Small sevs

Sam Evans

Experience & Strategy Director

Can Adding ‘Emotive Barriers’ Improve User Experience?

Working day-to-day as a User Experience (UX) Producer in digital, I find it apparent that today’s websites are becoming categorised by a pre-defined niche, with designs heavily influenced by competitors. This ‘sheep-like’ behaviour is making the web more and more bland - with similar-style websites cropping up all over the place. I’d say that 95% of the commercial web is becoming ever more similar, managing to fit into one of the following categories:

  • Brand awareness
  • Marketing campaigns
  • Content-driven
  • Service-based application
  • Commerce

The term ‘best practice’ (in huge, house-sized inverted commas) is also a large influencing factor to design decision-making. “It worked for these guys, so it will definitely work for us”. That ‘best practice’ design change or extra piece of functionality will most likely have a positive impact, but is that impact the best approach for the business? Could you stand out more?

As web professionals, we need to think holistically about our end-user, and always remind ourselves that they are a real, cognitive person, rather than a metaphorical ‘thing’, on the other side of the screen. We focus too much on the safest routes to meet business objectives and only the very basic wants and needs of our end-user. Yes... People want to consume information faster than ever, but by fully adhering to this principle alone, you are losing personality and becoming ‘beige’. Your brand-new website becomes the same as the next one. Isn’t it time to start standing out? Isn’t it time to start being brave? As Steve Jobs famously stated: “Innovation distinguishes between a leader and a follower”.

Holistic Hurdles

The term ‘barrier’ is nearly always recognised as a negative phrase - but it really doesn’t need to be. When I talk about barriers, don’t think 20ft prison wall. Instead, think front-garden gate.

There are always many lessons we can learn from similar industries that instigate human interaction, but we need to focus on which key element is missing from the current conversation and conversion process. What is this key element in web design? Enacting emotion.

"Joy is but the sign that creative emotion is fulfilling its purpose."

Charles Du Bos

Even the internet had a tricky start emotively connecting with it’s users, it’s origins in CERN were not the most personable.

“I just had to take the Hypertext idea and connect it to the Transmission Control Protocol and Domain Name System ideas and—ta-da!—the World Wide Web”

Tim Berners-Lee

Nice one Tim, can’t thank you enough. However, the more our online environment is re-purposed and the more time our audiences spend accessing content the more savvy the web industry must become.

Aarron Walter, Director of UX at Mailchimp literally wrote the book on designing for emotion. He sums up our users needs in an easy to understand hierarchy:

Hierarchy of needs

People seemingly want their website to have an “easy-to-use” and “flawless” user experience. But shouldn’t this be implied by now? When we talk about modern UX design, we need to push deeper and actually define these statements. What Aarron’s hierarchy illustrates well is the idea that you can absolutely nail functionality, reliability and even usability and still fail to make a pleasurable user experience.

It’s this top tier that many, many sites are either failing to instigate in a transparent, user-friendly manner, or are missing completely. Take the fantastic ‘The Zebra’ car insurance website as a great example. They offer their users a great experience, but it is more than just making a website intuitive and “easy-to-use”. They add personality, forging trust between the user and the service. It seems human. A real pleasure to use.

The Zebra understand how to use engaging copy to create a more pleasurable user experience.

Being Human

On the surface we are all very different. But underneath these individual mental guises lies ubiquitous traits that can all be challenged in the same way. The games industry are true leaders in approaching emotion. Agreed, their challenges (and budgets!) are very different to that of the Digital industry but we can learn some vital lessons. Video games seem to understand what a learning curve can do for engaging a user. Basic interactions that we learn within the first minute of using the web are continually reinvented and coupled with other emerging functionality patterns. Dare I even mention the emotional impact of audio? No?... OK - Nevermind then.

Let’s take the video game ‘Destiny’ as an example. Destiny is a recent ‘triple-A’ release, created by the very talented team over at Bungie. Bungie have designed some fantastic elements to improve the intake of knowledge by their users by taking advantage of emerging trends in their industry. Cursors are bespoke and change real estate when moved (this alone creates all sorts of custom opportunities), transitions are perfect, animations are subtle, feedback is polished. I can go on and on.

Although this is an old principle, enhancing your user interface to help create emotional ties to actions is done to perfection in the games industry. Martin Jonasson & Petri Purho discussed this very principle back in 2012 - They called it ‘Juicification’. The art of adding interface changes that might not change the functionality to a game, but instead create an emotional response for their users.

This is completely different to the way the web works. Instead, you become immersed, you want to interact with everything and above all it’s emotive. Yes, there is a slight learning curve (aka a barrier) but the user wants to learn more because they are completely entertained. Applying these sort of interactions on the web technically is challenging but with ever improving internal education, faster browser release cadences, increased budgets and more relaxation around end user capability it can become normal practice. Although evolution on the web has been slow, we will start to see this kind of idea replicated on the net more and more.

Change for the Better

People like change - they just don’t realize it. Well... they do if you get it right! Change causes a cognitive change which influences the user in a positive way. These emotional experiences have a deep impact on our memory, and can be achieved through many delivery mechanisms, aesthetics, interactions or pure & simple emotive copy. The more conversations start to sound colloquial, the more our users can feel immersed whilst interacting with our web experiences.

Creating a better web experience is simply a case of finding the right balance between consuming the user’s limited time whilst also creating an emotive pull. It’s not simply a case of focusing on edge-case scenarios and personas, but instead focusing on the majority and getting that part very right. This doesn’t just apply to the web. In all walks of life, if you can deliver your personality correctly, both conversationally and aesthetically, and at the same time remember that the learning process is iterative then the majority of the hard work is done. We need to start accepting that our end-user’s are smart and want a more fulfilled experience.

Although the introduction of these ‘positive barriers’ seems a bit counterintuitive at first glance it can improve user engagement considerably. With close attention to detail, iteration and heavy analysis, you can ultimately improve goal conversion and online engagement. This has already been echoed in the web app world, with gamification helping to give rewards for people taking the time to learn a service.

“I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Maya Angelou

With emerging technical capabilities within browsers and networks, and the encroaching behavioural science advances, digital is going to become increasingly exciting over the next 12 months.