Wednesday, 11 September 2013

10 Things Every Designer Should Know About People


Lately I've been thinking about, well, people. We're all so wonderfully complicated but, inherently, most of us act and respond to things in the same way. As a designer of any kind - web, product, interface, etc - our user should always be the centre of everything we do. I don't know about you, but sometimes I lose sight of that, so this week I've been trying to really hone in on my key users and what matters to them. It made me realise that there are a lot of things you need to remember about the human race in general when designing anything, for anyone.

(Image used under Creative Commons from Flickr)


1. People use aesthetics as their first indicator of trust

We all know that things that look better are more appealing. But did you know just how deep that runs? In a recent study, when participants rejected a website for appearing untrustworthy, a whopping 83% of their comments were related to design factors. We all trust our gut instincts - so make sure whatever you're doing generates a good one.

2. People can only remember about 4 things at once

Which is bad news for the other 6 points in this blog post, right? Never mind. Our brains only hold tiny snippets of information at a time. It's why we break phone numbers down the way we do. It's why a bulletpointed list of 3-4 things is more likely to stick. Don't overload people with information.

3. People are happy when they're busy

Having something to do/read/play with occupies our minds, and in that occupation, we find contentment. To keep someone 'busy' with your product or service, you simply need to hold their focus.  Bear that in mind when designing your user experience - is it engaging enough?

4. People inherently enjoy surprises

We are simple beings, and anything novel, new or unexpected can cause delight. Give your user something they were not expecting, and they will more than likely continue on, in the hope of more excitement.

5. People think that choice equals control

It's all about mind games. People like to be in control, and to help us feel in control, we are given choices. Make sure you always give people these choices. It's a common designer belief that people want the quickest and most efficient way to get from A to B, but offering alternatives - or at least an element of discovery - can also work well.

6. People become more motivated the closer they get to a goal.

Many psychology studies have shown that, the closer a human being gets to achieving something, the more focussed and determined they become. Help your user down this path and before you know it, they'll be pushing themselves towards your call to action.

7. Sustained attention lasts about 10 minutes

Still reading? Good. Just as well I'm keeping an eye on my word count.

8. People are easily influenced

If you've ever had a really bad day and chatted to a friend about it, and then watched them slump in their chair, you'll know that people almost subconsciously absorb feelings and emotions from other people. We mimic fashion, style, and decision-making based on other people too. One trend-setter can easily coax other users on board - and don't forget that your own enthusiasm for your work can also rub off on others.

9. People enjoy things the most before and after they've happened

Think about the last holiday you went on - was it amazing? And just how excited were you before you left for the airport? Ah ha, but did it feel THAT amazing when you were on it? People gain the most pleasure from anticipation and reflection. As designers, this means we need to extend the anticipation of  the action, e.g. making a purchase, for as long as possible before the event - and then leave enough time afterwards before asking for feedback. Don't hit someone with your product/website/service and ask for feedback instantly; it won't work, they'll still be processing it.

10. People don't really know what they want

This is one thing I have learned the hard way. If you ask someone what they want, their imagination will run riot, designing an elaborate, all-singing, all-dancing solution they believe to be perfect. However, if you create that and give it to them... the reality is that they won't like it. What's the solution here? Well, if you find one, let me know. The best I've managed so far is to use a combination of mass opinion and my own common sense. At the end of the day, we're apparently still the experts - and, after all, you wouldn't tell a doctor how you wanted him to perform your surgery.


Loosely but not inherently inspired by the book 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People. I haven't actually read the book - just the title made me think. 

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