All posts tagged experience

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Green curved flames

Attract, Attach

I’ve been conducting this really fascinating experiment at conferences and talks recently – I ask people to unlock their mobile phones & swap them with the person sitting next to them so they can both snoop through their apps & information. Try it, the reaction is quite remarkable.

Over the last 10 years we’ve created this incredible phenomenon – The connection to our tech, data and apps is quite remarkable. It’s brilliant to observe.

People are glued to their screens late into the night & then waking up at dawn and checking their tweets before they’ve said good morning to their loved ones. We’re posting extravagant status updates and self-revealing blog posts – Laying it all out bare for the world to judge us. I know people who are conducting deep, connected relationships with people they’ve never met from continents they’ve never even visited. This is frontier land. We’ve drenched society in digitally induced chemicals that bestow focus (and sometimes a distinct lack of!) and new levels of stamina and vigour towards micro tasks. The motivating engine of the brain firing on more cylinders than ever before.

Why the connection to tech?

Scans of the brains of people so deeply attached to digital have found that when they’re focusing on a goal, a whole host of brain parts start to light up. The two most important ones are the caudate nucleus – part of the primitive reptilian brain, which is usually only highly active in amorous individuals – and the brain areas associated with dopamine and norepinephrine production. Both of those brain chemicals are associated with pleasurable activities and excitement. Of course, dopamine is what gets released when you take a hit of cocaine, too – so it’s not surprising that for the brain, handing over your phone to a stranger is like handing someone your last gram of cocaine.

Go a day without your phone. I dare you. Some of you will start to feel the same sort of emotional pain that you might feel if say, someone broke into your house & stole your most personal belongings.

The human memory is short and terribly fickle

But what does that mean if you’re going to enter the arena and try and create the next big thing? Let’s say you’ve dreamt up a product that you want people to use everyday and you’re the kind of entrepreneurial go-getter who is well up for chasing that dragon to market no matter what. You’ve got a seriously big problem amigo, because literally hundreds of thousands of games, productivity tools and other apps are already in the market, and thousands more are launching every week. Many big, bold entrepreneurial thinkers are finding that their ideas aren’t so unique after all.

Here’s a startling fact – 21% of people who download a new app never look at it more than once. All that effort and expense building the perfect product and service only to see over 1 in 5 of them leave before they’ve even got started.

There’s another weird anomaly too – Even well heeled companies with big marketing budgets don’t always hold sway over the little bedroom developers a lot of the time. The UX is tight, the research is solid, the app looks good enough to eat & then pppppsssssssssssssssss… nobody uses it. But hang on a minute, it was meant to be one of the game-changers, the new-new. Total heartbreak for someone who’s given it their all.

Don’t cry, you probably just forgot the audience are human

Things are never as simple as they seem. There’s a lot more going on than meets the eye. Things you could never have possibly know.

Have you ever heard of oxytocin? It’s sometimes called the “hormone of love”. It’s a lovely little chemical that one. Studies have shown that oxytocin plays a crucial role in bonding; when released in your brain during certain types of experiences, it’s what makes you bond to someone or something. It’s also involved in other corollary emotional responses, like trust-building and empathy. So that could be it right there – Your app was as good as the one before, and better than the one that will come after, but you became a #FAIL because you just didn’t quite nail the Trust & Empathy factors.

Spend less time on the shiny stuff & focus instead on building trust and empathising with the audience – #WINNER

There’s now also a lot of research on oxytocin that suggests a dark side to the so-called love hormone. While affecting positive behaviours of trust and bonding, it can also affect opposite behaviours like jealousy, envy, and suspicion. Oxytocin triggers and amplifies social feelings of all types, not just the positive, feel-good ones. When the person’s association to an app or service is positive, oxytocin bolsters pro-social behaviours; when the association is negative, the hormone increases negative sentiments. So that’s another reason you have to get the chat-up-line right… if it stinks, you’ve lost the audience in spectacular style and there is no second chance in todays hormone fuelled marketplace.

What if your app is great, but the ‘when’ and ‘where’ isn’t?

Here’s an interesting factor – Maybe someone just downloaded it at the wrong time? But what can we do to always make the wrong time, the right time? Recent studies have showed that listening to your favourite music has a similar effect on your brain as other pleasure-inducing activities like having sex. MRI scans reveal that when you listen to music that excites you, your brain releases dopamine during the most exciting moments of the song and even in anticipation of those moments. So what if you can get a person to play their favourite song at the same time as downloading and interacting with your shiny, new, same-same-but-different app or service app for the first time? That new factor alone might give you the edge and stop you being ditched by the 21% of people who download it but never look at it more than once. It sounds bonkers, but it’s true.

Before you get started, whack a tune on dude!

