People process information and learn in all kinds of different ways.
For example, some people are auditory learners. They need to listen to something and hear it in order for the information to “stick.” Other people are visual learners, and need to see the information physically drawn out—or be the ones to write it down themselves. And, of course, people display different preferences for finding what they want at different times.
How we, as human beings, discover and internalize the things we hear and see in the world is a fascinating process—which is why you can’t really have a discussion about how to engage people in today’s digital day and age without being aware of the science behind people’s behaviors.
There are two ways today’s UX principles are being deployed to attract viewers, buyers, readers, followers, etc.
It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, the goal is the same—to attract and retain people’s attention. Whether you’re running an e-commerce store and trying to get people to buy your clothes, or you’re an online publication hoping to keep readers paging through your material and subscribing, it’s essential to consider what’s actually happening within the human mind during an individual’s digital exploration process—or, more specifically, how people actually go about finding things.
The first way people typically go about finding things is by actively searching for it.
This is a feature that exists in just about every browser, website, app, etc., and is geared toward someone trying to find something—both general or specific—they have in mind. This potential reader, viewer, or buyer knows what they want (or at least have an idea of where they’d like to start) and are trying to narrow down their own internal search process. Maybe they know they want to buy lawn fertilizer, but don’t know any brands by name. All they know is they want a certain type of fertilizer, around a certain price point, and are curious if there are any discount deals available.
In a case like this, typing “fertilizer” into Google helps narrow down their search to get them headed in the right direction. Or, maybe they frequently shop on Amazon and so they type “fertilizer” into Online Shopping for Electronics, Apparel, Computers, Books, DVDs & more directly. Either way, the goal here is to get to the right corner of the internet.
What happens from here is dependent upon what’s called “relevance.” In these sorts of digital ecosystems, tight circles of relevance are what dictate success. A buyer searching for fertilizer, for example, generally isn’t in an exploratory mindset—unlike, for instance, when the site asks if you’d also like to also purchase a few lawn bags along with your fertilizer. The whole purpose of search is entirely dependent upon giving the individual exactly what they’re looking for as quickly as possible. Nobody really goes to the second or third page of Google or Amazon when searching for something. They’d rather just start back at the beginning and try a different search term.
This is one type of customer experience.
2. Explore and Exploit
The second way people go about finding information is by going down a sort of visual discovery pathway. Oftentimes, customers or viewers don’t necessarily know what they’re looking for, so they learn through association and relevance. Using the fertilizer analogy, this customer might not know they need fertilizer, but they do know they want to start a garden in their backyard. So they start going down a visual pathway, where they learn and figure out what they want by reading and clicking to the next piece of product info or content.
This works extremely well for people who are in a mode of discovery and want to be recommended or guided to their next step—YouTube does this extremely well with their suggested videos.
Unfortunately, there is sometimes collateral damage creating this sort of user experience.
The way many discovery algorithms work is they “exploit” what their mathematical equations say are the right things to show—creating what’s known as an echo chamber. Every time a user clicks, he or she is telling the algorithm to show them more of “that thing,” which means even if they are in the process of discovering, the website or platform is interpreting their actions as decisions—which starts to remove the user’s ability to see outside of the digital cave they’ve chosen for themselves.
I’ll dig into this concept more in an upcoming post on “Now Moments.”
Which is why the future of UX design, and the best recommendation engines, have to balance algorithmic suggestions with one or two degrees of customer freedom.
Most of us forget that every website, app, social platform, and digital medium was created by someone—a person, a team, a company.
The way these platforms move and function, then, are not random. In fact, they are more intentionally engineered than we might want to admit. And so for both society as a whole, as well as the success of digitally dependent businesses (publishers, commerce, etc.), the way we push and pull on the human mind within the digital world is quite important.
For example, one of the biggest variables currently shifting in the UX world is the dominance of a mobile-first mentality. Nearly everything we digitally consume is on our phones, and the Search method typically doesn’t work as well on mobile as it does on the desktop. The better user experience (already proving itself effective with social apps) is the ability to just scroll up and down, or swipe left and right, to find what we’re looking for.
This is what the next generation of digital experiences is going to look like.
Is it possible to rethink digital experiences on a mobile device as essentially existing as a blank sheet of paper?
With true real-time recommendation engines, this blank sheet of paper begins to come alive in real time, based on what the algorithm determines the most relevant things to show that user is—in that particular moment. This dynamic tweak to the way we help people discover and consume content on mobile is going to become even more important as people become more and more “digital first” (or really “digital only”), and it will have dramatic ramifications on digital design and CMSs (Content Management Systems). Some of the customers of my company, LiftIgniter, are actually doing this today.
The reason being, on a desktop you have the luxury of allowing someone to visually “scroll” through a wide variety of content. Their eyes can zip from one corner of the page to the other, see if they’ve found what they’re looking for, and then make their next decision. On mobile, however, there’s no room for that.
Looking at the future of user experience, it’s these behavioral questions that are going to steer innovation. So much so, that our digital experiences will be able to detect what we’re interested in, and show it to us, without our having to explicitly search for it in the first place. If done wrong, this can be at best ineffective and at worst, creepy.
If done right, this will be pure magic.