100 Things You Should Know About People: #36 — People are Inherently Lazy

Photo Credit: Mr. Thomas

Ok, I’ll admit it, I am exaggerating a little bit when I say people are inherently lazy. What I really mean is that people will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.

Is lazy another word for efficient? — Over eons of evolution humans have learned that they will survive longer and better if they conserve their energy. We’ve learned that we want to spend enough energy to have enough resources (food, water, sex, shelter), but beyond that we are wasting our energy if we spend too much time running around getting stuff.

How much is enough? — Of course questions about how much is enough, and do we have enough stuff yet, and how long should the stuff last (and on and on), still vex us, but putting the philosophical questions aside, for most activities most of the time humans work on a principle that is called “satisficing”.

Satisfy plus suffice = Satisfice — According to Wikipedia, Herbert Simon was the person who coined the term satisfice. It was originally used to describe a decision-making strategy whereby the person decides to pick the option that is adequate rather than optimal. The idea is that the cost of making a complete analysis of all the options is not only not worth it, but may be impossible. According to Simon we often don’t have the cognitive faculties to weigh all the options. So it makes more sense to make a decision based on “what will do” or what is “good enough” rather than trying to find the optimal or perfect solution.

Designing with satisficing in mind — So if people “satisfice” rather than “optimize”, what are the implications for those of us who design web sites, software, products, or even design surveys? Satisficing leads to some interesting design guidelines which I’ve listed below.

Design web sites for scanning, not reading — In his excellent book Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug applies the idea of satisficing to the behavior you can observe when someone comes to your web site. You are hoping the visitor will read the whole page, but we know that “What they actually do most of the time (if we’re lucky) is glance at each new page, scan some of the text, and click on the first link that catches their interest or vaguely resembles the thing they’re looking for. There are usually large parts of the page that they don’t even look at.”

Assume that people will look for shortcuts — People will look for ways to do something faster and with less steps. This is especially true if it is a task they are doing over and over.

But if the shortcut is too hard to find — Then people will keep doing it the old way. This seems paradoxical, but it’s all about the amount of perceived work. If it seems like too much work to find a shortcut then people will stay with their old habits (they are even satisficing about satisficing).

Provide defaults — Defaults  reduce the amount of work. When you provide defaults on a web form, for example, the person’s name and address is already filled in, this means there is less that people have to do. The downside of this is that people often don’t notice defaults, and so may end up accepting a default without knowing. Here again, the answer lies in the amount of effort. If it takes a lot of work to change the result of accepting a “wrong” default, then think twice about using them.

Take care with the order and wording of your survey questions — Satisficing is particular difficult for surveys. People will get into a “groove” of answering all the questions the same way because it’s easier and they don’t have to think. If your survey is more than a few questions long you will have to mix it up, and provide different options and formats for the questions or you will find that a given individual has chosen twenty-five “6’s” in a row on your scale.

What are your experiences, either as a user or a designer, with the concept of satisficing?

Photo credit by Mr. Thomas

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Do You Know The Trust Quotient of Your Organization?

Avis Button: We Try HarderLast week I gave the keynote talk at the Big D conference in Dallas Texas. (It’s a great conference and I suggest you check it out next year.) The conference was Friday and Saturday, although I could only go to the very beginning of day 2. I had to leave in the morning to go to the airport and catch my flight home.

Problem #1: I’m one of these “nervous” travelers, so I always make sure to leave plenty of time to get to the airport. I left the conference building on the deserted campus of Southern Methodist University, and walked to the parking garage where my Avis rental car was parked. As I went to get in I saw that I had a flat tire — completely flat. The question now was, could I deal with the flat tire and still get to the airport on time?

Thus began an hour and one half long very frustrating journey into voice interface hell. I called the number on my Avis paperwork, and went from voice tree to voice tree to voice tree. I was trying to get help with the tire, as well as find out if I could leave the car and get a cab to the airport. I would try one branch of the voice tree be on hold for 15 minutes. I would call another branch and talk to someone who would transfer me back to the same place I had been 30 minutes ago. I made at least 15 different phone calls and talked to at least 12 different people.

