Host a Class and Attend For Free

We’re launching in-person, one-day classes starting in December of 2013 (see class list below). If you are interested in hosting a class let us know.

Hosting means that you provide a meeting room (preferably one that holds 50 or more; ideally 100, but we can be flexible), screen projector, microphone, and wifi for all attendees. We take care of all the rest (registrations, course materials, etc). When you host you get 5 free seats to the class and a discount if you want to send any more people.

We are currently interested in finding hosts in these cities (including the general metropolitan area of each city):

  • San Francisco
  • Chicago
  • St. Louis
  • Indianapolis
  • Washington DC

Our first round of classes are: (Details and Registration coming soon)

  • The Science of Persuasive and Engaging Design
  • Don’t Guess: Test! The Why, What, and How of User Testing
  • How to Design Intuitive and Usable Products Through User Research

If you are interested in hosting please contact us: or call 847-909-5946

How To Get People To Do Stuff: #1 — Use Nouns Instead Of Verbs

"I am a voter"This blog post is the first of a new series called “How To Get People To Do Stuff”. It features nuggets from the book I am writing by the same name due out in March of 2013.

I’m also starting a new format of doing video blogs. So first is the video, and then below it is the text that I talk about in the video.

Let me know what you think about the new topic series and whether you like the video format!

Here’s the research:

Walton, Gregory and Banaji, Mahzarin, Being what you say: the effect of essentialist linguistic labels on preferences, Social Cognition, Vol. 22, No. 2, 2004, pp. 193-213.

In a survey about voting, Gregory Walton at Stanford sometimes asked  “How important is it to you to be a voter in tomorrow’s election?” versus  “How important is it to you to vote in tomorrow’s election?”

The first sentence was phrased so that the emphasis was on the noun, “voter”. The second sentence emphasized “to vote”. Did the wording make a difference?

11% more voted — When the the noun (be a voter) was used instead of the verb (to vote), 11% more people actually voted the following day.  Why would nouns affect behavior more than verbs?

Needing to belong — I had always learned that using direct verbs resulted in more action. But if using a noun invokes group identity, that will trump a direct verb. People have a strong need to feel that they belong. People identify themselves in terms of the groups they belong to and this sense of group can deeply affect their behavior. You can stimulate group identity just by the way you have people talk about themselves or the way you phrase a question. For example, research shows that if people say “I am a chocolate eater” versus “I eat chocolate a lot” it will affect how strong their preference is for chocolate. “Eater” is a noun. “Eat” is a verb.

When you are trying to get people to do stuff try using nouns rather than verbs. Invoke a sense of belonging to a group and it is much more likely that people will comply with your request.

What do you think? Have you tried nouns instead of verbs?

Launching the User Experience Institute Today

Just a quick note to say that I’ve launched my new business today. I’ve left Human Factors International and have started a company dedicated to research and training in all things user experience. It’s called the User Experience Institute. I’ll be posting more information on it as well as getting a new website up and running soon.

Ideas for research? — The new company will focus on training (classes, on-line seminars etc), but we will also be conducting practical research in user experience. I’d like your input into what design and user experience questions you have in general. Here are some ideas other people have given me recently:

  • What is the best way to design a table?
  • What’s the latest reaction to having scrolling pages vs. breaking things up into multiple pages?
  • Are breadcrumbs really (still?) dead?

I’m collecting practical questions like these, and then we’ll design some studies to test the ideas, and put together some seminars etc to communicate. Send me your burning questions about all things related to people and technology!

You can reply in the comments, or send an email to:





100 Things You Should Know About People: #53 — People See Cues About How To Use An Object

Door Handle that looks like you should pull, but it says Push
Photo from

You’ve probably had the experience of encountering a door handle that doesn’t work the way it should – for example, it has a handle that looks like you should pull, but in fact you need to push. In the “real” world, objects communicate to you about how you can, and should, interact with them. For example, by their size and shape, some door knobs invite you to grab and turn them; other door knobs invite you to grab and pull; the curved handle on a coffee mug tells you to curl a few fingers through it and lift it up. A pair of scissors invites you to put fingers through the circles and move your thumb up and down to open and close. Psychologists call these cues “affordances”.

