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As a UX practitioner I’m always looking through the eyes of a customer and seeking to anticipate what they might be thinking and doing.

It wasn’t until recently, when I attended a workshop led by the behavioral psychologist Susan Weinschenk, that I fully understood why. Humans naturally think and behave in a certain way – there’s a whole field of science behind explaining why we do things. So, what are some of those behaviors? Here are my top 4, plus a half, that I feel are more actionable when creating experiences between people and brands.

1. People are more likely to take action and make decisions when experiences are simple, easy, and intuitive.

That sounds pretty straightforward — right?  But do you know why?

Well, our brain operates in a non-simultaneous manner in two different modes: System 1 and System 2. In System 1, our brain doesn’t have to think much. We do things almost without thinking, and by using our instincts and emotions. In System 2, our brain requires more energy to process information — so our System 2 thinking is often slower and more calculated. Because operating in System 1 is natural and easy, people spend most of their time here. If we keep our audiences in System 1 they’ll find our experiences pleasant, intuitive and enjoyable. As designers, there are a few ways that we can achieve this:

Make it easy to read

If something is easy to read, people will think it’s easy to do. Use simple and easy to read fonts for instructions, calls to action, forms and anything else you want to be intuitive. That funky font you love so much because it added some serious swag to your design? Ditch it. If someone thinks it’s difficult to read, they’ll be less motivated to take action or complete something.

Use simple, clear language

  • If you can say it in fewer words, do it. Which one of these calls-to-action is easier to read? Make an appointment with us by requesting one online or Request an appointment online. I know which one I would click on.
  • If you can use simpler language, do it. Don’t assume your audience is familiar with the slang or jargon of your industry.  If you need to use it, make sure to define it.
  • And, lastly, avoid, excessive, punctuation (such as commas), which makes copy harder to scan.

Limit users’ choices

Have you ever stood in front of a dozen donuts and wondered which one to eat?  Do you choose the chocolate, jelly filled, strawberry or the old-fashioned? The cruller, Boston crème. powdered sugar or the glazed?  The vanilla frosted, sour cream, coconut or the blueberry?  Now imagine there are only three to choose from. Would that choice be easier?

People like a lot of choices, but if you give them too many, they’re less likely to choose anything at all. This decision-making hurdle is called choice paralysis, and it happens when there’s too much for us to compare. We aren’t confident we’ll make the right decision, so we choose nothing. With fewer choices, we’re more confident and satisfied with our final selection.

How can we apply this to our experiences? We can use progressive disclosure to guide our users through a selection process. Here’s an example:

What if you were searching for colleges and someone gave you a list of all 5,300 colleges in the United States? Where would you start? Which college would you choose? Now, imagine that same list is divided into a series of questions. Those questions could be:

  • “What region of the United States would you like to study in?”
  • “Would you like to live in an urban, suburban, or rural environment?”
  • “How big of a school do you want to attend?”

With a series of similar questions, that list of 5,300 becomes a lot smaller. You now have a higher level of confidence because there’s less to compare (and doubt) your selection against.

2. Users make most of their decisions using their emotions and feelings

It’s funny that logic and reason, which are often critical to decision making, are rarely used. Do you remember that animal cruelty commercial? The one that had Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” playing in the background? We all remember it. I’m pretty sure I sobbed, “Take my money, save all the puppies!”

So, how can we trigger our audiences’ emotions so that they take action? Let’s say we are in the healthcare industry and we want to bring new patients through our doors. We want our users to feel positive, trusting and confident with our brand. We can use copy, imagery and even video to spark this emotional response:

  • We’d want images of patients who appear happy and healthy — smiling while talking to a doctor.
  • We’d write patient stories that talk about a journey to better health — and the struggles that came with it.
  • And, we’d write in a conversational tone to make our experience feel as human as possible.

On the flip side to this, we can also trigger negative emotions to make our users take action. I could make you feel anxious or at risk on purpose. Here’s a fictional example of a tv commercial for short-term disability. Let me set the scene:

A man leaves his factory job after a 12-hour shift. Tired from a long days’ work, he hops into his car and starts driving home. Within minutes he gets into a bad car accident. Fast forward a few seconds (in the commercial) and he’s in the hospital, injured and unable to work. His hands are on his head and he says, “I have a family of 4 to feed. I’m not covered. What am I going to do?” A woman then walks onto the scene, stares at you and says, “If he had short-term disability with ACME, he’d be covered”.

