What Most People Don't Know About Behavioral Design
Editor’s note: I recently had the chance to speak with Susan Weinschenk, a behavioral scientist, author, and speaker, about her upcoming talk Habit Summit in April. (I’ll be attending Habit Summit and you can register here!) She’s had a fascinating career in behavioral design, as you’ll see in this interview.
Q: You’re the author of the book, One Hundred Things Every Designer Should Know About People. What’s one takeaway from the book that readers get most excited about?
Susan Weinschenk: I think one thing that gets people is they have never stopped to think about the important role of peripheral vision.
In my talks and in my books, I go into some of the research on peripheral versus central vision. We’ve all been trained to pay attention to design in terms of what people are looking at, with the idea that the central part of the screen is the most important real estate. For many years, when I would teach in workshops, we would talk about primary real estate on the screen and how to use that. And that’s all in central vision. So I think that people haven’t understood, necessarily, how important our peripheral vision is.
We take in information in our peripheral vision. We take it in mostly unconsciously; we react to emotional images or messages and danger in our peripheral vision and our peripheral vision is actually deciding where we should look next. And that’s all happening unconsciously and we just don’t realize it.
When product people realized that, they can go back and ask, “Wait a minute, what do we have on our screens in peripheral vision? What are we doing with the peripheral vision space? What should we be doing differently?” People often want to think about that and apply that right away because it’s pretty basic. You can look at your screen, even if you’re on a mobile, you still have some peripheral vision. Or, if you’re designing for tablet, or for a laptop or a regular computer, the peripheral vision is just as important. You can look at your design there immediately and start evaluating it.
Q: In your consulting practice, you help companies conduct behavioral design audits. What are some of the most common deficiencies that you discover?
SW: Whenever you are designing something you are trying to design it so that people will do a particular thing like press that button there, or sign-up, or make the purchase, or whatever you’re designing for. But there’s so much going on in a project like: What does the business want? What does this particular stakeholder think is important? Then you have a team designing it, not just one person. And so one of the things I tend to see a lot is that people lose sight of the “micro moment.”
I’ll say, “Okay guys, the person, they’re on this page, they’re on this screen, they’re on this form, exactly what is it you want them to do here, and have you done everything you can to make sure that thing happens?” There’s a tendency that that micro moment gets lost. There’s too much stuff on the screen, there are too many choices for them, there are too many obstacles in filling in the form, and people are not seeing it.
And that’s just what we do in an audit. I point out to people what the micro moment idea is from their target user’s point of view. Just seeing it from the point of view of the user. Basically, what happens when you work on a project for a long time is you don’t see it the same way like someone else when they see it for the first time. You know where that information is located on the screen, you know what that item on the menu means. You know that in order to fill out the form you need to do this, this, this and this. It’s very easy to forget what it’s like to be new to it.
Q: At Habit Summit 2017, you’re conducting a workshop on “designing for action.” What are some of the basic principles of designing for action?
SW: First of all, you need to know and need to make sure you really understand your target audience—like who are they, what’s the context that they’re in, are they under stress, do they have a sick child next to them crying and they’re trying to find a doctor? I mean what’s the situation in which they’re using this thing? You need to really understand what context, to really understand the users, to know what is likely to motivate them in this situation.
In my book, ‘How to Get People to Do Stuff’, and in our workshops, we teach some of the major drivers in behavior. So which of those seven are most operative here at this moment in time, with this user, in this context, what’s gonna be the thing that propels them to take action? Is it because there is something instinctual like fear or danger? Is it because they have the desire to belong to a part of a group, so is it a social motivator? Is it something to do with a reward, to know what is going to work for that part of the audience in that situation?
Then be really clear about what exactly is the action you want them to take, back to the idea of a micro moment. If you say to me, “Well, we either want them to do this, or this, or this, or this.” It’s like, “Nuh-uh, not gonna happen. What’s the one thing you want them to do right now?” So get really clear on that. Once you know who’s your target audience, what’s the context, what’s gonna motivate them, what’s the one thing you want them to do, now we can look at whatever it is that you’re designing. There are a number of different strategies in the workshops that we teach. And so then you just work on that screen and apply one or more of the strategies to it. It’s actually pretty scientific and linear. To me it’s not art, it’s definitely science.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. A version of this interview was originally published at NirandFar.com.