When the cues go wrong — If an item is missing cues, or gives you incorrect cues, you get annoyed and frustrated. If the cues inherent in the object itself aren’t enough to convey its use, then we resort to putting labels on to fix the cue mismatch, as in the door handle above.

The equivalent of door handles online –– Have you ever thought about what makes people want to click on a button on a computer screen? If you use certain cues in the shadow of a button it looks like it can be pushed in, the way a button on an actual device, like a remote control, can be pushed.

Button not pushed in

If the shadows are reversed then the button looks like it is already pushed in.

Button not pushed in

Websites are losing affordance cues – Have you noticed that we are starting to lose affordance cues? When graphical user interfaces first came out, almost all the buttons had these shading cues. They were built into the button widgets that came with the Windows or Mac styles. When everything moved to the web there weren’t required interface widgets. Everyone could create their own buttons. Many buttons don’t have the cues anymore.

Button at website with no shading

We’re even losing the hyperlink cues — Most people have figured out the affordance cue on websites that blue, underlined text means that the text is hyperlinked, and if you click on it you will go to a different page. But lately many hyperlinks are more subtle, with the only cue that they are clickable showing up when/if you hover, as in the example below from the New York Times Reader application. In the app, you don’t get the hyperlink until you hover.

No blue hyperlinks

Even fewer cues on an iPad — And if you are reading on your iPad all of these cues are missing. You can’t hover on an iPad with your finger. By the time you’ve touched the screen with your finger you’ve clicked on the link. There is no hover on an iPad.

What do you think? Are we going to lose all affordance cues?

And if you like to read:

  1. James J. Gibson (1979), The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception.
  2. Donald Norman (1988), The Design of Everyday Things,

New Book Due Out In April: 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People: The Book and the Workshop

I’m happy to announce that I’m working on my next book with New Riders. It’s called 100 Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People (sound familiar?!). It will cover similar topics as my series of blog posts have been covering, but it will be in a lot more detail, with descriptions of the research, and lots of examples of how to apply the findings and research in the world of design. I’ll write more I’m sure about the book as I work on the writing of it. I would love to hear from you, the readers of the blog, and in the coming months I’ll figure out some ways for you all to participate. In the meantime, if you have ideas, for instance, topics you would like me to cover, or interesting research I should include, please do drop me a line via the comments here or email me: The book is due out in April of 2011.

Thumbs Up: Website Uses Principles of Persuasion

The website gets a thumbs up for using principles of Neuro Web Design effectively.

Look at their home page ( On the home page is a large photo of a woman who looks really happy. In fact, she looks positively joyful.

Chapter 10 of Neuro Web Design describes the research on why pictures are so powerful at persuading at a website. The message on this home page is that this person is doing great things with this Constant Contact’s software.

Next look at the large text that says “Look what you can do today! It’s using the word “you” in large letters in the headline, which follows the principles in Chapter 6 on the Self. Using the word You (especially in large font size and in the headline) captures the attention of the unconscious. It tells the unconscious brain that there is something important on the page. You! You are ultimately all that matters to the unconscious, and using the word “You” in large letters gets that message across. The reaction will be for visitors to the site to (unconsciously) assume that the software is for them, and that the company has their best interest at heart.

There’s a link in the top Navigation bar to Customer Examples. When you go to that page ( there are stories of how customers have used the software in their businesses. This page uses principles from Chapter 2 in Neuro Web Design on Social Validation. The message is that other people are using this software, so many of them that they need a whole section of the website to talk about them.

At the Customer Example page, there are again pictures and stories (more Chapter 10). This time the pictures are of the emailing campaigns that customers implemented using the Constant Contact software.

Someone recommended that I check out Constant Contact (Chapter 2, Social Validation!). Once there it took me less than a minute to be persuaded to try their free trial. Their website is a great example of Neuro Web Design at work. A big “thumbs up” for Constant Contact’s site.

