Design History Reading Club


Last year I spoke about the importance of knowing our field’s history at UX Brighton. One of my closing tips was to start reading the articles collected by Dan Saffer at the IxD Library. However, as is often the case with good advice, it is something I haven’t done myself (yet).

So, what if we do this all together, and read a selection of the articles and essays that have shaped the history of interaction design in a book club format?

It’s not easy to to pick a starting point, but the people who curated the great New Media Reader start with the following two texts:

  1. The Garden of Forking Paths – Jorge Luis Borges (1941)
  2. As We May Think – Vannevar Bush (1946)

A selection that I’m happy to follow and recommend.

11 June at 6.30PM

Somewhere in London.

To keep up to date follow @dhrc_london on Twitter.

P.S. the great logo is designed by my friend Tessa at buro vandiedagen.

Neuro Web Design – a book review

This review is of the book Neuro Web Design – what makes users click by Susan M. Weinschenk. As the title suggests this book is supposed to be about what web designers and web marketeers can learn from ‘recent’ insights from psychology to build websites that are better up for their tasks. I.e. how do you get a user to click, write, engage with your website in a way that you want.

The book is divided into eleven chapters that all support one main concept and end with a handy summarizing bottom line. Because the book is neatly structured it’s not that hard to summarize. Therefore I will first provide you with a summary, and secondly a conclusion. As you might notice, that there are hardly any mind-blowing new insights, but one could say its the execution of ideas that count, not merely having them.

First chapter is about the working of the brain in general. We have three brains, working closely together, Susan uses the easy to remember names, new brain – where the active thinking happens, mid-brain – where emotions are processed, where your feelings are, and the old brain – that focusses on general survival, also works with the automatic functions in our body, as walking and breathing. An interesting fact is that we receive around 11 million sensory inputs a second, but our concious brain – the new one- is only capable of handling 40 of them simultaneously. To create successful websites we should therefore not only focus on our new brain where reason and logic live, but just as much -or even more- focus on the other parts of the brain that are outside our concious regions.

Second chapter is about social validations, we want to be normal, we want to be like others, therefore we continuously scan the environment to get a feeling of what might be expected from us. We therefore are particularly influenced by the decisions that others made, recommendations on Amazon for example, or the interestingness factor on Flickr. An other great way is to use case studies and stories of people who we can imagine to be real and who’s stories we can connect with.

Third chapter is about reciprocate and concession, about how giving things away for free actually helps working on peoples guilt feeling to balance out their relation to you, give them free information, and they might be willing to give some information back. Give them a free trial period, and they will consider your offering to pay for a service more happily.

Forth chapter is about scarcity. If things come in endless amounts, than or they are too easy, and we might take them another time, or they are not good enough, and people wouldn’t even want them if it is free. If there is some price to pay though, we feel more interested, expensive things must be good right, hard to reach places must be more interesting. Make information harder to get, make product offers run for a limit time, and they all appear to be more interesting.

Fifth chapter is about not providing endless choice, give people distinctive choices. We can only handle one or two product features at the same time, so if you want people to choose a particular product, make it appear on top of the list, let the most expensive one have more features, connect it with a story about a identifiable person and the deal is closed. Or if you want to sell a model X of 20 pounds, present it next to model Y of 110 pounds and model Z of 12 pounds. Even if X is only a slightly bit better than Z people will still go for it, because it looks like such a deal compared with Y, and Z is so cheap that there must be something wrong with it. (supermarkets love this trick to sell you their home brand) Perhaps here filtering techniques start to help too. As long as we have the feeling that we are slightly in control. Not every advanced search delivers on its expectations. Horizontal browsing might therefore provide a good alternative to vertical search (Check this presentation on Amazon)

Sixth chapter is about you! have you noticed how many times Flickr uses the word you on the logged in homepage? -nine times the word you, two times your name, and a whole menu named ‘you’. Your old brain is completely you focusses and loves to know more about things that are there for you to provide you with a better life. This focusses on three general themes of survival. Avoid danger – even if the danger isn’t focussed upon us, our brain will still be extra alert when we see risky things, show advertisement right after a scary film scene and we are more likely to take notice, and by having things flicker and blink they will get our attention. Find food: if you are by any chance in the food business, lucky you, show food lusciously and the customers will run into your shop. Sex sells, pretty people, girls with Bambi eyes, it all still helps to close the deal.

