How behavioural design creates the best user experiences

Chris Goward

A recent article by Tim Harford in the Financial Times explains why certain types of technology play such a prominent role in our understanding of the technology landscape: namely software-based technology. The reason for this, he says, is that software developers have found a powerful formula by combining user experience design expertise with scientific testing.

Software designers are stealing the limelight from other industries by advancing more rapidly through a commitment to testing.

He says,

Perhaps it is no surprise that “behavioural design” is becoming a buzz-phrase. Nick Chater, professor of behavioural science at Warwick Business School, argues that the combination of basic scientific research with user-oriented design thinking is a powerful one. Behavioural scientists in the fields of psychology and economics are producing reams of research about human behaviour, and designers have the skill and experience to turn those insights into products and services that make our lives happier or safer.

Behavioural Design’s influence is far-reaching

Software development is only one area where behavioural design research can be applied. The research in these areas is often aimed at solving societies biggest challenges: How should our economies avoid financial meltdowns? How can we create environmental sustainability? How can people live healthier lives? Etc.

The essential belief underlying behavioural design (and the related field of behavioural economics) is that people don’t act as rational decision-makers. These researchers are disproving old assumptions and simplistic motivational beliefs.

Behavioural research and motivation

Traditional behavioural models are being turned on their heads.

Daniel Pink, for example, challenges the traditional carrot and stick motivational model in his popular book, Drive. He shows research into how much more powerful new ideas of intrinsic motivation create more effective organizational change.

The principles behavioural researchers are discovering can be applied to your user experiences and marketing strategies.

Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational introduces studies that show how:

  • Too much choice can reduce sales conversion rates
  • Choice can create buyer’s remorse
  • Decisions are made based on immediate comparison rather than objective value.
  • Value estimates can be influenced by unrelated primers.
  • And many other helpful persuasion tactics.

The findings from Ariely, Pink, and the many researchers in their fields lead us to better experience design decisions. Applying these findings can massively improve your marketing conversion rates, as leading businesses are discovering.

Apps and websites that are most successful have found a way to create wonderful experiences

I can attest to this with a recent app experience.

I was looking for a pedometer tracker for my iPhone. I knew that walking could be an important part of my fitness regime and also that if I didn’t measure it, it wouldn’t happen. But, I also didn’t like the thought of strapping new devices to myself, as with the Fitbit or Nike fuel band options.

At first I tried one of the aptly-named “Pedometer” apps by Arawella. They seem to have the most feature-rich apps, though I still don’t understand why there are 5 different free versions of the app to choose from. I mean, how many different ways are there to count footsteps?

Attempting to set up the app was confusing from the start. Multiple setup screens, options and reports were overwhelming. I felt like I was preparing for a NASA mission just to track my walk to work.

Mobile conversion optimization failure
An over-complicated experience

And, it kept trying to upsell me to the Pro version. And, probably because of all the features and GPS tracking, it kept turning off so I had to intentionally start it whenever I wanted to track my walking.

At Conversion, we use the behavioural design approach built into the LIFT Model factors to improve marketing experiences. This app suffers from significant Distraction problems and lack of Clarity in the menu structure (aka. Information Architecture), and page design (aka. User Interface). It seems to be victim of the common feature-creep phenomenon that creates a lack of focus.

In contrast, when I came across the Moves App, the experience was a delight. The minimalist, focused interface gives me exactly what I want: a count of my activity. It also shows me where I’ve been in an elegant, intuitive way. It’s always on in the background, using minimal battery drain.

Mobile conversion optimization success
A wonderful, focused experience

It works because the designers have minimized Distraction (confusing settings) and Anxiety (battery life), and maximized the Clarity and Relevance of the step counter report.

Which experience more closely resembles your website and landing pages?

Do your websites, landing pages and products have focused, on point messages with wonderful experiences? Or, are they multi-functional, cluttered and frustrating annoyances?

Behavioural Design research is just the beginning

Understanding the latest research findings in behavioural design is a great place to start for improving your website experience. But, which new principles should apply to your website and business? How can the abstract findings be integrated into your communications? Which ones really have conversion optimization applications?

You may wonder how to apply all this research to your website.

That’s why testing within your specific environment is important.

The “best” answer is not always intuitive. It is always influenced by external variables. The best design and content depends on context.

You’ll get better advice from people that do the most testing, and the best from people who advise you how to test these ideas within your own context. Context is key for any behavioural design principle.

In other words, seeking out the latest research is helpful, but testing it in your own business is vital.

How do you test and improve your experience design?

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