100 things designers should know about people. Summarized!

Hi, I am George. A user experience designer. Often people ask what are the key things to know when designing a product. Although this article doesn't clearly give you the UX process it does provide insight into human behavior to be aware of when designing a product/service. I think it would also be helpful for non-designers to know these things as not every project has a UX designer involved. Hope you enjoy this summary. Check out the full book: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk.

What makes a great design great?

When we talk about great design we usually think of something that grabbed our attention, were appreciative of and stayed in our memory long afterward. Whether it was an iPhone or one of Mies van der Rohe’s famous chairs, a well-designed object is unmistakable and unforgettable. So how can we create something that is truly great?

To understand how people react to a design, first, we need to understand how people think. We will look at the way our vision works, why we remember things and other cognitive functions of the brain – Three key things that every designer, ought to know.

• why patterns help us understand what we see;

• how stories are a great tool for making things stick

• why you should design empathically.

Bite-Sized Chunks & Forgetfulness

Break down information and have a thorough understanding of memory to make a good product.

Every waking moment, your subconscious deals with roughly 40 billion pieces of information, of which only 40% makes it to your conscious brain.

Your brain is only capable of processing information in bite-sized chunks. So, if you’re ever conveying information, whether in a presentation or an ad, make sure you don’t provide too much at once. Remember my fruit bowl metaphor and you are set.

How much is too much? Studies have found that four is the magic number. Obviously, it’s not always a viable to provide information in chunks of four, but it’s always a good idea to split up whatever you’re trying to communicate into groups that contain no more than four elements.

American phone numbers are divided up like this: 642-374-3847. As area codes are a familiar format likely to be stored in a person’s long-term memory, it makes sense to break phone numbers up into groups of three and four digits to make them more memorable.

Another method for making information more digestible is progressive disclosure. Focus on making the information as simple and clutter-free a process as possible. A common example of applying this method would be a list of categories that allows people to click on each category for more information, then click on other subcategories for further details.

Memorability is important, but the mechanism of forgetfulness shouldn't be overlooked. Forgetting information is normal, if you remembered everything, you’d probably fry your brain! So your brain routinely decides what to remember and what to forget. People's forgetfulness is especially helpful when it comes to product design. If you design with forgetfulness in mind, you’ll make sure to include and prioritize important information, blending it into the design or making it easy for people to look up.

Stories are memorable

Stories and clear organizational systems make ideas suitable for long-term memory. People's short-term memory is limited, so embedding information into their long-term memory is tricky, but not impossible. In order to remember information, people have to use it repeatedly and connecting it to something that they’re already familiar with. It’s more likely that the information will stay in their minds and transition from short-term to long-term memory. The act of repetition actually physically changes the brain. If the information is repeated frequently enough, the neurons in the brain build highways so that it’s easier to retrieve memories at a faster rate.

As mentioned earlier categorizing and chunking information is a good way to help people remember. However, information is best processed in story form. Telling a story is an effective way of capturing your audience’s attention because a story has a chronological narrative that implies causation. The human brain is constantly looking for patterns and it fills in gaps by making leaps of causation. The formula of “this caused that, then this happened, then that”, the basic pattern of most stories, is easy for the mind to follow.

Long ago, the poet Aristotle came up with the three-act story structure. The beginning sets the scene by explaining the characters and situation; the middle provides obstacles for the characters and a means of resolution, and the end shows the climax and conclusion.

Use this basic structure to create stories that make your products and services memorable!


Social conduct & Empathy

When making your product, remember that people crave empathy and rigidly follow social rules. Ever noticed that, more often than not, when you smile at a stranger, the stranger smiles back? Well, that’s because imitation and empathy come naturally to most people.

When you see someone performing an action, your brain activates mirror neurons. As a result, you mirror that person’s behavior. When you see an individual smile, your brain responds with mirror neurons causing you to smile, too.

Mirror neurons are also involved in the process of empathizing, which is the emotional response of deeply understanding how another person feels. Bringing us back to the importance of storytelling. Stories are important because they create images in the mind that may trigger the release of mirror neurons, which, in turn, lead people to experience empathy. Imitation and empathy are ways that people connect with others, and both also inspire individuals to act in accordance with social rules.

When people interact, they tend to follow certain rules and guidelines. Let’s say your friend Tom asks you how you are. He’d probably expect you to respond in accordance with certain social rules. If you were to steer away from protocol and reply by saying something bizarre -“My auntie likes green!”... your pal Tom will probably not be amused. And, when it comes to online interactions, people generally expect these same rules to be in place.

If a site is unresponsive or takes far too long to load, people will be put off, just as they would if someone ignored them or responded nonsensically to something he or she’d said. Therefore, when designing a product, it’s essential to think about the interactions your audience will have with it. Make sure it follows the rules of social interaction!

Get them hooked

People’s minds wander, but you can encourage a flow state with your design.

Most people get frustrated of reading the same sentence over and over again without taking any information in.