NOTE: This blog is December of 2008. I’ve decided I like Constant Contact so much I have become an affiliate of theirs, so here’s a link to their website if you are interested in trying them out:

Emails for Small Business with Constant Contact

5 Ways to Engage the Unconscious Mind at a Website

We like to think that we are rational, logical decision makers, but the reality is that most human decisions are made unconsciously. So if that is true, can a website engage the unconscious mind?

Here are five of the more compelling ways to do that. Write back and tell me if you agree.

1. Use sex, food, or danger. The unconscious mind pays attention to the possibility of sex, to food, and to danger. If you use any of these triggers at a web site then the unconscious pays attention. So show a picture of a good looking man and/or woman with a flirtatious look in their eyes, or a full color picture of luscious food, or a scary picture, and you’ll grab ’em. Well, not all sites lend themselves to using any of those, so let’s move on to #2.

2. Use ratings. Ratings invoke the principle of social validation. If we see that other people have rated the (product, idea, author, blog, etc) highly, then we feel we should check it out too.

3. Tell a story. Some of the latest research on brain scans (fMRI scans) shows that people digest information in a story format. Using stories makes information easier to understand, and engages us automatically on both a conscious and unconscious level.

4. Don’t offer too many choices. Research shows that people pay attention to only about 2 or 3 attributes of a product or an offer at a website. If you offer too many choices the unconscious can’t decide (it’s really the unconscious deciding). Too many choices and people freeze up and don’t take any action at all.

5. Use the word YOU. The unconscious mind is all about YOU. You will pay attention if you see the word you.

Check it out. See if you react a certain way to sites that follow these 5 principles.


Top 10 Reasons Boomers Go Kicking and Screaming Into Blogging

I wrote this blog post in 2008. I’m glad to say that 8 years later I’ve gotten the hang of blogs, I’ve written hundreds of posts, I’ve turned some of the posts into several books… So… even though this post represents how I felt in 2008, I can report that boomers can blog.


I actually have two blogging coaches and one twitter coach. I’m trying to get the hang of this blog thing. I really am. It’s a slow road. I’m a baby boomer and I just don’t think we boomers are good at this blog/twitter/viral marketing thing. But I’m trying.

One of my blogging coaches says that top ten lists are good. That people like to read top ten lists in blogs. And my twitter coach, well, I haven’t even begun to figure out what she is trying to tell me to do with twittering. I might be able to master blogging one day, but I’m not sure at all that I’ll ever be a master twitterer.
So here is my top 10 list of things that prevent boomers from easily blogging or twittering:
#1 — we have a really hard time saying things concisely. In a blog we have only a few paragraphs to say something pithy. That’s not enough for us. We tend to ramble. And twittering gives us only a few words! It’s daunting!
#2 — we feel that if we say something it has to be really profound. We’ve got an ego the size of an elephant.
#3 — we are acutely aware of the fact that most people that are possibly going to read the blog or the twitter message are NOT boomers, and we fear that we have nothing to say that younger generations are remotely interested in.
#4 — we are awed by the internet. To publish something on the internet is a BIG THING to us.
#5 — we think that blogs are like columns in newspapers and we have the old-fashioned idea that it is journalists and writers that write columns. We don’t think of blogging as a job.
#6 — we don’t understand any of the twitter messages we get from others, so we can’t imagine sending a message like that out to anyone else.
#7 — we are afraid that we will write a blog and no one will post a response. It’s like checking your mail box and no one sent you any letters…
#8 — we’re afraid of using outdated and anachronistic examples like #7 above. I should have said “it’s like checking your inbox and no one sent you any emails…”
#9 — we’re afraid that people will actually read our blogs and then we will have to defend them.
#10 — we’re afraid that we’ll obsessively go back and read our own blogs and twitter messages and realize how dumb we sound.
Oh well, time to go twitter about my blog (?)

How Social Computing Elected the US President

The last chapter in my new book is called “The Next Big Thing”, and it’s all about the fact that being human means being social. It is built into our brains and evolution to live together with others, and to be very influenced by our “pack” or group. History shows us that whatever technology there is, we will find a way to use it to communicate – to make it social.

