Monday, February 24, 2014

Snapchat refuses Facebook, but WhatsApp can't resist

As you know, I love contrast and contradiction.  Usually, there is some fundamental cognitive process that makes us self-contradictory that I enjoy rambling about.  But today, I have one for all of the entrepreneur, venture capitalist, Internet design friends.

My good friend Charles Mauro, in his 2013 Winner and Losers, notes that Snapchat and Facebook have fundamentally incompatible design models.  Snapchat is all about the human attraction to scarcity.  Even though there are plenty of apps that can save Snapchat messages, the feeling you get when you use it is that the message is a fleeting wisp and you have to grab it before it fades away. Facebook, on the other hand, is monetizing us to death with cramming the screen with more stuff at a higher density.

On the other hand, this weekend's Observations blog from Scientific American notes that WhatsApp's company philosophy is "No ads, no games, no gimmicks."  The post cites several interviews from both companies trying to justify the contradiction.  Facebook will leave WhatsApp alone to be minimalist (of course, until they don't). 

Same contradictory design models, but in one case SnapChat held out.  In the other $19 billion was just too much money to turn down. I wonder if these were good business decisions or if they are both a lot of self-delusion.  Perhaps Snapchat is deluding itself that it can make more than they were offered on their own. Perhaps WhatsApp is deluding themselves that Facebook really will leave their design alone. 

Only time will tell.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

A simple way to reduce loss aversion

I am not sure if this is a coincidence or a strange alignment of the stars, but it seems that there have been a lot of UX related blog posts recently on the asymmetric dominance effect.  Some of the bloggers don’t seem to get it quite right, so I thought I would add to the discussion and hopefully provide some clarification in the process.

My favorite post on it is from Paul Olyslager’s blog, where he calls it the “decoy effect.”  It is true that the technique can be used to introduce a decoy into a product mix to push consumers towards one products or service over another.  But there is a more basic behavioral issue at work here, so I am not sure I would use a term that specific. It also sounds a little too pejorative for my taste.

But Paul’s example is a great one because of its simplicity, so I will use something similar (I hope you don’t mind Paul).  Imagine you have two external storage devices (e.g. a USB drive) that are identical except for the price and the storage space.   Both are the same brand, the same quality, the same physical size, the same color . . . .   The only difference is that

Model A gives you 20GB for $30. 
Model B gives you 30GB for $40

Which is better?  There is no clear answer.  It depends on whether the extra 10GB is worth $10 to you. What makes this a hard choice is that you can’t really know for sure.  You might find yourself stuck with a 22GB file wishing you had spent the extra $10.  But then again, maybe you won’t.  This creates cognitive difficulty in choosing, and this difficulty makes us less satisfied with the whole process.  There are three related contributors:

1.       In “choice paralysis” we kind of freeze up and don’t decide at all.  We tell ourselves that we are just putting off the decision, but we often never come back.
2.       In “anticipated regret” we are afraid of making the wrong choice.  This is similar to choice paralysis, except that we are able to make a choice in our heads.  We are just afraid to pull the trigger on the purchase.  Different emotion, but same effect – no purchase and dissatisfaction with the experience.
3.       In “buyer’s remorse” we make a purchase, but then we ruminate on whether we made the wrong choice and are less satisfied with the experience AND the product we ended up with. 

So we experience stress before choosing, after choosing but before purchasing, and after purchasing.  These are all worse for maximizers.

Where asymmetric dominance comes in is when we add in a third option.

Model A gives you 20GB for $30. 
Model B gives you 30GB for $40
Model C gives you 25GB for $45.

Clearly, C is not a very good deal.  Just comparing it to Model B makes this obvious.  It is more expensive and has less storage.  And remember – everything else is the same.  So why does the introduction of Model C matter?  We should just reject it and go back to the original decision I described above. 

But it is not so easy.  The mere presence of Model C changes the whole way we think about the set of options.  We know that Model C is worse than Model B, but not how it compares to Model A.  That 22GB file still messes up the ease of deciding.  Let’s look at what we know about the three options:

The only thing we really know for sure is that Model C is worse than Model B.  So the only way we can focus on avoiding a loss (I have posted about the importance of loss aversion many times, such as here and here) is picking Model B.  Model A could be worse than both Model B and Model C if that 22GB file ever comes up.  So the desire to avoid losses pushes us to focus on the one loss we can be sure we are avoiding.  And we pick Model B. 

Not everyone, but enough people to drive business decisions. More customers buy Model B, which is higher priced than Model A (and presumably higher profit).  And customers with strong loss aversion tendencies feel better about the purchase, so it can increase customer satisfaction as well. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Temp workers and wily old veterans.

I was really struck by two news items in the February issue of Industrial Safety and Hygiene News.

The first item cites a ProPublica report that temp workers have a high fatality rate, especially on their first day on the job.  As you can imagine, they attribute this to lack of training and inexperience.  When companies are bringing in new people, they usually have some kind of onboarding process that includes safety training.  With temp workers, some companies take shortcuts because the costs of the training are harder to amortize over the shorter work period.  But when something is safety critical, this is really irresponsible.  When something is life-critical, a lack of adequate training should be criminal.

The second item cites a PruHealth report that workers in their 60s are often safer than workers in their 40s.  This might seem counterintuitive.  We know that pure capabilities like muscle strength and working memory start to decrease in our 20s and really start to dive in the 50s and 60s.  But reading this immediately after the previous one shows a good reason why this is the case.  What older people gain in wisdom and insight might be more than enough to compensate.  They aren’t compensating for their decreasing capabilities by taking shortcuts and delivering poor quality.  They are getting their jobs done with deep system knowledge and figuring out better, easier, streamlined ways of doing things.  They find workarounds for extreme physical or mental requirements.  I believe this is where the term “Wily Old Veteran” comes from.

