Susan Weinschenk 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People is a valuable read. It summarizes knowledge from diverse domains such as psychology and neuroscience and derives implications for designers. Recently I was asked to summarize a few principles from the book that I thought were the most important. Here’s my list:
1. People are inherently lazy. This is the most important and perhaps the all-encompassing principle that we need to keep in mind while designing anything. Susan Weinschenk cites great evolutionary reason behind our laziness. We’ve learnt that we’ll survive longer if we conserve energy. Satisficing, taking shortcuts, and investing the least amount of effort to get to our goals are inherent behaviors in all of us and we can’t design against this behavior.
2. People want more choices and preferences than they can process. I interpret this as ‘greed.’ They are never satisfied. People always want more. In spite of the fact that philosophers and religious gurus have talked about the inherent nature of greed and how it’s a bottomless pit, people still don’t give up. As humans, we’ve not been able to overcome our primal instinct to acquire more (and make ourselves secure). But why do we want more? Why do we want to store? Perhaps this also goes back to the first principle that we are lazy. Acquiring more now (and storing it) means we won’t have to work for it tomorrow. Maybe, maybe not, but it doesn't seem impossible.
3. Anecdotes persuade more than data. People like stories. Stories trigger emotional reactions; emotions not only trigger parts of our brain related to memory but can also help in changing behavior. It’s equally important to note that emotions require less ‘voluntary effort,’ than thinking. (Could this also mean that we prefer emotions over thinking because we are lazy?)
4. People use look-and-feel as their first indicator of trust. People want to simplify their lives. They want to reduce the number of decisions they have to make and the number of times they have to think. Trust is a shortcut. They use this to simplify decision-making. Thus, they are always seeking cues that can imply trust. How a thing ‘looks’ determines how trustworthy it is before anything else. This, as we’d imagine, is followed by credentials of the person or the institutions sharing the information.
5. People will always make mistakes. There’s no fail-safe product. It’s human nature to make mistakes. The smartest among us also make mistakes, there’s no escaping that. Systems designed by us can also include mistakes. Thus, good design needs to factor in simple, efficient and frustration-free ways of handling mistakes and errors.
6. People value product more highly when it’s physically in-front of them. We as humans, are physical beings. Through our evolution, over millennia, we’ve interacted with other people, animals and physical objects, more than their images and certainly much more than a descriptive text about them. This can perhaps explain why we relate to a physical object or products much more. Also, the physical product engages our senses much more than just an image of it or a written description can.
Here are some examples of how we can apply these principles in our UX design work:
1. People are inherently lazy. Make my designs scannable. Avoid making people read and type, as much as possible. Here's an example
2. People want more choices and preferences than they can process. Give people fewer choices—perhaps two and ideally not more than three. Wherever possible, anything beyond three will have to be added by the user. For example:
3. Anecdotes persuade more than data. Talk in terms of people and their stories, instead of talking in terms of numbers and percentages. For example, on a landing page that describes how good or successful a product is, include anecdotes about people before throwing a bunch of numbers and percentages at people. Showcase real stories of people who've used, liked and recommended the product to their friends and family.
4. People use look and feel as their first indicator of trust. Instead focusing only on the content, also pay attention to its aesthetic organization and ‘who is delivering the content.’ Check content, make it specific and ensure that it's answering the questions that the user might have. Also, check if the use of colors and shapes are attracting users to the content or putting them off.
5. People will always make mistakes. There’s no fail-safe product. Design to minimize errors. And when an error does occur, design in a way so that it’s easy for the user to understand why it’s happened, how it can be addressed, and do all this in a language that’s easy to understand and fun to read. Here’s an error message that stands out.
Here's a counter-thought
I’ve summarized six principle above, but at an even more fundamental level there’s just one principle that can describe them all and it is that ‘people are lazy.’ Everything else branches from that fundamental idea. Here’s how
1. ‘People want more choices and preferences than they can process,’ can be summed up as GREED. Greed can also be seen as laziness (acquiring more now/ today so that I don’t have to try another day/later). We are evolutionarily conditioned to understand that the future is uncertain, so if I’m able to get something now/today, I might as well get as much of it as I can.
2. ‘Anecdotes persuade more than data,’ is LAZINESS because data requires us to think and thinking requires effort. Anecdotes and stories on the other hand do not require the same effort. Emotions, after all, are spontaneous. We don’t need to summon them, they just present themselves.
3. ‘People use look and feel as their first as their first indicator of trust,’ is LAZINESS. It’s a shortcut to concluding whether to trust something or not. Trust is a shortcut to happiness, which is an all-season goal among us humans.
4. ‘People will always make mistakes. There’s no fail-safe product.’ Mistakes are usually a result of carelessness which is not being attentive which is LAZINESS. Mistakes could also be due to unchartered exploration in search of something (which is GREED).
5. ‘People value product more highly when it’s physically in front of them,’ is LAZINESS because we prefer to reduce the cognitive overload that comes with imagining and thinking about a product based only on text or an image-based description.