5 Reasons We Make Poor Decisions

Woman standing in front of a blackboard with question marksI just read a great report from Eric Olive on how and why we make decisions, especially bad ones. Here’s a summary of the report and the trouble we can get ourselves into:

  1. People don’t like uncertainty. It makes us uncomfortable. So we tend to ignore important information and either make a bad decision or don’t make any decision at all.
  2. People tend to make decisions that are in line with what they already believe. We filter information and just don’t let in data that conflicts with our view of the world.
  3. People are overly optimistic about the future. Even though we have experience with things going wrong, or taking longer than we think they will, we tend to look to the future with rose-colored glasses.
  4. People are influenced by confidence. If someone is confident then we believe them. And if/when we are confident that’s when we take action.
  5. We think we can fool people but we often end up fooling ourselves. Eric gives an interesting example of how an executive in a corporation thought he could make it look like he was consulting his staff about some important decisions in the company, when he was really trying to manipulate the decision to go his way.

Most of our decision-making happens unconsciously, so it’s difficult to prevent these errors. Eric says your best strategy is to put some procedures in place while you are making decisions that force you from automatic mode (what Daniel Kahneman calls System 1 thinking) into deeper consideration mode (Kahneman’s System 2 thinking). Here are two examples of what you could do: 1) Enlist a skeptic to walk you through all the reasons why your plan is not realistic, or 2) Use the “pre-mortem” technique where you get your team together and imagine a scenario where you implemented the decision you are currently debating and it all goes terribly wrong. You ask the team to write out what made it go wrong.

It’s not easy to work around our unconscious mental processes! These tips from Eric just might work.

Eric goes into a lot more detail in his report. You can download it here: http://5thingsaboutdecisions.decisiongenius.net/

What do you think? Do you make any of these decision mistakes? Have a team member or supervisor who does?

Posted in decision-making, psychology Tagged with: ,

The Neuro-Aesthetics of Hillary’s Campaign Logo

logo for Hillary campaign


Yesterday Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for President of the US, and before 24 hours went by I had a media request to talk about why people were reacting so strongly (in a negative way) to her logo.

I’m in the middle of writing my next book (100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People) and I’ve just sent in the chapter on Visual Design which contains some new research on neuro-aesthetics — how our brain reacts to certain visual design elements.

Based on the research, here’s the brain science behind the vitriol:

People prefer objects with curves and you can even “see” the preference in brain scans. This field of study is called neuroaesthetics.

Moshe Bar (Director of the Cognitive Neurosciences Laboratory at Massachusetts General Hospital) and his team used images of everyday and abstract objects to see if people have a preference for objects with curves. In one of their early studies Moshe Bar and Maital Neta (2006) showed 140 pairs of objects. Some were concrete objects such as watches or couches (the A objects in the picture below), some were abstract objects (the B objects) and some of the objects had both curves and edges. These last objects acted as baseline controls (the C objects).

pictures of curved and angular objectsPeople gave higher “liking” ratings for the objects that had curves. Bar and Neta’s theory was that the sharp and angled images would convey a sense of threat.

Ed Connor and Neeraja Balachander took this idea into a neuro imaging lab. They took an abstract shape similar to the shape on the left in the picture below and then made a series of similar but elongated shapes as shown in the rest of the picture below.

picture of rounded and elongated shapes

Not only did people prefer the softly rounded shape like the one on the left — there was more brain activity in the visual cortex with shapes that were more curved and more rounded.

We could talk about the problems with red and blue on top of each other, which produces chromostereopsis too. I’ve got another blog post about that.

But from a brain science point of view, the main reason Hillary’s logo is getting a lot of negative comments?: NO CURVES!

If you’re interested in the research I’ve got some references below, and check out 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People  the new book which will be out in October of 2015 and is available for pre-order!

What do you think? No curves? Chromostereopsis? Something else?


Bar, M., & Neta, M. (2006). Humans prefer curved visual objects. Psychological Science, 17(8), 645-648.

H. Leder, P.P.L. Tinio, and M. Bar (2011) Emotional valence modulates the preference for curved objects. Perception, 40, 649-655.

Paul J. Silvia and Christopher M. Barona, “Do People Prefer Curved Objects? Angularity, Expertise, and Aesthetic Preference”, Empirical Studies of the Arts 01/2009; 27(1):25-42.

