The SpoolCast with Jared Spool

The SpoolCast has been bringing UX learning to designers’ ears around the world since 2005. Dozens and dozens of hours of Jared Spool interviewing some of the greatest minds in design are available for you to explore.

Episode #89 Stephen Anderson on Seductive Interactions

January 28, 2010  ·  36 minutes

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How can we design systems that encourage the behaviors we want? In this episode, Jared speaks with Stephen Anderson about using human psychology in web apps to encourage users' behavior.

Show Notes

How can we design systems that encourage the behaviors we want?

One of the bleeding edge ideas we'll be talking about at the UIE Web App Masters Tour is adding motivation to web applications. How do you encourage user behavior through the design of your web app? It may initially sound a bit far-fetched, but there's an industry that's been shaping its customers' behavior since the beginning: the gaming industry.

Stephen Anderson is a consultant and a thought leader on the idea of motivating user behavior through design. He and Jared Spool sat down sat down for a discussion as part of our series of interviews with the Web App Masters.

Stephen's developing a deck of cards to aid designers in brainstorming their designs, with consideration to behavioral cues. He calls them Mental Notes Stephen says,

"We focus on things like visual design, usability, or the information architecture and we forget about, 'Oh yeah, there was that thing about gifting or curiosity or the peak-end rule.' This is really a way to apply intention, or a way to intentionally remind people to use some of these, or try to leverage these. These are ideas about human behavior and how humans respond to different ideas or different stimulus. So my idea is why aren't we applying these to web design? We're applying them to marketing, to retail, to interpersonal relationships, and to dating. A lot of these ideas are nothing new, but I think we're just now reaching the point where we're thinking more consciously about how can I apply something like recognition over recall to web design?"

Stephen also gets into how we can use these persuasive or seductive ideas into shaping the initial engagement a web app has with its user.

"Attention is so scarce today that people spend 30 seconds on something, and they might not see the value or see why it could be useful to them in those 30 seconds. So my focus started shifting from the product itself to that initial engagement, that initial interaction, and how do we make that first experience a lot more seductive, so people stick around long enough to see that you really do have something worthwhile here? Going back to real world analogies, think about if you were doing those not with a system online, but with a human. The human could be very straightforward, very to-the-point, in asking the questions, or that human could be very personable, and maybe crack a joke, or ask you how you are doing, do these things to be more personable. …why can't these systems adopt some of those similar ideas?"

Stephen mentioned an internal corporate knowledge-sharing web app that he was involved with. The company used a lot of game-type incentives to encourage employee participation, but many of the most successful attributes are some of the most counter-intuitive. For example, to add content to some pages, employees had to "pay". And this encouraged participation. They paid with points they accumulated doing other tasks within the system, like answering co-workers' questions. Employees would attempt to answer the questions first so they could gain points before someone else beat them to it.

"…they described, in very qualitative ways, how you earn karma ("points" in this example) and how you get better at this game or this system. But they were not explicit with what activities you do and how many points you get for each. And I think that was very smart."

We appear to be at the very cusp of adding psychology and a touch of gaming into web apps. From the friendly copy tone on Flickr to the full-on game strategy employed in Stephen's example, it's clear there's a lot of potential here. You'll want to listen to the entire interview and of course, you're not going to want to miss Stephen present his talk, The Art & Science of Seductive Interactions, at our UIE Web App Masters Tour. It's going to be impressive.

The UIE Web App Tour