Psychology of the User Experience

April 5, 2010  | By Ketner Group

Right after SXSW Interactive, I promised a comprehensive recap, and I have a confession to make – this  Word document has been sitting here in blog post purgatory for over a week (literally!) now, because I’ve realized that: A) I’m not an authority on this event, since it was my first time going, B) there are tons of great posts out there recapping the event as a whole (check out see Omar Gallaga, Jay Baer, and Chris Brogan’s helpful and thoughtful posts), and C) while SXSW was incredibly valuable to me overall for reasons I mentioned in the previous short post, there are only a few things that I took away as total “a ha!” moments in terms of bringing new ideas and practices to Ketner Group and our clients. One of those was definitely Brian Solis’ session on How Your Brand Can Succeed in the New Web, but I’d much rather speak about that after I’ve read his new book, Engage! – and how handy that I asked a question during the Q&A portion of the talk and scored a crisp hardback copy! Be on the lookout for my review on that book soon.

For now, I’d like to dedicate this post to the other session I felt most interesting and pertinent to the work we do here at KG, Stephen Anderson’s talk on the Art & Science of Seductive Interactions – basically, how we can apply the principles of human psychology to creating a better User Experience (which can apply to developing products, websites, etc.)  I love the study of psychology, and in fact I also recently discovered a great lecture series on the Mind & Brain from the University of Arizona available for free download from iTunes U – I highly recommend checking that out. Anyway, Stephen Anderson’s main point in his SXSW panel was that, when we are creating something for other people, we need to get back to the basics. What makes successful experiments, products, and campaigns work? Generally, at the root of it is human psychology. Are you building your product or website or campaign by starting with a basic assessment of what you want people to do and how you can incent them to do so?

Stephen Anderson certainly did just that – he convinced us to stay through a 9:30 A.M. presentation on a Monday by dangling a free gift in front of us at the beginning, but not telling us what it was (certainly appealing to our curiosity and attraction to mystery and intrigue – huge motivators!) As it turns out, he was giving away starter packs of his upcoming Mental Notes card decks, a collection of “50 insights from psychology into an easy reference and brainstorming tool. Each card describes one insight into human behavior and suggests ways to apply this to the design of Web sites, Web apps, and software applications.” Of course, I ended up staying around and chatting with people so long that I didn’t get one of the free packs, but you can bet I have the full set on pre-order!

The idea behind these cards is great, and in Stephen’s presentation, he gave us a number of really cool examples that appealed to these inherent human characteristics and behavior patterns. For example, have you ever noticed that LinkedIn displays a message that “Your profile is X% complete”? This encourages more active engagement with the site and also intrigues users about the features of a paid account. As Stephen asked with every case study he presented, why does it work? Well, in this example, LinkedIn is appealing to our attraction to sequencing (breaking it down into little bits, like “get 5% for getting a recommendation”), challenges, and status (who doesn’t want a higher score?!) You can see more great examples in Stephen’s SlideShare presentation.

This week, I’m challenging myself to go back to the basics – what I can do in my copywriting and marketing strategies to help my clients really reach their goals and their users even better than before. I challenge you to do the same. Remember that no matter what it is you’re designing, you’re designing it for human beings. Start out by making a list: What do you know about people? (For one, we don’t speak in business lingo. Oh, and we love instant gratification.) Then, find wherever it’s appropriate for you to integrate those tendencies into creating a better, more genuine user experience.


Are any of you already integrating psychology into your business? Or has this post and Stephen Anderson’s great work inspired you to do so? Tell us how in the comments!