Posted in beauty, brain, psychology, vision, visual design, voting Tagged with: , , ,

Digital Expectations Report From Razorfish

picture of cover of Razorfish ReportIf you haven’t checked out the new report by Razorfish: DIGITAL DOPAMINE: 2015 GLOBAL DIGITAL MARKETING REPORT, you may want to check it out sooner rather than later. And I’m not just saying that because I’m in it! (The report contains a one page interview I did with one of their staff — page 29). It’s an interesting report based on a survey of 1600 millennials and gen-exers from the US, UK, Brazil, and China, as well as some in-depth interviews.

Here are some of my favorite data points:

  • “56% of U.S. Millennials say their phone is their most valuable shopping tool in-store compared to just 28% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “59% of U.S. Millennials use their device to check prices while shopping compared to 41% of U.S. Gen Xers.”
  • “Advertising is most effective when it is part of a value exchange. Consumers are now aware of how much their attention is worth to marketers, and they expect to be rewarded for it. They look to be compensated with loyalty programs, free content or useful tools that solve problems.’
  • “Over half of consumers in the U.S. and U.K. and 69% of consumers in China say they do anything they can to avoid seeing ads. What’s more,they’re actively availing themselves of technology to do so, with a majority of TV lovers using a DVR
    to skip through ads (U.S.—65%, U.K.—73%, China—81%).” Brazil is the outlier on this one: “Fifty-seven percent of Brazilian consumers endorse TV, radio and print ads as most influential,”
  • My favorite point is this one: “Seventy-six percent of people in the U.S., 72% in the U.K. and 73% in Brazil say they are more excited when their online purchases arrive in the mail than when they buy things in store.” I have heard the same comments in my behavioral science research. And the reason has to do with the anticipatory centers of the brain. I wrote about this recently in my report “Why You Should Do Behavioral Science Research At Least Once This Year”.

The Razorfish report is comprehensive.  I think it’s worthy reading if you design or produce digital products, marketing or advertising.

And don’t forget to check out page 29!

What do you think? Does any of this data surprise you?


Posted in Generational Differences, psychology, research Tagged with: , , , ,

7 Success Factors For Getting Innovation Going In Your Organization

Do you have innovation initiatives where you work? There are seven critical factors you need in place in order for innovation to start, thrive, and stick. Here’s a short video on the seven factors:

The seven factors are:

1. OK to iterate — The culture has to be tolerant and accepting of trying something out, then adjusting it or withdrawing it and trying something else.

2. The A-Ha! moment — You can’t just teach people an innovation process. They have to have an a-ha moment where they “get it”. You’ve got to engineer training and situations so people have that a-ha moment.

3. Autonomy — People need to have some control over what they innovate and how they do it. You can’t micromanage innovation.

4. Constraints — Although people need some autonomy, they also need some constraints. Research shows that people are MORE creative if they have some constraints they are working within.

5. Top-Down and Bottom-Up — You need both the top and the “in the trenches” people to buy in to innovation. If the push to innovate is coming from top management only, it won’t thrive and stick; likewise if innovation comes from the trenches, but doesn’t have support from above.

6. Trust — Being innovative is being vulnerable. If your corporate culture is one of mis-trust it will be hard to get innovation going.

7. Use innovation to plan the innovation — If you are charged with getting innovation going, start by using innovation techniques and processes to figure out your implementation plan.


What do you think? Have you found these factors to be important in your innovation plans?

Posted in innovation Tagged with:

Growing User Experience In Your Organization

If you are interested in growing the user experience group or capabilities in your organization, then you might want to watch this webinar recording. Jeff Horvath and I discuss five success factors to pay attention to when/if you want to grow UX. The video is an hour long, so get a cup of coffee or tea and settle in!:

Here are the five points for Growing UX that we discuss:

1. It’s a process, not a product

2. It takes great leadership

3. Be flexible

4. Be resourceful

5. It’s a culture thing

What are your challenges and successes you’ve had in growing UX capabilities in your organization?

You might also want to check out our report on skills that every UX professional needs:

Button that links to the Top 10 Skills Report

Posted in user experience, video Tagged with: ,

Creative Market’s 10 Must-Read UX Books

I was thrilled to see that 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People made Creative Market’s  “10 Must-Read UX Books”.

