1. Change blindness
Change blindness is the inability to detect subtle changes in objects or situations that would be perfectly obvious upon closer inspection (or after someone told you). Several experiments show that if people are distracted or focus their attention on something else they are oblivious to changes going on around them. Change blindness even includes the recognition of human faces.
Our brain misses a great deal of information. In the experiment 75% of subjects didn’t notice the change. In user interfaces the same effect can be observed. A user focusing on a task will very likely oversee changes happening on the screen. Items such as notifications or error messages should therefore be placed closely to the focus of attention of the user. Another option is animation. Moving elements are detected easier than static elements but they can become a source of distraction and annoy the user.
2. The gorilla experiment (or selective attention experiment)
This one goes hand in hand with our first experiment. In Simon and Chabris’ famous awareness test, people were asked to count how many times the ball was passed between the players with the white shirts. Halfway through a man in a gorilla suit walks onto the court and stands in the centre before walking off-screen again.
Most people don’t see the gorilla because they are focused on counting how many times the ball gets passed around. This is also called selective attention. We filter out what is not relevant for the task at hand and as a consequence we don’t notice the gorilla.
When we are very focused there is a big chance that we overlook important information on the screen. This happens especially when trying to solve a problem (our focus narrows even more) or when we are experiencing a problem with the interface. A design should of course avoid putting the user in such a situation altogether but when it happens, place important information where the user can easily see it. Try to cheer the user up, a positive attitude always helps solving problems.
3. The halo effect
A classic finding in social psychology, the Halo Effect is the idea that our overall impression of a person can be based on one trait about them. It causes people to be biased in their judgments by transferring their feelings about one attribute of something to other, unrelated, attributes. In a recent experiment, a man made two videos for a dating website. In the first video, he read the script in an upbeat manner, whereas in the second, he read the same script in a more melancholy fashion. The women who watched the upbeat video found the man to be likeable, while the women who watched the second video found the man to be unpleasant, demonstrating the importance of tone in the perception of overall attractiveness and modelling the Halo Effect in action.
For a website or other digital product this means that users often will make judgements based on one specific aspect of the system. If the account set-up process is very tedious and complicated then this negative experience will influence the judgement of the rest of the site. The other way around, if the user likes a specific feature or design, he/she might overlook negative aspects and come to a positive judgement of the user experience regardless the flaws.
4. Piano stairs
A Volkswagen initiative called The Fun Theory is setting out to prove that people’s behaviour can be changed for the better by making mundane activities fun. In a recent experiment, they set up musical piano steps on the staircase of a Stockholm, Sweden subway station to see if more people would be more willing to choose the healthier option and take the stairs instead of the escalator. That day, 66 percent more people took the stairs than usual, proving that fun is the best way to get people to change their ways.
A little fun can’t hurt. Design for emotional engagement and experience can create good relationships to products and influence people to act in certain ways. Making tedious or annoying tasks entertaining can change peoples’ behaviour.