Look at the history:

The printing press allowed people to communicate via the written word in a way that was much faster. Before the printing press each book had to be copied by hand, a task that sometimes took years. The printing press brought that time down to days, and in some instances, hours. That meant that books could be created by the thousands and more for people to read. But that wasn’t the main use of the printing press. Individuals and small groups used it to start to communicate quickly. Much of the early use of the printing press was not long books, but short pamphlets or even one page “bills” like bulletins. The printing press was truly a form of mass communication.

Same thing with telephones. When the first telephones were first being developed they were viewed as an updated version of the telegraph. There was no plan for people to have telephones in their homes. The assumption was that the telephones would be in the telegraph offices and be used to convey messages from telegraph office to telegraph office (and from there the message would be written out and delivered).

Same thing with cell phones. I was talking one day with a client at Motorola who told me that years and years ago his group at Motorola invented the cell phone, and then put it on the shelf where it sat for years. “Why?”, I asked. “Why didn’t you bring it to market right away?” He answered: “Well, we thought we’d only be making about ten of them. Not much of a market.” “Ten of them? Why did you think that?”, I asked. His reply was “We figured each head of state for major nations would have one. You know, the President of the United States, the head guy in Russia, and so on. We thought they’d use it to prevent a world war. I had no idea people would use it to call home before leaving work to see if they should pick up milk!”

And now it’s happened once again with Barack Obama’s election as US President. I participated in the campaign at my local level and was struck immediately by the campaign’s use of technology. Millions of people in the US were tracked in a data base that used buying patterns, magazine subscriptions, and whatever other data that can be purchased, to figure out whether they were likely to be an Obama supporter, a McCain supporter or undecided. Then legions of volunteers were sent out to knock on doors and conduct a short survey. The results of that survey were fed back in to the database. Algorithms were revised and new lists created that got tested again. This continued every week for weeks and weeks. The campaign used this data to decide where to target, who to call, which doors to knock on (focus on the undecided). At the same time the viral power of Facebook was put to work. Technology was used to socially collaborate and network. From campaign contribution, to volunteering, to creating a buzz, technology and social collaboration on the web had a major part in electing a President.

People will always push the envelope to bend the available technology to purposes that extend and improve communication and the opportunity to be social. It always leaves me wishing I could see ahead and predict the next social use of technology. Every time I find myself saying, “of course, why didn’t I see that coming!”

A Plot By Apple to Convert PC Users?

I write my blog on a MacBook Pro. In fact, I do almost everything on my MacBook Pro. That may not seem unusual, but I can assure you it is. For as long as there were PCs, I was a PC person, not a Mac person. I’ve been using computers since before there were screens. I’ve been using computers since before there was Apple or Microsoft. I used to run programs with a casette tape on a Radio Shack. Ok, I’m showing my age, aren’t I? The point is that I was NOT a mac type person until about 5 months ago. Now I am sitting here with my Mac, my iphone, and my iPod. What happened!!!

What happened was that I bought an iPod a few years ago. I told myself that it would be a great gizmo to have while exercising, but the real reason was that my kids had one and it looked like it would be cool and fun. But getting an iPod meant I had to buy an Apple product. I actually did feel a twinge of dissonance when I broke a little bit from my non-Apple, all-PC persona to buy an Apple product. But it was only a type of MP3 player really, right? So it was a small action away from my usual persona. Not too drastic.

But it was a crack in my PC Persona. The research on commitment shows that once someone commits to one small thing, it often creates those cracks in persona and makes it easier to make more decisions in line with the new view of the persona. I was now a PC person who used an Apple product. I loved my iPod. And over time my PC persona began to give way. I was becoming a person who believed in Apple products. This created a huge amount of dissonance, and when it came time to purchase a new laptop, I dissipated the dissonance by buying a Mac laptop. I had effortlessly erased years of a PC persona, because my persona had already been sliding that way, even though I was not conscious of the slide until it came time for the larger purchase.

So my question is, did Apple introduce the iPod on purpose? Knowing that it would create this avalanche later? Was the iPod a masterful lead-in to getting people to switch from PCs to Macs?