Top of Creative market's blog post

Picture of book at Creative Market post


Check out the book on Amazon if you aren’t familiar with it. Here’s the link to Amazon: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. And you may want to go to Creative Market’s list and see how many of the 10 books you’ve read.



Posted in book, psychology, user experience Tagged with: , ,

What Would Make An Animated Character Appear “Creepy”?

Realistic animated character that looks creepy.Have you ever stopped to think about animated characters? With the capabilities of graphics these days it’s possible for an animated character to look just like a real person. And then there are still cartoon characters created that look nothing like real people. Have you ever experienced an animated character that “creeped” you out?

Animators have to make constant decisions about how realistic a character should be, and what that even means. Research shows that there is a point where animated characters are not “cute” anymore, and actually can become “creepy”. This point is called the “uncanny valley”.

This semester at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point, I worked with a student on an independent study project about the uncanny valley. This blog post is a guest post by the student, Kierstan Leaf, who describes the research study she did this semester:

The Uncanny Valley is the idea that as things, particularly robots and animated characters, become more realistic they eventually hit a point where we determine them to be creepy and nonhuman. This is due to the small inconsistencies that we see within the characters, for example, the skin texture or reflection in the eyes may seem a bit off.  We unconsciously notice these things because these are attributes that we observe daily in our interactions with people.

The Uncanny Valley theory originated from Masahiro Mori, while working with robotics in 1970. He compared the relationship between robots and their “degree of human likeness” (see the references below). Mori noticed that when robots become more lifelike they began to be viewed as being creepy. On the other hand when the robots did not have much human likeness, such as a robot in a factory, the creepy level was very low, if non-existent. 

For this study on the uncanny valley I took images from movies, cartoons, and television shows. I used images that ranged from “less realistic” (in other words, not human-like) to “more realistic”. These images were shown to 58 people to rate on a scale from 1 to 10 where “normal” was at one end and “creepy” at the other. I hypothesized that as the images become more realistic they would be considered creepier. Here’s a short video that summarizes the research shows the images I used, and the results of the study.



The hypothesis was correct. The more realistic the images were, the more creepy people rated them.

So what does this mean for decisions about animations in design? If  you would like your viewer to fall in love with your character nearly instantaneously, then perhaps you should stick with more cartoonish designs.  If you want your user to be scared of a monster or evil villain, you can push the line of realism and tip your viewer over to the creepy side. Knowing these unconscious reactions exist, you can apply them to your projects.


Mori, Masahiro. The Uncanny Valley. Trans. Karl F. MacDorman and Norri Kageki. IEEE Spectrum, 2012. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://spectrum.ieee.org/automaton/robotics/humanoids/the-uncanny-valley>. 

Karl F. MacDorman. Exploring the Uncanny Valley. Web. 11 Dec. 2014. <http://experiment.informatics.iupui.edu>.

What do you think? What do you think makes animated characters cross into the “creepy” realm?

If you have questions for Kierstan you can reach her at    kleaf716@uwsp.edu

Posted in emotions, psychology, research, video Tagged with: , ,

Get A Free Inbound Marketing Strategy Plan

the word FREEThe second part of the title is “And help the next generation of digital marketers learn their craft.”

Do you believe that you could be doing a better job of marketing your business or organization? Have you been hoping to put together a marketing strategy based on the ideas of inbound and content marketing, but you haven’t gotten around to it yet? Or don’t have the time? Or aren’t sure how to do it? You might be a candidate then for a free Inbound Marketing Strategy Plan.

I teach part time as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Wisconsin, Stevens Point in the Web And Digital Media Development program inside the Computing And New Media Technologies department. I just finished my Design For Engagement semester course there, and next semester I’m going to be teaching a course on In Bound Content Marketing.

When I teach at UWSP I like to have the students work on real life case studies. They are juniors and seniors, and some of them work part or full time too. I have found them to be smart and capable. They really like the case studies that we do for clients.

If you would like to apply for us to use your business/organization as one of the case studies here’s what you need to know:

1) The students will start work on the case studies around January 15, and they will work on them through the first week of May.

2) If chosen you will receive a team of two or three students.

