Design Thinking: Going Beyond Basic Consumer Behaviour – Step 2 – Strength

User experience and usability experts often talk about eliminating cognitive load to improve conversions, product adoption, and usability. I don’t think this is it at all. I’d argue what makes a true user experience and usability professional is the ability to understand when to illicit strong cognitive, affective, and behavioural responses, in just the right way, to make a product one we buy, use, and love. After all, the entire process is about behaviour and the interaction between products and users.

Previously, I mentioned the entire process starts with a particular attitude. But, how does an attitude into a behaviour? Research tells us it’s all about step two in the good design process: strength. An attitude must be strong to convince an individual to act. And what makes an attitude strong? That’s a little more complicated.

Strong attitudes produce consumer behaviour
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The Three Elements of Attitude Strength

Research on the strength of attitudes suggests there are three factors that determine the strength of an attitude and whether or not they become a behaviour (Branscombe & Baron, 2016):

Certainty – We need to feel confident, decisive, and clear in our chosen stance on an object or situation. To do that, we’ll weigh them against our values, personality, and morals (cultural and societal). For example, someone who lives in a traditional, collectivist society dislikes change is less likely to switch from a vinyl to an MP3. Specificity is also important. We need to know exactly what it is we don’t like about something.

Extremity – This is the affective (or emotional) component involved in attitude. We need to feel strong enough about something to act on it. To determine this, we rely on our memory and recall systems, including familiarity and feelings like it, as well as how the situation or object has made us feel in the past and in the current situation (context). So, a situation that greatly upsets us will get more of a reaction from us than something that leaves us feeling indifferent.

Experience – Direct experience with an issue makes it more palpable, so we’re unable to ignore it. If we were harmed by something in the past, we’ll be much more sensitive to it and aware of it in the future. For example, having a relative killed by a runaway bread truck could make an individual more cautious around delivery trucks. Or, depending on their personality, they might get rebellious and decide to start a delivery truck business. And Don Norman, the father of emotional design, seems to agree (Norman, 2003).

Norman defines the processes behind actions as three similar types of thinking:

Visceral thinking – Implicit, instinctual thinking such as how we dislike loud noises or are attracted to bright colours. These traits, which were originally designed to keep us safe and fed, have stayed with us throughout evolution. Now, they translate into design through pleasing auditory affordances, type fonts, and text colours.

Behavioural thinking – Another form of implicit thinking, this includes basic human needs such as feeling in control and is closely integrated with traits such as usability and understanding.

Reflective thinking – This is the explicit portion of thinking. This is the portion of thought that assesses and analyzes everything to form emotions, opinions, and ideas about the world as we see it.

This is all well and good, but how does this help designers? I have a few ideas.

Behaviour and User-Centered Design
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Strengthening Attitudes With Design

Marketers often think about these drivers of behaviour when trying to sell a product, but I think they’re vital to good design. Familiarity, nostalgia, and emotional connections can be included in everything from software to kitchen gadgets. Here, carefully executed details can make use of these behavioural needs. Sadly, this isn’t always the case. Many times, features and details are done simply to make a product look “new” and “different” from other products already on the market. And unfortunately, when it’s done poorly, it can prevent individuals from trying or buying them. To demonstrate the point, here are two scenarios:

Scenario 1 – You’re shopping for a car. The salesperson suggests a fully autonomous car. They’re a bit more money than you were planning to spend, but the salesperson assures you’re they’re worth it. You’re not so sure. You’re nervous before you’ve even made it to the car. They have a strange shape and colour and look nothing like your current vehicle. You take a deep breath, get in, and now you’re even more uncomfortable. Nothing looks the same, and you have no idea how anything works. It’s going to take an instruction manual, night classes, and a personal instructor just to figure out how to turn the wipers on. Do you even need to turn on the wipers? What if something goes wrong? Why would you spend extra money on something like this when you can get something you’re comfortable in for far less money?

Scenario 2 – You see autonomous cars that looks just like the one your neighbour was talking about. It looks the same as the ones the celebrities have been fawning over for months, and it’s not all that different from the car you’d drooled over as a kid. You’re tired of being the last one in the neighbourhood to have something nice, so you decide to ask the salesperson if you can try it out. You’re a little shocked when you realize this car doesn’t need keys, but you give it a try anyway. You sit in, and while it feels a little odd, it’s odd because it’s new. It doesn’t feel completely foreign. The interior, knobs, and dials, look familiar enough that you’re pretty sure you can operate it without too much hassle. The autonomous car has a bigger price tag than the standard car you were considering initially, but it has some features that make it easy to justify the extra cost.

While both scenarios are completely hypothetical, I believe they highlight the importance of cognition, behaviour, and design nicely. To introduce a new product to the mass market, every element of that product needs to encourage the buyer to form a strong, positive opinion and attitude. (Novelty is important, but the bigger the price tag and the lower the household income of the target market, the less important it becomes.) The decision to buy is the result of an experience that creates enough emotional, cognitive, and experiential ties to encourage adoption. And it all starts with design.

Innovations need to be significant enough that it’s easy to see the benefit of having them. Changes to the overall look and feel of a product should be different enough to set it apart from others, but the design should still feel familiar enough that consumers are comfortable considering the purchase. The product design should make sense from an information and recall standpoint and be easy enough to operate without requiring in-depth learning or practice. And if any of the features need instructions, explanations, or a label, it’s likely a bad design (Norman, 2003).

To find a balance between the new and the familiar with products that are drastically different from their predecessors, manufacturers and designers may need to introduce some of the features and style choices into traditional models to garner attention from the market. Then, release the new model and slowly add features to future versions of the product to create a gentle transition between the traditional and new models. Of course, advertising early can help, too, since it can help make the innovation a common sight, educate consumers, and drive need it’s openly available to the public.

Do manufacturers, marketers and designers need to do all this to sell a product? Of course not, but failing to address these concerns could prevent certain segments from trying or even becoming curious about it. And in some instances, such as with healthcare technology, it could even cost people’s lives. In short, it’s all about behaviour.

User Centered Design and Psychology

You’ll find more on the Seven Step Process to Good Design here:
Step 1 – Attitude
Step 2 – Strength
Step 3 – Step 3 – Behaviour
Step 4 – Models and Mapping
Step 5 – Hardware (External Workings)
Step 6 – Software (Internal Workings)
Step 7 – Feedback and Behaviour Dependant Design

(1) Branscombe, N. R., & Baron, R. A. (2017). Social psychology (14th ed.). Boston: Pearson. Back to Top

(2) Norman, D. (2003, February). Retrieved February 23, 2017, from Back to Top

(3) Norman, D. A. The Psychology of Everyday Things. Basic Books, New York, 1988.