 So train your new workers, whether they are temps, contractors, short timers, or might stick around for a while.  And give some love to your veterans.  Follow them around.  See what they are doing.  You might learn something.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Where does your attention go during music?

This paper has an interesting finding that makes me wonder (as usual).  They found that happy or sad music doesn't make you more likely to look at happy or sad scenes (like in a movie).  But the music does make you pay attention to the congruent parts for longer.  So if there is sad music, you pay more attention to the sad scenes.  And if there is happy music, you pay more attention to the happy scenes.

Where I wonder is how generalizable this is to our lives.  We often play happy or sad music specifically to set a mood in our lives.  But what if we have it backwards?  When I am sad, sometimes I will play sad music and dwell in my funk.  Maybe the music actually lengthens the sad spell.  That would be unfortunate. 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Users like options, but hate making decisions

Whenever I see one of those “Top ten designs of the year” or “Eight keys to good navigation design” I usually rip into them.  It’s really not that I am a negative person.  It is just that they always tend to be so overly simplistic.  They underappreciate the importance of context or completely misunderstand human behavior.

So it was really great to read Paul Olyslager’s recent post on the “9 Common misconceptions about users.”  One or two of them are common knowledge, but they are all spot on.  I want to share a few of the really good ones and perhaps add a few cents of value of my own.

His first one is perhaps the best.  Users want choices.  One of the primary motivations that drive human behavior is the need for perceived autonomy (see my gamification posts for more on that).  We crave feeling in control of our lives and our decisions. Having options is a salient signal to ourselves that we are in control.  In fact a recent TED talk by Alex Wissner-Gross makes the (a little too far reaching) claim that the best measure of intelligence is the ability to keep your options open. 

Unfortunately, it doesn’t end there.  Designers make a huge mistake by taking this as a maxim and giving users tons of choices.  This leads to many negative outcomes.  Because users also hate cognitive load.  If making a decision among all of these options feels like a lot of work we absolutely hate it.  That is not perceived autonomy, that is perceived helplessness.  Sheena Iyengar (about whom I have blogged before) calls this choice paralysis.

There is also the strong likelihood of loss aversion.  While making the decision we worry that we might make the wrong decision.  And we HATE that because it reduces perceived competence (another one of those fundamental motivations).  Then after the decision we are susceptible to post-decision regret, also known as buyer’s remorse.  The only thing worse than being forced into an option is being forced to live with that outcome afterwards, always wondering (or knowing for sure) that another option would have been better.  Some of us have this more than others (who Barry Schwartz calls “maximizers” in the fantastic book (and TEDtalk of the same name) the Paradox of Choice), but most of us have it to some extent.

And all of this just in his first misconception.  Thanks for the great post Paul. 

Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Third Wave of Gamification?

Robrecht Jurriaans at Perceptum recently posted an interesting piece on what he calls the "third wave" of gamification.  He normatively refers to pointsification as the first wave and using game elements as design lenses to engage and immerse users as the second wave.  I can't agree more with this description.

But his third wave, which he calls "gameless design" strays a little from reality.  The idea has some logic to it.  Instead of implementing game elements/mechanics/dynamics to engage and immerse (i.e. the second wave), he wants to give them a platform to create their own.  The ultimate autonomy (one of the primary motivations we leverage in gamification). 

But the challenge is competence (one of the other primary motivations).  Are users going to take the time and/or have the expertise to create their own?  Do they even know what an effect game element looks like or how it should work?  He thinks it would emerge naturally from their intrinsic motivation profile.  If a user has a need for competition, she would design precisely the competition that pushes her buttons.  But having a desire for competition is very different from being able to design a competition.  And understanding how the dynamics of a competition should work to engage an activity loop is well beyond what the typical user knows and probably more effort than they are willing to expend.  After all, this is just germane load to the underlying system (e.g. learning something) that is being gamified. 

So I like the concept and respect the intention to give users so much autonomy.  But I just don't think it is feasible.  Do you?  Could it work?

Behavioral Loopholes

Everyone has behaviors that they are trying to do more of, trying to do less of, or trying to do differently.  But it is equally true that we all make excuses now and again to avoid this self-improvement.  I read somewhere that the average New Year’s Resolution doesn’t make it through January. 

Gretchen Rubin, leader of the Happiness Project (and author of a book of that name), has just finished a series on 10 “loopholes” – excuses that we make when we don’t feel like living up to our own expectations.  This link has them all listed, but only with a brief description.  I recommend clicking through and reading the more detailed explanations.  You will see yourself in most of them.  And if you are interested in getting better at changing your behavior, see which ones you are most guilty of and what she suggests for overcoming them.  Some of her advice is pretty good.

So by now you might be wondering why I am writing about this in my “Human Factors” blog.  Of course human behavior is one of the primary levers that we need to consider when designing any user experience.  Behavioral lapses don’t only occur when we are trying to lose weight or be more productive at work.  They also rear their ugly heads when we are engaged (or not so engaged) in any activity. 

On a more personal note, it is #5 that gets me and then I follow it up with #3.  When I don’t feel like doing something, I either avoid putting myself into a situation where I even have a chance to do it or I get myself so busy with other things that I conveniently run out of time and with all due ardor and devotion plan to do it the next time.  And then the cycle repeats.

Unfortunately, there is another loophole that Gretchen misses.  Now that I have gotten so used to "succumbing" to loopholes 5 and 3, I consider them part of my identity.  Doing them now resonates with me.  Failing at this behavior has become part of my identity and the self-improvement would be a violation. This goes beyond her loophole #4 "I can't help myself" because I don't even see it as bad any more.  I am not being bad, I am being "me." This seems more insidious.