Get your S.C.A.R.F on

One of the real joys of my job is looking at frameworks and methodologies and research from totally different industry thinkers and re-applying it to UX. Why shouldn’t we? I’m just not good at re-inventing wheels.

Observing the customer journey, it is possible to analyze what is going on for users at a cognitive level and find opportunities for improvement.

In 2008, David Rock, cofounder of the NeuroLeadership Institute developed the SCARF theory.

The model that he describes in his article, “Your Brain at Work,” proposes that the first motivation of social interaction is to minimize threats and maximize rewards — the old fight or flight analysis.

The second motivation for social interaction is to draw upon the same neural networks that regulate our primary survival needs.

He concludes that the human need for social interaction is as necessary as that for food and water.

SCARF defines five domains of experience that activate strong threats and rewards in the brain, thus influencing a wide range of human behaviors. It’s a really fascinating model to look at when we’re designing experiences.

The brain is focused on increasing or sustaining reward and avoiding negative experiences so ask yourself does your product fulfil these identified human needs? Am I creating something sufficiently engrained with the right triggers to make it a success?

According to the SCARF theory, the brain constantly looks for five key things:

  1. Status — our importance relative to others
  2. Certainty —the ability to predict the future
  3. Autonomy — having a sense of control over events
  4. Relatedness — feeling a sense of being safe with others
  5. Fairness — the perception of fair exchanges between people

These five domains activate either the ‘primary reward’ or ‘primary threat’ circuitry of the brain. For example, a perceived threat to one’s status activates similar brain networks to a threat to one’s life. In the same way, a perceived increase in fairness activates the same reward circuitry as receiving a monetary reward.

When products or services fulfill these five basic needs, the audience has a great experience & so designers need to be considering these needs at the planning stage of designing the product. When they do, they have an opportunity to better connect with the audience.

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