A study at the University of California found that people think their minds tend to wander 10 percent of the time, when, in actuality, it’s more like 30% of the time. It can even be as high as 70% say if you’re driving on an empty highway.

That’s why, when you’re in the process of designing, it’s important to remember that people’s minds wander and that they’ll only focus on something for a limited period of time.

If you’re designing a website, it’d make no sense for the welcoming page to be dominated by dense blocks of text. People simply won’t read it. It’s wiser to break up the information with images, play with the text format or include other media such as video. This will give your audience the illusion of wandering while staying focused on your product.

The opposite of the wandering mind is the flow state. Have you ever felt so engrossed in an activity that you lost track of time? Well, then you’ve experienced a flow state. When in this mode, you’re almost always working toward a specific, doable goal. Maybe you’re fixing your bike or finishing a marathon, whatever the case may be, you enter a flow state when you’re journeying toward a certain goal, uninterrupted by thoughts of other goals. It’s such an enjoyable experience that people often want to return to this state. Often achieved by social networking and games apps where they have the users hooked and coming back for more.

Any distractions to the task at hand and that flow will cease to exist. So to create a flow state for people while they use your product, you have to minimize distractions.

Achieving goals & dopamine!

People are motivated by the prospect of achieving a goal – and dopamine helps, too. Most people get a little thrill when a notification pops up on Twitter or Instagram, or when an email arrives. And that thrill is caused by dopamine – a chemical that controls the brain’s pleasure system and, thus, your feelings of enjoyment.

If you want people to get hooked while using your design, you have to provide constant feedback. This is especially important when designing online, and one way to do this is to send messages that update people with information on their performance.

In essence, this is similar to how social media apps work. Think about it - the little red notifications you get give you a dose of dopamine, and the prospect of another dose spurs you to continue using the app. It’s this easy access to instant pleasure that makes social media so addictive.

Another major source of motivation for people is knowing that the end goal is close.

Imagine that you’re offered a frequent-buyer card at your favorite local coffee shop. Every time you buy a cup, you get a stamp, and when your card is filled you get a free coffee. Now imagine you could choose between two cards: one that has 10 unstamped boxes and one that has 12 boxes, two of which have already been stamped? Of course, in both cases, you have to buy 10 coffees – but the card with 12 boxes will encourage you to get your free cup faster. This is because of the goal-gradient effect: people accelerate their behavior the closer they get to reaching a goal. So with two stamps already marked on the card, you’ll feel as though you’re closer to achieving it.

As this scenario demonstrates, people feel motivated when the finish line is in sight – even if it’s all an illusion.

Incorporate unpredictability into your designs. Unpredictability stimulates the production of dopamine, which makes people more likely to engage in the dopamine-inducing behavior again. That’s what makes an app like Twitter so exciting and addictive – you never know who’ll retweet or respond to you. Therefore, it’s essential to incorporate surprising elements like sound cues when your user is using your product to keep them coming back.

Create an illusion of choice

People think that they have control over their choices, but most decisions are made unconsciously. Imagine that, after a hearty dinner, you’re sitting in a restaurant looking at the list of desserts. After five minutes of reading, you realize you’ve barely made it halfway through! To some, this long list of options might seem like heaven. But is it actually such a good thing? Well, there are two ways of looking at it.

On one hand, having too many options can make it difficult to get what you really want. Often, when people are presented with such a long list of possibilities, they get overwhelmed and end up randomly choosing something that seems good enough.

On the other hand, people like having choices. For most people, more choice equals more control – and control is a good thing because evolutionarily speaking human beings in better control of their environment have better chances of survival. So, when designing, you have to take both of these perspectives into account.

The best way to do this is to provide people with the illusion of plentiful choice. That way, they’ll feel that they have to make a decision but the end outcome will remain the same. Say you’re buying a new iPhone from Apple – you get the option to pick between gold, rose gold or silver, but, at the end of the day, the color choice makes little difference. You’re still buying an Apple product.

In other words, if you were the owner of that imaginary restaurant, it might be wiser to offer one kind of dessert – ice cream, for instance – with many variations (vanilla, strawberry, pistachio and so on) than a wide variety of dissimilar desserts.

To sum it all up. Find the balance

When designing a product, it’s important to consider how people’s minds work. From vision to the mechanics of memory and unconscious decision-making. The creation of a successful product requires that human psychology come first. Your design has to be tailored toward your specific target audience (Personas) and communicate to them effectively. Finding the balance between your design options is tricky.

You may not be right the first time, and that is Okay! Test & Iterate until your users love your product. Better late than always wrong.

This is a summary of the book: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk

To sum it all up. Find the balance

When designing a product, it’s important to consider how people’s minds work. From vision to the mechanics of memory and unconscious decision-making. The creation of a successful product requires that human psychology come first. Your design has to be tailored toward your specific target audience (Personas) and communicate to them effectively. Finding the balance between your design options is tricky.

You may not be right the first time, and that is Okay! Test & Iterate until your users love your product. Better late than always wrong.

This is a summary of the book: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People by Susan Weinschenk