I will admit that there were times when I was sobbing into the phone, and although a few of the people on the other end sounded sympathetic, there appeared to be no way they could help me. At one point I decided to change the tire myself and just drive to the airport, but then discovered that, although there was a spare tire and a jack, there were no other tools (lug wrench?) in the trunk.

After 90 minutes of this, I did manage to talk to someone who was going to come tow the car. I gave him directions to where it was, hoped he’d be able to find it, left the keys in the car, and called my hotel (that I had already checked out of) and asked them to send a taxi. The taxi driver obliged my request to drive really fast, and I even made my plane home. I have no idea if Avis ever got the car. I sure hope they did! Of course I have not heard from them.

Apple vs. Avis: Let’s contrast that experience with what happened when I discovered that I had a large crack in my beloved iPad screen. I’ve had the iPad for a few weeks now, and am definitely attached to it. Imagine my dismay upon discovering a huge crack. I called Apple (I always buy apple care for my apple products) and was transferred to a person in about 2 minutes. He actually wasn’t sure what to do (said it was the first time anyone had called in with a cracked screen to him). After first asking if the crack was sharp and would hurt me (it wasn’t, but I appreciated his concern), he asked if they could call me back. Which of course they promptly did. We then discussed options (go to a store, but there is no store near me, or send it in by fedex, or have them send me a new one and then I send it in etc), I picked an option, and the whole thing was taken care of in a matter of minutes.

I know that an iPad is not the same as a rental car. But the real difference here is that Apple wants to take care of problems and has created a support system to do so, and Avis has not. I pay to have “apple care” and they do care. Apple has put the customer/user experience high up on their list of priorites. Avis, on the other hand,  is a confused conglomeration of support around the world. I’d pay extra to have “avis care” but there is no such option. At this point, the slogan, “we try harder” is merely a slogan without any teeth behind it.

Apple will continue to get my business. Avis will not. Assuming I rent a vehicle once a month for $250 each time, that’s about $3000 a year. Over a 10 year period that’s $30,000. You’d think that Avis would not want to lose $30k of business from a single customer.

It’s all about the customer experience. It’s all about what happens when something goes wrong. Things always go wrong. Have you researched your company? What happens when something goes wrong for your customers? Have you experienced what it’s like from their point of view? Have you put time and attention on customer care when there are problems? Your true business is not just the product or service that customers initially come to you for. It’s the relationship you have with them. It’s when things go wrong that you find out who your friends really are. And it’s when things go wrong that you find out which businesses you want to continue to have relationships with. People make decisions about what companies to work with, and they make those decisions largely unconsciously. They will decide to work with companies they trust. How you handle problems and mistakes has a huge impact on trust.

What is the trust quotient of your organization?

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #31 — The Desire For Control And Choice Is Built In

picture of book coverI’ve just started reading Sheena Iyengar’s new book, The Art of Choosing. I’ve been a fan of Dr. Iyengar’s work for a while. She’s the author of the famous “jam study”, that I talked about in a previous blog.   (I’ll do a book review of the new book in a future post). Early in the book she talks about some of the research on choosing and control.

The paradox of choosing — In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz talks about how much we want to have lots of choices. The paradox is that if we have lots of choices then we tend not to choose at all. I have a chapter in my book Neuro Web Design: What makes them click devoted to our need to have choices, and the resulting inability to choose.

The innate desire to control — The desire to control our environment is built into us. This makes sense, since by controlling our environment we likely increase our chances of surviving. Iyengar’s discussion in her new book about choices got me thinking about control, and the relationship between having lots of choices and being in control.  The desire to control is related to the desire to have choices.

The need to control starts young — In a study of infants as young as 4 months, the researchers attached babies’ hands to a string. The infants could move their hands to pull a string which would cause music to play. Then the researchers would then detach the string from the music control. They would play music at the same intervals, but the infant had no control over when the music would play. The babies would become sad and angry, even though the music was still playing at the same intervals. They wanted to control when the music played.

