The Psycho-Dynamics of Experience Design

Posted by Tony Quin on October 4th, 2012 at 1:08 pm


For years I have been preaching the strategy of Click/Reward. The idea is simple, every time someone clicks within a digital experience something pleasant should happen. This idea, while perhaps intuitive, flows from a number of observations. First we live in an instant gratification society, and, of course, we are all pleasure hounds. But more importantly it comes from mapping buyer psychology to the sales process.

Understanding the Buyer

How the unique dynamics of digital media connect with the psychology of a buyer, on the path to purchase, is the key to creating successful digital experiences. This path today is often presented as a wonderfully busy chart with a myriad of touch points and influences. But in the end we all go through the same simple process: first we are unaware of a specific need, then we recognize it as a potential need, then we explore its value. Then, if we continue, we evaluate our options, finally make a choice and buy.

Yes there are many factors and forces that influence this along the way, but block out all that noise for a minute and focus on the buyer’s basic motivations. Through this process our motivation shifts from passive in the early stages, and not willing to invest much effort, to active in the later stages once our intention starts to crystallize.

Creating the User Path

Our earliest attempts at IQ to codify these psycho-dynamics, and create experiences that enable the buying process, were expressed in the UX principles of Directed Choice and Incremental Engagement. Directed Choice essentially holds that unknown visitors to a brand site should be assumed to be in marketing exploration mode; passive and without formed motivation. At this stage it is the brand’s responsibility to make choice very easy and intuitive, to reduce or eliminate work, analysis and choices. Of course someone with a task to accomplish can always self identify at anytime.

Next comes Incremental Engagement. Incremental Engagement breaks complex value propositions into steps where each step requires a choice that takes the user closer to personal relevance. This UX principle recognizes that most value propositions are complex and require a time commitment from the prospect in order to receive the whole story. The problem is that before prospects are sufficiently motivated they won’t commit to much so each step is a small commitment. Incremental Engagement also recognizes that the more personally relevant something is for the prospect, the more compelling it will be. Every salesman knows this. If you looking for a truck and the sales guy shows you cars…well, you get the idea, and that brings us back to click/reward.

Rewarding the Click

So far we have learned that we should make things really easy for prospects at first, we should make commitments small and get them to what’s personally relevant as quickly as possible. But this is all pretty analytical. It assumes that people are pursuing their interest analytically. Actually evidence suggests that people explore and make decisions more emotionally than we think. As Charles Hannon, professor of Computing and Information Studies at Washington & Jefferson College, discusses in this excellent post, the dopamine reward system produces good or bad feelings based on what we do in the world.

The implication of this, as Jonah Lehrer explains in his book How We Decide, is that rational decision making, thought to trump the emotions since Plato, is actually not how we do it. Recent neuroscience has reversed this age old model of how human beings make decisions by showing that indeed emotions, some stimulated by the dopamine reward system, are core to the process. It seems that we follow patterns instinctively and when patterns are supported, and sometimes even when not, dopamine is triggered that reinforces our decision-making.

That means every time we make a successful click or get rewarded on our path to purchase we get a shot of dopamine, which reinforces what we are doing. This clearly tells us that we should be designing interactions to follow the emotional journey a buyer makes on the way to a sale, and recognizing where on the emotional/analytical continuum to focus our experience design so that we re-enforce our prospect’s natural process rather than block it.

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