“And how did the website make you feel?”

I was doing some research about internationalization and was directed to a page with a black background and a large block of content in fine red font. I really wanted to read the content, so ended up cutting and pasting it into a word doc and enlarging it. The author had some interesting points to make, but his style was full of sarcasm and jargon and I just had to give up. The whole experience put me in a really bad mood. It was, I think, a classic negative user experience.
Since Menlo Technologies provides User Design Services, I decided to drill down into the psychology of UX design, and turned Dr. Susan Weinschenk. She has actually been applying psychology to the design of technology for 30 years and is the author of several books on the topic, including 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, which combines real science and research with practical examples.
I got the chance to talk to Dr. Weinschenk about, among other things, the psychology of UX design:

Q: Is it just me, or can user experience that I described above actually affect a persons mood?

Yes, a bad UX can affect mood. Basically you are getting frustrated and that will spill over into your mood. In fact research shows that if we frown or hunch over that can put us in a bad mood, and if you are dealing with a poor user experience you are probably frowning and hunching over!

Q: Based on your experience with eye tracking, what is one thing people who develop websites don’t do that they should? And what is one of the most commonly used elements that is over used?

Oh my…eye tracking! I have a section in one of my books about why you can’t necessarily rely on eye tracking. Here’s the thing: eye tracking measures central vision, and although central vision is important, research shows us that peripheral vision is as important or more important. In my new book 100 MORE Things Every Designer Needs To Know About People I have more info on peripheral vision. Eye tracking doesn’t measure peripheral vision at all. Just because someone looked at something in central vision doesn’t mean they paid attention to it, and just because they didn’t look at it with central vision doesn’t mean that it didn’t “register”. So I think that designers should pay attention to what is in peripheral vision.
In terms of elements that are over used… Small complicated navigation bars.

Q:  When I write about technology topics, I try to use to make the content readable, but it can be very challenging. Advice?

Use a story. Our brain processes information best in story form.

Q: How can stories be incorporated into websites, blog posts and the like?

Everywhere. Instead of giving concepts or facts or figures, tell a story. Here’s another way I could tell you about the problem with eye tracking:
You want to put some ketchup on your French fries. You go to the refrigerator and open it up and you are searching for ketchup. You can’t find it. You are standing with the open refrigerator just staring into it saying, “Where is the ketchup”. Your friend, or roommate or spouse comes up behind you and says, “It’s right there. You are staring right at it.” And sure enough you are. You were LOOKING at it but you didn’t SEE it. That’s the problem with eye tracking because it is measuring central vision and what your eye registers is not the same as what you actually notice.
So I gave the same information in story form.

Q: I am a lover of brevity, and feel like it is better to parse out information on multiple pages rather than cramming it all on one.  How much is too much information on a website?

That totally depends on the content and the people consuming the content. How motivated are they to read/see it? How interesting is it to them? How new is it? How familiar are they with the topic? How much to they really want to know.
In his (great) book, Don’t Make Me Think, Steve Krug has a chapter called “Billboard Design 101: Designing pages for scanning not reading.” The idea is that people don’t read all the text at a website, they scan it. So you should think “billboard” when you are deciding what to put on the page, instead of “page that someone will actually read”.

Q: Fonts for the digital media: Your personal favorites? Why?

Any fonts that are readable, not too decorative make it easy to read. Interestingly the research shows that if a font is HARD to read then the material is learned better and remembered longer.

Q:  Since I am a lover of brevity, I’m also a believer of Progressive Disclosure (although I didn’t know what it was until I read your book!) Can you describe what progressive disclosure is why it’s a good way to keep eyes and brains on your website?

Progressive disclosure means you give people just what they want or need and then make it easy to get more information if they want more. It prevents people from getting overwhelmed and the little bit of information stimulates dopamine which makes them want more information.

Q: In the world of tech, people fall in love with a platform, a product, a company. If you are trying to reach those people with a product they have yet to fall in love with, how do you do that? (Macs, PC’s)

Use the “crack” strategy that I talk about in my book How To Get People To Do Stuff.  Get them to take a small action that goes AGAINST their own persona (oh, I’m not an iPhone person). Then ask them for another small action and another. Every time they go against their own persona they will feel cognitive dissonance and eventually they will decide they LIKE the thing/brand/product so they don’t have to live with the uncomfortable feeling.

Q:  One of the most important design concepts that you talk about in your book has to do with mental models and conceptual models:
“A mental model is the representation that a person has in his mind about the object he is working with. A conceptual model is the actual model that is given to a person through the design and interface of the actual product.”
It seems like a very important to mesh these models. What is the best way to do that?

You have to understand the mental model of the target audience. And then you go through a design process to design a conceptual model that will work. It’s a fairly complicated process with several steps. I have an entire course on it!

Q:  Is it OK to incorporate humor in “business” content?

Very very carefully. In writing it is hard because your words can be misunderstood. If you are speaking in person maybe. Only if you have a narrow audience and you know them well.
Some other tidbits from Susan’s book that I found enlightening:

  • People are programmed to pay attention to anything that is different or novel. If you make something different it will stand out.
  • If you can get people to commit to a small action (sign up for a free membership), then it is much more likely that they will later commit to a larger action (e.g., upgrade to a premium account).
  • People’s behavior is greatly affected by factors that they aren’t even aware of. The words “retired”, “Florida,” and “tired” can make even young people walk down the hall slower.
  • “Whether you’re designing a website, a medical device, or something somewhere in between,” says Dr. Susan, “your audience is comprised of the people who will benefit from that design. And the totality of your audience’s experience is profoundly impacted by what you know—or don’t know—about them.”


Dr. Susan Weinschenk is also the author of How to Get People To Do Stuff, 100 Things Every Presenter Needs to Know About People, and Neuro Web Design: What makes them click. She is a presenter, speaker, and consulting, writes a popular blog at her website, and also writes the Brain Wise blog at Psychology Today.

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