We think that choices = control — In an experiment with rats, the rats were given a choice of a direct path to food or a path that had branches and therefore required choices to be made. The rats preferred the path with branches. Monkeys and pigeons learn to press buttons to get food, but they prefer to have more than one button even though it doesn’t get them any more food. Even though it isn’t necessarily true, we equate having choices with having control. If are to feel in control, then we need to feel that our actions are powerful and that we have choices to make. Sometimes having a lot of choices makes it harder to get what we want, but we still want the choices so that we feel in control of the decision.

For more information about the books mentioned in this post (affiliate links):

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #29 – Brand Names Talk To Our "Old" Brains

You are planning on buying a new TV. Will you buy a brand you recognize? Or will you go for the unfamiliar “no name” brand that is less expensive? What if you are buying luggage?

Talking to the “old brain” — In my book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I write about the “old brain”. This is the part of the brain that developed first from an evolution point of view (sometimes called the reptilian brain because it developed with reptiles). The old brain is continually scanning the environment and asking, “Can I eat it?”, “Will it kill me?”, “Can I have sex with it?”. Basically the old brain is interested in food, survival and sex. This pre-occupation with our well-being also makes the old brain sensitive to the idea of loss. The old brain is therefore more motivated by the fear of losing something than it is by the possibility of gain.

Brands activate “safety” — Brand names talk to the old brain because they activate the idea of safety. A brand name means that the item is not an unknown. And if the brand name is positive to you, then the brand name signals safety to the old brain. (If you have had a negative experience with the brand then it will be the opposite. I had a bad experience with Panasonic once many many years ago, and for over two decades I wouldn’t buy anything made by Panasonic. Recently I’ve reluctantly let go of that “ban”, but I still prefer not to buy Panasonic. I can’t even remember what the product was that upset me so much, but in my head Panasonic = maybe not reliable).

Brands are shortcuts — One of the things our old brains are really good at is making quick “blink” decisions. You can’t consciously process all the information that comes into your brain. The estimate is that 40,000,000 inputs come into your brain from your senses every SECOND. You can only process 40 of those consciously, so it is your unconscious that is processing most of that information, and it uses lots of shortcuts to make the processing go faster. Brands are a shortcut. A brand you have a positive and emotional experience with equals a signal to the old brain that this is safe.

Brands are even more powerful online — I’m currently analyzing some data I’ve collected on people making purchases online. (I’ll be sharing that data in another post shortly). The study I conducted has to do with customer reviews. But an interesting piece of information that emerged along the way was how important brand was to the purchasing decision. Some of the participants in the study were asked to shop for luggage online, and others were asked to shop for TVs. All the participants commented during the study about the brand, saying things like, “I don’t know. This one is a good price, but I’ve never heard of this brand”.  In the absence of being able to see and touch the actual product, the brand becomes the “surrogate” for the experience. This means that brands have even more power and sway when you are making an online purchase.

What has been your experience? Do you go for “name” brands more when you are shopping online?

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100 Things You Should Know About People: #25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood

Picture of Woman Looking In Mirror
Photo Credit: Katie Ricard

In a previous post on how mood affects your reaction to brands you know (see You Are Most Affected By Brands And Logos When You Are Sad And Scared), I talked about the research from Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands. De Vries also did research on two types of decision making: a trusting -your- gut intuitive method vs. following a logical, deliberative decision-making process of weighing alternatives and thinking through pros and cons. De Vries was interested in whether one method of decision-making was better than another, and also whether your mood affected the outcome of the decision.

When to use deliberative decision-making — Research by Dijksterhuis shows that when you have simple decision to make you make better decisions when you use a logical deliberative method.

When to use intuitive decision-making — Research by Shiv shows that when you have a complicated decision to make, you make better decisions when you use an intuitive or “gut” method.

