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Digital Transformation

Applying psychology to web design: triggers and curiosity

In my previous post, I introduced  Stephen Anderson’s Mental Notes card deck, and discussed one of the card’s insights. Another one is about triggering: “We need small nudges placed on our regular paths to remind and motivate us to take action.” This concept becomes increasingly important as our world daily becomes more full of information and choices that can be acted upon. I find that I have to get creative in my own life to find ways to remind myself of things — a to-do list used to be enough, but now it’s a prioritized to-do list with timed alerts on my iPhone for the crucial ones. I throw physical “to-dos” in my path to the car so that will literally have to step on them to forget about them (which sometimes happens).

Sites and applications can apply this principle in many ways. Email reminders for important dates or things to do, like service a product, are standard, and SMS reminders are mostly commonplace now as well. Entering and leaving sites can trigger some sort of reminder (though they should be elegantly designed with modern front-end development tools and not overused). For portals, a common application is a notification zone on the home page that alerts users of any outstanding items.

I’ve also received a couple of engaging and clever marketing emails for social networks I’m a part of. Often these emails are direct-to-trash, but some are clearly drawing upon some very creative talent to help craft the message. One in particular from LinkedIn stands out: a collage of profile images with text callouts in a few places encouraging me to visit and see what others are doing. For triggers that involve optional or entertainment-only actions, a good approach is to use another psychological principle, curiosity, to entice users to action, as with the LinkedIn email.

The curiosity principle is, “When teased with a small bit of interesting information, people will want to know more.” This is a great foundational concept for several areas of design, and is used widely in many design patterns and communications — home and landing pages, tweets, advertisements, email campaigns, etc. The trick is to get the small bit of interesting information noticed among all of the other items competing for a person’s attention. In addition to using general best-practice design guidelines for calling attention to important items, several user experience methods can help to improve the chances of getting your most important messages to your intended users.


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Molly Malsam

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