3) When your project is done at the end of the semester you will have an inbound content marketing strategy that is customized to you. You will have clear directions of how to proceed, example content pieces, and, depending on what your business/organization is/does, you will likely have some actual content that has been created, and you will have started to implement the strategy.

4) This is an inbound content marketing strategy for your business/organization, so this will take some of your time throughout the semester. You can expect to spend, on average, one hour per week. This will likely vary greatly week to week. Expect more than an hour a week at the beginning. You will need to be available via email, phone, and/or skype as needed for your feedback and initial interviews.

5) There is no charge for this work.

6) You do not have to have any knowledge of inbound content marketing. The students will teach you want you need to know to participate.

7) You must have an existing business/organization. Unfortunately we can’t accept applications from start-ups that haven’t actually started.

8) You must be fluent in English.

9) For-profits, not-for-profits and non-profits, large, medium or small organizations are all welcome to apply.

To apply to be a case study:

Send an email to susan@theteamw.com with the following info:

Your Name

Your Email

Your Physical Location (city, country)

Business/Organization Name

Brief description of your business/organization and your target audience

Brief description of any inbound content marketing you are now doing or have recently done (it is not required that you have done any, but I want to know if you have, and if so, what).

Why you think getting help with an inbound content marketing strategy will help your business/organization.


I hope you will consider applying if you think you fit the criteria!


Posted in inbound marketing Tagged with: ,

Will 2015 Be The Year Of the Demise Of The Keyboard?

Maybe I’m giving away my age when I say that I’ve been waiting to talk to computers since I was a kid watching Star Trek. Although voice interfaces have been around for a while, until recently they really didn’t work that well. Along came Siri and now there is “OK Google”, and we are starting to really get there.

The question that comes to my mind is, “When will the keyboard become a relic of the past?” or phrased another way, “When will I be writing my blog posts and books by talking into my computer.”

I’m reminded of one of my favorite Star Trek clips where Scotty and the Doctor go back to the 1980s and Scotty tries to talk to a Mac computer by speaking into the mouse:


Talking is a natural human activity. Touching objects (touch screen) or moving your hand (gestures on a screen or even trackpad) are natural human activities. Looking at pictures and symbols is a natural human activity even if it is on a screen. Typing on a keyboard? Not so much. Typing is an artificial invention. I’m a very fast typist, but I still can’t type as fast as I can talk.

We’ve now got smartphones that talk to us and understand our speech. And the new smartphones are so large they aren’t phones, they are “phablets”. So when are the rest of the devices going to catch up? Our laptops can have touch screens. Why not let the tablets and laptops and desktops do what the smartphones can do.?

Here’s a prediction that is probably more wishful thinking than prediction. Let’s make 2015 the year we throw away the keyboards. I hope this comes to pass. I’d like to see keyboards become obsolete (with the exception of specialized devices for the visual and/or speaking disabled). Just like I have a turntable in my house, in case I decide I want to listen to one of the old vinyl records I still have, I might have a keyboard just in case I get laryngitis. But as soon as it’s ready I’ll be buying a touch screen computer with excellent two-way voice capability and the keyboard will end up on a shelf in my basement gathering dust.

What do you think? Do you agree? When do you think this will happen?

The great photo at the top of the page and the unique necklace is by “Cassette Cavalcade” who makes various “tech” jewelry. You can find this necklace and more at their Etsy site. 


Posted in psychology, user experience, video Tagged with: ,

Top 5 Reasons Your Site Might Not Be Accessible

Picture of part of a keyboard with an accessibility symbol on the Enter keyToday’s blog post is a guest post from Jeff Horvath, Ph.D., who owns Balanced Experience — a user experience consulting firm. 

Can you afford a $10M lawsuit? In 2006, the National Federation of the Blind filed a class-action lawsuit against Target claiming that blind users couldn’t access much of the content on the web site nor independently purchase anything.  Their position was that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 applied to eCommerce web sites.  Eventually, Target settled with the plaintiffs for almost $10M.  The judge in the case concluded that the case had “broken new ground in an important area of law” and that the “litigation [extended] important areas of disability law in to an emerging form of electronic commerce that promises to grow in importance.”  It probably would have cost a lot less than $10M to design the site right in the first place.  Ever since then, disabled shoppers, citizens, and employees all over have argued for their rights to be able to use the same web sites and software that everyone else does.

