Putting Psychology To Work In Order To Create Ethereal User Experiences

by Dan

If you ask a psychologist to design a website, how do you think the design would turn out to be like? Or have you ever thought of hiring an expert UX developer for a mental therapy session? Both these ideas sound absurd, don’t they?

A psychologist cannot put his years of study to use and build a website just like that. And a UX designer cannot hypnotize people with the help of his technical expertise in creating online interfaces.

So, what does this all mean?

We know that psychologists study human mind and human behaviour to a large extent. They have large sets of data on how humans function and react to peculiar situations and experiences. They study everything from human auditory experiences, to visual experiences, audio-visual experiences and how these different experiences trigger different emotions in humans.

For the sake of this article, we will stick to two most basic types of human responses: Positive and Negative or Happy and Sad. Whether a particular experience in the real world triggers a positive emotion or a negative emotion, whether it makes them happy or sad.

We cannot give a psychologist a system and ask him to design a website that will connect with the users almost instantly simply because he knows how human minds work. No, that is not possible.

But, we can definitely put both of them at crossroads where we can create some research-backed magic, that is to say, use human psychology in order to create fantastic user experiences online.

Two of the most widely used yet underrated conglomerations between Psychology and UX are:

The Halo Effect

The Anchoring Principle

We will discuss both of them in detail further and understand some of the most astonishing principles at work that works wonders on online customers without them even knowing, subsequently increasing the conversion rates.

The Halo Effect

Speaking in general terms, a halo is defined as a disk or circle of light shown surrounding or above the head of a saint or holy person to represent their holiness. We can say that, the halo on someone’s head is to denote that the person is special and someone who is the focus of all attention.

It can be said, ‘halo effect’ is when one trait of a person or thing is used to make an overall judgment of that particular person or thing. This effect supports rapid decisions, even if they are biased ones or one-sided.

The Meaning

The halo effect is a well documented, well-researched social-psychology phenomenon which is known to cause people to be biased in their judgments. This judgement bias happens by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes.

Say for example, someone who is tall and good-looking in terms of physical appearance will be perceived as being intelligent and trustworthy almost automatically. Even though there is no logical reason to believe that height or looks correlate with smarts and honesty. But this happens with most of us.

Let’s correlate this with the basic human emotions we discussed in the start of this article. Halo effect can work in both of these directions for people.

If someone dislikes one aspect of a particular thing, they will form a negative predisposition toward everything about it automatically.

If someone likes one aspect of a particular thing , they will have a positive predisposition toward everything about it automatically.

Trivia: A negative Halo effect is known as “devil effect” or “pitchfork effect”.

How can websites be affected by the Halo effect?

To begin with, the halo effect is not just limited to the human psyche, it impacts organizations, locations, products and delivery/communications channels, as well as our judgments of other people.

Say, if a user is attracted to one aspect of a website, he is more likely to base his decision favorably in the future. On the contrary, if a user had a particularly bad experience with a site, he will predict that the site will treat them poorly in the future as well. This will make him reluctant to return to the website again.

A major setback is that, in the latter case, even if the site is later redesigned by the owner to become better, a user will still carry over their negative expectations from their earlier experience into the new experience.

According to a research, the quality of a website’s internal-search results are used to judge the overall quality of the site, and, by inference, the quality of the brand behind that website and its products.

A user may think something like this when going through the aforementioned experience:

“Oh god! These search results are making absolutely no sense and are seemingly appearing in random order. This website is definitely made poorly. I think the company doesn’t give two dimes about its customers and probably are not interested in doing anymore business.

Why should I buy a product or a service from a company who cannot even keep their website together and does not care about their reputation?”

This is a perception chain or an assumption chain or chain of inferences. The final conclusion is not logically connected with the initial observation. But the first impression is the trigger which sets the chain of assumptions in motion.

But, as we know, users don’t really progress through a logical-reasoning process. This is halo effect at work. It works by cutting through all these steps and simply allowing people to make their overall judgment based on their impression of just one attribute.

The Anchor Principle

The anchoring principle is largely close to the halo effect. It says that people have a tendency to focus on a single, initial piece of information, which influences how they estimate value and make subsequent decisions.

Let’s make a defining example.

You set out to buy a second hand car. In the long queue of parked cars, you see a Mercedes for example. The odometer says 5000 miles, and there is no single scratch that you see on the car. The condition is as close to perfect, the car looks pristine and the price is as low as $2000. You smile from ear to ear while driving the car home, unknowing that it would completely fall apart in a matter of just 12 months.

What happened here? You focused so much on the price and vehicle make, that you completely forgot to consider the possible issues like the rusted parts in old, unused cars or even the condition of the engine. This is anchoring bias at work.

Anchoring can easily set novice users up for success and establish clear expectations on how a process or experience might go.

How can Anchoring Principle Work in Design?

The first trick is using good defaults and autofilled values. Consider a donation based website. When you are on the checkout page, the donation amount boxes are auto filled with a certain amount. Say for example $10. This numerical value acts as an anchor. Such well-chosen numerical default values minimize the interaction cost of typing and they serve as anchors for the expected variation of the corresponding numerical parameters.

This will let users figure out what a big value is and what a small value is. Most users will either go with the $10 amount considering that they are donating a minimum amount expected out of them.

Another benefit of Anchoring is that it establishes expectations at the beginning of an experience. With certain complicated forms or applications, it is worthwhile to provide a sense of how long the process might take, upfront. This allows users to determine whether they have the time and resources to complete it right then or not.

But, this time estimate serves as an anchor for the users. For instance, if the process is going to take longer and the users don’t know about it, they will feel cheated and disappointed and vice versa. It’s imperative to strive for accurate or at least provide tentative estimates to avoid disappointment.

Conclusion

When there is absence of other information, people tend to rely largely on anchoring to shape the decisions they make online at the time of using a product or service. If at the time of website or mobile app development services, designers keep a note of these factors, it can work wonders for the business in ways previously unimaginable.

Good anchors integrated in the website help users set their expectation for what is normal or what is exceptional, it helps lower the cognitive cost of decision making, and even increase the perceived value of a product.

For the halo effect, it is imperative to keep in mind that as you are planning websites, the designing flows, creating user navigation, defining key performance indicators (KPIs), and measuring your site. Any drop offs at a particular point in your users’ experience can indicate a poor first impression via design, content, site performance, and so on. Make sure to supplement quantitative data sources with qualitative methods like usability testing.

Author Bio:

Albert Smith is Digital Marketing Manager at Hidden Brains, a leading mobile & web development company specializing in mobile & web applications, IoT, Cloud and Big Data services. He provides innovative ways to help tech companies, startups and large enterprises build their brand.

 

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