Labcast: UX. Where Psychology and Design Converge

In this week’s Labcast, The Brain Lady, Dr. Susan Weinschenk, visits to talk about a topic she’s uniquely qualified to discuss: the intersection of psychology and design.

ux design

From developing a deeper understanding of your customers to utilizing that understanding, adapting your product and web design to respond to and influence their behavior.

Kevin: Hello and welcome to the Open View Labs podcast. I’m Kevin Cain and today I have the pleasure of being joined by Susan Weinschenk, also known as The Brain Lady. For those of you who don’t know Susan, she has over 30 years of experience as a behavioral psychologist and specializes in applying psychology to the workplace. Susan has also written several books including her latest, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know about People, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People, and Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click. Suffice it to say our topic today is the intersection of psychology and design. Susan, thanks so much for joining us today.

Susan: Thanks for having me, Kevin.

Kevin: So as I mentioned just a second ago, we’re talking today about the intersection of psychology and design. And I guess the first natural question for me and a lot of people would be, why should anyone who’s a designer be caring about psychology or vice versa?

Susan: Well, you know it’s so easy, I think, when you’re designing something no matter what you’re designing, whether it’s a product, a website, software, marketing campaign, to get caught up in all the mechanics of what you’re designing and the tools that you’re using and the analytics, and forget that at the other end of whatever this thing is there’s a person that you want to do something. You want them to respond to the marketing campaign. You want them to click on a button at the website. You want them to take action. And if you want people to do stuff, you have to understand what makes people behave, what makes them take action and what makes them make a decision.

Kevin: So how exactly do you assess that? How do you determine that Joe wants to do this while Sally wants to do that?

Susan: Well, some of it has to do, if you know some of the basics about psychology. For instance, we now know that most human decision making occurs unconsciously, which is kind of interesting and a little odd. We think it’s conscious but actually people are deciding things based on unconscious mental processing. So if you know some of the basics about what motivates people to take action unconsciously, if you know some of these basics of psychology, that’s going to help you know what to put. Let’s say it’s a website. What triggers to use, what to put on the screen, what not to put on the screen. So I think a basic understanding of psychology will help you no matter who your audience is. And then on the other side of it, I think getting perhaps a little more to the question you were asking, is if you know about your particular audience, not just about people in general. But you know about the particular audience that you’re really trying to target, then you can also make some decisions about what are going to be the triggers for that particular group.

Kevin: So let’s talk about hypotheticals for a second. Can you give me some type of example of what you mean? Is it just the placement of a button or is there a lot more than that?

Susan: Well, sometimes it is very simple. Like just the placement of a button or what the button says, or whether you have one button. I think one mistake that a lot of people make is they have too many things going on. They don’t focus on what is going to be the one thing we want people to do. And that’s what I always tell people is, what’s the one target behavior you want on this page or on this screen? What’s the one thing you want people to do? And then you have to design the whole page around that one thing. And no, don’t have five different options, you need just one thing. So that’s an idea. Another idea is that if you provide a lot of choices then the research shows us that people won’t choose anything at all. So we have a tendency to have too many options, too many choices. You don’t want to do that. You just want to have one or two or at most, three.

Then there are things like colors. Red means stop, danger, in our culture here in the West. I had one client who had a nice big red button and it was very noticeable but no one was pushing it, because it was red. And they hadn’t stopped to think about that. So there are a lot of little things that you could do and then there are kind of some of these bigger concepts you have to think about.

Kevin: Well, it sounds like you really need to think about it going into it. But let’s assume for a second that you’re a company that’s already got your web presence set up. How easy is it to retrofit that website with some of these things? I mean, colors seem pretty easy, but other things might be a bit more complicated.

Susan: Yeah, so some things are going to be really easy, and some things are going to be harder. And it’s just a matter of how much do you want to tackle right now? But I think it’s always useful. I can almost always look at a particular website or a webpage and give a couple of suggestions of quick and easy things to do right away, and then some of the other items that are going to take a little more time and energy but are really going to be worth it. So maybe, you save those for the next time you’re doing a big redesign.

Kevin: And do you have a sense of what the impact of those smaller changes might be?

Susan: Yeah, yeah. I mean, we can even if we have to, crunch some numbers about it. What’s going to be the impact of changing the color of the button and moving where it is?

Kevin: That’s really interesting.

Susan: You can say, well, how many people right now are pushing the button? What percentage increase can we expect when we change the color and when we move it? And then you can decide, is it worth it financially?

Kevin: Sure. So, we’ve been talking a lot in the abstract. Let’s get a little bit more concrete. Are there certain websites that people might go to that you think are particularly good examples where things have been done right to really get maximum impact from a design perspective?

Susan: Well, it’s interesting because, and this is where we get into the it really depends on the audience. So I’m going to give you a couple of websites that I think have done a particularly good job at certain things, but you’ve got to be careful because if that’s not your audience or not what you’re trying to do, then that might not be effective for you.

Kevin: Sure.

Susan: So one example I’ll give is, let’s give the example, and I’ll use actually some e-commerce for profit things and then maybe, some others that are a little bit more unusual. I always use Amazon.com, and I know a lot of people don’t like Amazon for the design aspects of it. And this is where we get into the idea that the psychology goes beyond some of the basic guidelines about design. But what Amazon is a master at is building habit. So it’s very easy if you sign up at Amazon and you buy things from them a
lot, it gets to the point where it’s so easy to buy from them, it’s so fast. You come in, you find the thing you want, you press the button, you’re done. You know, click and you’re out. So they’ve used the concept of habit to make their site really easy, and then people will return again and again and again. And it gets to the point if you’re a frequent Amazon user you’re not even looking at the screen. You’re not even seeing what’s on the screen. You go in, you go to the search box, you type your thing, you press the button. And I think they’re really masters at that.

Another example I would give in a very different way is the Mayo Clinic site, MayoClinic.com. And the reason I use that as an example is they have on their home page when you go there, they’ve got these big beautiful photos of real people that they have helped. I don’t know if you know them, they’re a medical institution.

Kevin: Sure.

Susan: And these are real pictures of real people and their families. They’re big, they’re looking right out at you which, we don’t have time to get into it but there’s, I talk in my book, 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I talk about the fusiform facial area. It’s a special part of your brain that is all about interpreting human faces and the emotions behind them. So when you have faces and you have this family and there’s this medical story, this story about how the Mayo Clinic helped this poor guy, he was dying. It has this huge emotional impact, and that’s such an important thing, is an emotional impact. And photos and stories really, really build that. So I think that’s a good example of a very different approach.

Kevin: Sure. Obviously, Amazon, the Mayo Clinic are very large institutions. Our audience here at OpenView is an expansion stage company so if you could give young companies like ours any particular advice, what would it be?

Susan: I would say really focus on small things. Decide who is your primary audience, and what is the one thing you want them to do at this point with your product or with your website. And then look at the product, look at the website and ask yourself, have we done everything we can to get this one audience to do this one thing? What are all the extra stuff that we should get rid of? Because the tendency is when I work with, because I work a lot with startups, I work with expansion phase companies, and the tendency is they’re trying to pile too much stuff in.

Kevin: Yeah. Absolutely.

Susan: And you think it’s a good idea, but it’s actually the opposite of a good idea.

Kevin: So it really comes down to simplify and the golden rule of know your audience.

Susan: Yep, yep.

Kevin: Well, Susan, thanks so much for joining us today. Last question is just where can our audience get a hold of you if they want to follow you online?

Susan: Yeah, well my twitter is @TheBrainLady, and my website is TheTeamW.com.

Kevin: Great. Susan, thanks so much for being here.

Susan: Thank you, Kevin.

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