Do you know anyone who doesn’t use the internet?  I don’t.  In today’s world, just about everything is available online – shopping, banking, taxes, socializing… pretty much everything.  Do you know anyone who’s disabled?  If you said no, you’re lying!  More than 10% of the US population qualifies as disabled.  When we hear the word “disabled”, people usually first think of someone who is blind or deaf.  Those are definitely disabilities, but there are a lot more kinds of disabilities that affect web site use.  Do you have a harder time reading small print than you used to?  You might have a visual disability.  Did you get some of those eye drops at the eye doctor today?  Visual disability.  Break your hand and can’t use the mouse?  Physical disability.  Hard time hearing certain tones?  Auditory disability.  Short-term memory problems?  Cognitive disability.

There are lots of people with disabilities our there that need to use your web site (or app).  If you don’t design your site in a way that lets them do that, you open yourself up to legal action.  Companies like Target and Netflix found that out the hard way.  

Here are the Top 5 Reasons Your Site Might Not Be Accessible:

  1. Missing ALT Text – ALT text is used to provide textual descriptions for the graphics on your site.  Many people with visual disabilities use screen readers to browse web sites.  These tools read the content of the site out loud.  Since they can’t “read” a graphic, you need to provide text alternatives (i.e., “ALT text”) for your graphics.  Most sites forget to include this for some or all of their graphics.  Many who do have ALT text don’t make it meaningful enough.  If you show an image of your special Holiday offer which tells us about the 25% discount shoppers can get during your special sale next week and all your ALT text says is “Holiday Special”, you have ALT text… but it’s not very useful.
  2. Keyboard Focus Problems – many disabled visitors to your site will use some form of “assistive technology” – some other tool or application that helps them browse your web site.  These tools essentially “read” your site and present the information to the user in a way that is easier to understand and use.  One of the biggest places that assistive technologies have problems with sites is with keyboard focus.  Many assistive technologies rely on tabbing to navigate (i.e., no keyboard).  If users can’t get to all of the right places, in the right order, by simply tabbing, there is a problem.  Imagine a web site where the Pay My Bill functionality is in a modal window that you can’t get to by tabbing.  That’s a serious problem to someone using a screen reader or other assistive technology.
  3. Sloppy Forms – Forms are complicated things.  For most of us, we get a lot of information about the relationships between the various bits of data by the visual relationships presented in the form (or table).  We can tell what a text entry field is about because we see a label to the left of it.  We know which fields are required because we see a little asterisk next to it.  We know what all the numbers in a column are about because there is a heading above it.  If you can’t see, however, how will you know all of that?  It has to be communicated another way.  A good accessible web site will provide enough information about the structure of the information for a screen reader to be able to tell the user what’s what.
  4. No Alternatives – We’ve already talked about problems users with visual disabilities can have when information is only presented in a visual format.  Now, imagine trying to use an important web site when key information was only presented audibly (perhaps as part of a video clip).  Or, how about using a site where all the information is in complicated graphs and charts when you have a cognitive disability that makes understanding those very difficult?  Good accessible sites will provide key information in more than one format – visual and audible, text and graphic, etc.
  5. Lack of User Control – Lastly, it’s hard to design a single user experience that will work well for everybody.  So, give the users some control.  Let them adjust the font size.  Let them speed up or slow down time-based media.  Let them turn features on or off.  If your site allows users to control their own experience, they can make it one that works for them.

Nobody wants to panic and then redesign their web site because their lawyers told them they need to.  That’s a disruptive, stressful, and expensive way to do it.  It’s much smarter to be proactive and ensure that your site is accessible before someone else makes you do it.  On top of that, it’s just smart to have an accessible web site.  I don’t know any business that would intentionally cut out 10% of their target audience just because they didn’t want to design a better web site.



Thanks for the guest post, Jeff. So readers — What do you think? Are you building in accessibility factors?

Special Offer: The TeamW is a Balanced Experience partner. If you’d like help understanding how accessible your web site or app is and what you might need to do about it, Balanced Experience is offering a 10% discount ($1,500 savings) on accessibility audits to anyone who signs up before the end of the calendar year.  You can contact them at info@balancedexperience.com.  Let them know you heard about it on the BrainLady blog.

Posted in accessibility, design Tagged with: , ,

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