important to have a UX testing strategy in place when you start building a user interface.
Ask yourself, your team, your client... Who do I want to use this? What do they want out of it? What do I want them to do with it? What sort of mood are they likely to be in when using it? You might recognise this as the process of building up user journey flows and personas.
Then, the key thing, is to identify ways that you can measure the success of your users interaction with your interface.
A UX designer will never produce a perfect interface first time. Design is subjective, all users are different and there is no one right way of designing a UI. But a good UX designer will work with the client to agree on a plan of how users are meant to navigate an interface and how the design is meant to achieve this, these things are measurable and can analysed and tested using software like Google Analytics or Hotjar. You might even want to create a prototype and run a UX test on that before getting to far into you design and build process.
This will enable anyone involved in the project to see where things might not be working. It will allow you to make evidence based suggestions and it will mean that you can experiment with more original concepts and ideas safe in the knowledge that you will be able to identify and rectify an issue that your users might have with that experimental 3D animated menu for example!
What "Thinking, Fast and Slow" highlights is that there are so many things that affect the way that you process information and it covers subjects that influence not only UX but visual design and content creation too.
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