UK UPA – Designing For Engagement Workshop


This is shockingly late but I’m finally posting my notes from the UK UPA Designing For Engagement workshop that was held a very long ago (Monday 23rd April to be exact) with Susan Weinschenk AKA ‘The Brain Lady’.

During the evening Susan shared with us some insights from psychology research and we looked at some of the ways in which this research could help us design more engaging and persuasive websites and online interfaces.

I attended the Cognitive Psychology UX Bootcamp with Joe Leech earlier in the year (more about that another time) and this workshop followed on nicely from that.

Here’s a short summary of the points discussed:

  1. The Fusiform Facial area (FFA) makes us pay attention to human faces – We are programmed to recognise faces from as little as six hours old! The most attention grabbing facial images are those of people looking straight at you. Avoid juxtaposing two different faces because our brains don’t like it. Straight on, symmetrical, eye contact.
  2. People can remember/deal with only 3-4 items at any one time – Forget Miller’s Law of 7±2. People can only hold 3-4 items in their working memory at any one time. They may go back and select another batch of items to review but they can only really focus on 3-4 at once. Susan then went on to talk about choice. People like having choice but if you give people too many choices, they’re more likely too not choose anything at all. As American psychologist Barry Schwartz explains in his book The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, although we have more choice now than ever before we are not benefitting psychologically as everyday decisions have been made increasingly complex which could be having a detrimental effect on our emotional wellbeing.
  3. People have mental models – User research allows us to understand people’s mental models of how things work (or should work). Designers can then use this insight and design in a way that supports these.
  4. When uncertain, people look at the behaviour of others to decide what to do – Testimonials, recommendations, how many times a video clip has been played and Amazon’s ‘What Other Items Do Customers Buy After Viewing This Item?’ are all examples of social validation and herd behaviour. In turn they can influence behaviour.
  5. SEX… Now that I’ve got your attention, carry on reading! Food, sex and danger grab attention – Fear of loss results in anticipation of gain. Scarcity can drive value upwards as people are more motivated to make a purchase or act quickly if they believe that they might miss out.
  6. Video is the engaging media – Video on websites is particularly compelling and movement captures attention. Research shows that we are hard-wired to imitate and emphasise and video can be an effective medium to encourage this.
  7. People are motivated to connect – Dunbar’s number (proposed by Professor Robin Dunbar in 1992) is a theoretical limit of stable social relationships that one person can maintain at any one time. There is no exact number cited but it is esitmated to be approximately 150.
  8. Beauty is in the eye of the unconscious – Our brains crave unpredictability but Susan explained that if things get a bit too crazy the “old brain” kicks in and says “enough, give me some order here!”. Apparently we like unbalanced column widths and uneven numbers (personally I like a bit of order!).
  9. The brain processes information best in story format – Personal stories, quotes and anecdotes invoke empathy and trigger emotional reactions that help people process data and make decisions. Real people telling real stories.
  10. People expect technology to follow human-to-human interaction rules – Susan joked that having a 60 second loading bar on a website is like ignoring somebody for a minute! Write as if you are talking, use real and meaningful sentences and think about your micro-interactions including error messages and labels. Be friendly (but not creepy!).

Following Susan’s talk we split into small teams and set about reviewing and redesigning some example website pages in need of some TLC based on everything that we had discussed. The image used for this post is the sketch that our group did of a redesign of a university application page.

You can watch a video of the presentation any time you like.

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