Seventh chapter is about commitment and consistency. Get people on board and they are more likely to stay on-board, increase your fees slowly each year, and they still feel committed and stay with you. Speak towards an inner vision of who some-one things she is, and more likely she will go for your product to stay consistent with her inner story and with her history of being. Writing positive reviews for example will not only give other people the feeling that they make better informed decisions, but it will commit the writer of the review stronger to the product.

Eight chapter is about similarity and sameness. Attractive people still are a good way to sell products, celebrities go a long way, and if your site is created for a specific target audience, than do show them. People that appear to be just like us, are trusted more.

Ninth chapter is about the fear of losing. Losing an offer because time runs out, buying the most expensive version because fear of missing some of the good stuff. (Nine is also about chapter four) Threadless can be seen as a good example here

Tenth chapter is about pictures and stories. We are in general not that good in remembering dry information, but when folded in a delicious story and topped with emotional pictures of real (attractive) people it moves right into our unconscious brain.

Eleventh chapter is a conclusion; we are social animals, think in stories, in emotions and in humans and your next product that will help people to communicate more divers, more easily, faster and more engaging will become a hit.

Although the book is not really bad, it’s lack of web bases case studies (even the most famous ones are absent) and the chunks of information that leave you behind hungry for more (yes, I really was able to summarize chapter nine in one line, it was hard not to write more words than Weinschenk about this topic) make the purchase of this book doubtable. I got the feeling that Weinschenk certainly does know her psychology facts and research reports, nevertheless her lack of knowledge on the area of web and design do prevent this book from being exciting and engaging. At least 60% of the book is filled with examples that have nothing to do with the internet. Although I actually learned a few things about the latest neuro-research, calling this book neuro web design is misleading. My advise would be that she teams up with web designer and writes a follow up as soon as possible. Until than, just read my summary and save up for books that are filled with passion for the field. Susan’s conclusion is a great example of her doubtful motives:

I don’t know what the next big thing online will be. I wish I did know. Than I could create it, make a lot of money and retire.

Her desire for money unfortunately led to this joined attempt with New Riders to create a book that promises much, but fails in execution.

I will give this book three stars, one for the great topic, one for the nice construction of the book, one because I did learn something, a minus for the lack of related case studies and a minus for the lack of real engaging content.

Emotional Design

Emotional design, or should I say, emotional technology, sounds like a concept or thought up by hippies, or some Japanese scientist on a remote island (Aibo anyone?). Though in his book Emotinal Design Donald A. Norman explains that, although most technology is without any soul, we humans, trained for social interaction, are capable of putting a soul into everything. It is therefore that we judge the technology around us, in a similar way as we judge the people with whom we interact.

So just as you can like, love, dislike, hate or be indifferent to people around you, objects (or in this case, software) can create a similar emotional response. How software creates this response depends on our own value projections on the software. If the product manages to surpass our expectation we might start to love it, if it under qualifies our expectation we might slightly dislike it, and if it turns out to be counter productive, we might start to hate the damn thing. How our expectation are raised depends on a collection of variables. Maybe its the price we paid for it, the good reviews we read about it, the design of the product etc. As Norman states ‘well designed technology works better’, although Norman isn’t that clear about what he means with well designed, if this is a statement only about the visual side of the product, or also the interaction design, it’s not hard to argument why well designed products work better. For the second time we can compare technology with its social counterparts. We have no problem paying extra for well dressed, smart looking people, (doctors, bankes, lawyers) and if they make mistakes, we are more likely to forgive them for their actions. (We might be entering the field of reputation here, but that’s not the direction now) Well designed technology makes us more happy, and less stressed about handling it. It works better because we are more calm in exploring the way it works.

Norman’s book includes so many interesting cases that I most likely have to separate them in multiple articles. Subjects that I would like to discuss are: Why software design is so much harder to understand than hardware. How actions have changed through the years, but goals have remained more or less the same over the millennia. Why, therefore we should focus on goal oriented design. The multiple level of human understanding of things.

Three levels at play in design: visceral, behavioural, and reflective. (source)

And how we can use all those concepts to recreate a frame work for user experience design.