As the viewer, you might be thinking to yourself, “I don’t want this to be me.” You pull out your phone and start doing research.  Stricken with fear, you buy the insurance.

3. Stories drive and motivate users to take action

Did you know that 65% of human conversations are stories? It’s the natural way humans process information.  How can we use that to our advantage?  We can use stories to get people connected and immersed into an experience.

Imagine you’re a 17-year-old high school student.  You live in a rural area of Iowa and dream of meeting new people and experiencing a larger city.  You turn to Google and start searching for colleges in Chicago, Omaha, Wichita and even Dallas.  Anywhere where a gas station or supermarket isn’t a 20-minute trip.  You end up on a college site, and right there on the homepage is story from a current student.

He’s a Sophomore from out-of-state that grew up on a small farm.  He’s the first one in his family that’s ever-attended college.  He talks about life on campus.  He talks about how different and exciting his experience has been.  He talks about how the school has redefined his world.  “This is me”, you think.  You keep coming back to this story in your mind over the next couple of months.  It doesn’t take any more convincing — you apply.

We can relate to each other through stories, and stories help us capture emotion as well. That student’s story allowed the fictional 17-year-old-you to submerse yourself into an environment. You were able to experience that college in a relatable way which ultimately drove you to take action.

4. People are born to be social

Because we’re social animals by nature, we have underlying expectations and needs. If we look at our experiences through this social lens, it may alter our approach.

Our social expectations

We each have an internal set of social guidelines and rules that we expect people to follow. As designers, our online experiences should mirror those expectations as much as possible. Here’s an example:

Let’s say you’re interested in getting an appointment with a new physician. You google the physicians name and click on the first search result. You see a ‘request an appointment’ button and click on it. There it is — 20 different fields you need to fill out. You groan and fill out the basics: name, phone, date and time and hit submit. An error occurs — all fields are required. “What?!” you say. You close the page, pick up your phone and call the office instead.

Imagine if that scenario was a personal interaction. You’re at the physician’s office speaking to the receptionist. She greets you with a short introduction and immediately starts asking questions. You can’t go any further until you answer everything. She keeps screaming “REQUIRED!” over and over again. You’d probably get frustrated, walk away and search for a different physician.

Our need to belong

We have a biological drive to be social and to have relationships.  We have a need to belong to something and to be accepted.   This biological need unknowingly motivates us and drives our behaviors.  As designers, how can we satiate this inherent need? One way is to offer up an opportunity for users to belong to something or be social on your site.   Here are some examples:

  • Include ratings, reviews or testimonials on your site. These small features create a social and connected atmosphere. They are powerful and often times can influence behavior.
  • Use nouns instead of verbs if you want users to take action. For example, changing a button from “Join now” to “Become a Member” makes it more personable. It relates the action back to the user and makes them feel part of something bigger.

And lastly…

4.5. People make decisions most often on:

  • The 1st of the month
  • The 1st of the year
  • Or years that end in “9” (19, 29, 39, 49…etc.)

Whether you’re in marketing, design, tech, or strategy – we’re all in the business of getting people to do something.  Looking at behavioral psychology can help us predict and understand the way audiences may respond to the experiences we create for them.  But, we need to remember that we’re really helping an audience do something because they want to do it in the first place. In the examples above: enrolling in a college, eating a donut, or finding a healthcare provider – we’re designing experiences that identify the right kind of person, and then their decision-making process easier and more intuitive.

To learn more about behavioral psychology, I highly recommend Susan Weinschenk’s book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. And to learn more about how Primacy can help you create intuitive, and compelling experiences between your audience and brand, contact us here.

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Author: Danielle Litke

Drawing upon 10 years of experience and a cross-functional background in front-end development and design, Senior UX designer Danielle Litke creates intuitive and compelling experiences for a range of clients, including Fortune 500 brands, top-rated healthcare systems, and higher-ed institutions nation-wide.

Learn more about Primacy's Experience Design Services here.


Published May 2019


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