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #25 — Trust Your Gut or Be Logical? It Depends On Your Mood”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #24 — You Are Most Affected By Brands and Logos When You Are Sad Or Scared

Here’s Scenario 1: You get together with your friends to watch your home team play a game on TV. They win! After an afternoon of fun and friendship you stop at a grocery store on your way home. You are in a good mood. Are you more or less likely to buy the usual cereal you always buy or will you try something new?

Here’s Scenario 2: It’s Friday afternoon and your boss calls you in to tell you that he’s not happy with your latest project report. This is the project that you repeatedly told him was in trouble and you asked that more staff be assigned. You feel all your warnings were ignored. Now he’s telling you that this work will reflect badly on you and you may even lose your job. On the way home you stop at the grocery store. You are sad and scared. Are you more or less likely to buy the usual cereal you always buy, or will you try something new?

You Want What’s Familiar — A series of research studies by Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, shows that when people are sad or scared, they want what is familiar. When people are in a happy mood they are not as sensitive to what is familiar, and are willing to try something new and different. Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #24 — You Are Most Affected By Brands and Logos When You Are Sad Or Scared”

Quick Review of Jonah Lehrer's Book How We Decide

Here is a quick video review of one of my favorite psychology books ever written. First the video review and then below I have a text summary of the review.

Jonah Lehrer’s book How We Decide is a best seller. It’s a relatively short book, but it is packed full of all the latest science on how people make decisions, including the latest research on unconscious mental processing. Lehrer is both a science writer and a neuroscientist, which means that the book has lots of substance, but is also easy to read. He uses stories and examples to explain what might otherwise be complicated and difficult science. Continue reading “Quick Review of Jonah Lehrer's Book How We Decide”

10 Best Posts of 2009

It’s that time of year — so here is my list of the 10 best posts from my blog in 2009. I chose the 10 that I believe have had the greatest impact/most thought provoking/most interest from my readers.

#1: Dopamine Makes You Addicted to Seeking Information — I thought this was an interesting post when I wrote it, but it surprised me how quickly it took off virally; more than any other post I’ve written!

#2: Eyetracking — 7 Traps to Avoid — Another surprise to me how popular this post was.

#3: 7 Steps to Successful Web Site Redesign — I think Jacek Utko has an important view of the world.

#4: Your Attention is Riveted By Pictures of People — If people knew how important this is I think they’d change the pictures they put at their web site.

#5: Web Site User Experience Anatomy — Not one of my posts, but a guest post by Craig Tomlin, and an interesting way to think about web sites. Continue reading “10 Best Posts of 2009”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #17 — Your Unconscious Knows 1st

You are shopping for a new computer and the salesperson you are talking to is offering you what seems to be a good deal. And yet there is a part of you that feels uncomfortable and isn’t sure if this is the right computer, or the right deal, or the right store for you. If you had to articulate why you felt uncomfortable you might not be able to say why, or you’d make up a reason, but that might not really be the reason. So what’s going on?

Your unconscious mind is faster than your conscious mind — One of my favorite pieces of research is the study by Bechara and Damasio. It’s a little complicated to explain, so a few months ago I put together a short video “re-enactment” to help describe the research. I have a summary below as well:

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #17 — Your Unconscious Knows 1st”

100 Things You Should Know About People: #16 — The Ability To Delay Gratification Or Not Starts Young

You want to buy that Kindle, but you are thinking maybe you should wait for a while. Maybe you should see if the price comes down after the holiday shopping season, or maybe you should make sure that you have enough cash to pay all of your credit card bills before you spend money on a new gadget for yourself. Do you wait or not?

Whether you are the type of person who can delay gratification or whether you aren’t, chances are high that you’ve been this way (a delayer or not a delayer) since you were a young child.

Here is one of my favorite psychology research videos. Watch these little kids decide whether to eat the one marshmallow that is put in front of them, or wait and thereby get 2 marshmallows:

Continue reading “100 Things You Should Know About People: #16 — The Ability To Delay Gratification Or Not Starts Young”