Shake, rattle & keep rolling

Novelty is one of the key factors in driving brain plasticity. I don’t mean making your product like a small and inexpensive toy or ornament either, I mean mix it up. Really mix it upA lot. Research shows us that novelty can, in fact, help keep a relationship fresh and rewarding. Engaging in fun, exciting, and new experiences even within the same, familiar, experience can get the dopamine and norepinephrine flowing and reward your brain as if it was the first time you’d downloaded it and the thing felt fresh.

Summary

So just remember you’re designing for humans & humans are full of all sorts of weirdy chemicals and stuff. Get someone to stick on a favourite song, inject a big dose of empathy, because these people are taking the time out of their already addicted lives to focus on you for 5 minutes. Find something that makes you trustworthy and if all that works and they start to open the app regularly, shake it up amigo and you’re almost there.

Now… luck… THAT… we cannot codify.

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The Biological Power of Push and Pull

On the 28th February 2015, in front of c1500 people at TEDx I stood up and launched my campaign against dumb, linear problem solving digital services.

Someone had said to me last year when I told them I’d got TEDx;

Oh no… you’re not going to stand up and do the hormones and Tinder rant are you?” …Whoops. I did it again.

You haven’t picked the REALLY big TEDx event, have you?” …Double whoops. Go big or go home, right?

When I set up Nexus explicitly as a behavioural design company, I had a mission in mind – to use technology to “Better connect people to digital experiences” and help people learn about themselves, evolve and get smarter.

In order to do all of that, I have to draw a line through the services out there that fundamentally rub up against my design philosophy (basically, all the ones that make us biologically dumber) and there was no better place for me to do that than on those hallowed boards, in the circle, in front of the big red TED.

I’m a fraud. It’s true.

We all know what I am and what I’m not… I’m not a neuroscientist. I’m a strategist. An experience planner. A designer with an unhealthy fascination in brain science – What a dangerous concoction I am.

Since the age of Mad Men, marketers have tried to tap into the human subconscious, basically try to influence consumers to buy their products. We worked out a long time ago that the brain reacts in a unique way when it spots a famous brand name or logo. You see, it doesn’t treat it like any other word or picture, instead it activates parts of the brain normally used to process emotions, and so you could argue that we, in the design community, on behalf of brands, have always been in the habit-forming, brain manipulation business. It’s what we’re paid to do. It’s our job. But a lot of agencies out there who worked out the emotions and story-telling trick have just used it to sell more ‘stuff’.

I say – Shame on you people. The brain is a really fragile, incredible thing. Respect it. We should be using this incredible opportunity we have to break habits, not create them. Stimulate the brain in good ways.

The Times They Are a-Changin’

10 years ago things started to get really juicy and in a big way. The invention of the iPhone started flooding the market with a new type of design – ‘The App’.

Apps suddenly brought digital design into the pockets of the people on a huge huge scale. Directing us like drones with instantaneous gratification and rewards galore. At best guess, about 1.5 billion smartphones were in use by the end of 2014 – That’s a lot of apps being consumed by people. But it’s also created a problem and a really really big one – Enthusiastic designers, creating stupider people.

The brain solves problems in two ways and it’s got nothing to do with the whole left-brain, right-brain tripe that is on posters all over the world too. That’s total nonsense.

There is linear problem-solving, which includes problems that have only one solution and are usually often better solved analytically. An example of a linear problem might be choosing to say yes or no, or left of right… a simplification of something.

Then there are complex, nonlinear problems which can have more than one solution and are solved much better with a different kind of thinking. They require non-conscious thinking. These types of problems are what we often refer to as Insight Problems. These types of problems require creativity – the ability to combine information in a whole new way.

The intense repetition of a task creates new, stronger neural pathways associated with that particular task. So the more Linear and Non Linear tasks people do, the stronger the brain learns to think in that particular way. As a person becomes an expert in a particular thing, the areas of the brain associated with those tasks actually grow. It’s why we get better at what we do if we do it repeatedly. Contrary to popular belief, this is not limited to children or youth either… but people of all ages.

So guess what happens if you make someone continuously perform a Linear task? You teach the brain to get simpler… you dumb people down.

Bus Drivers & Taxi Drivers

Here’s an example of how the intense repetition of a linear and non linear task affects us. There’s a really neat area of the brain called the hippocampus. It has a specialised role in developing the skill used to solve problems & navigate routes. It’s basically one of the bits of the brain that make us smarter and more analytical.
Now a Bus drivers hippocampus is much smaller than a Taxi Drivers because it’s under-stimulated. They drive the same route day after day. They’re Linear problem solvers.

Where-as Taxi drivers have a much bigger, more stimulated hippocampus because everyday they get to choose their own destiny. They solve creative challenges. They’re Non-linear problem solvers.

As a design community we’ve become rather obsessed with turning everyone into Bus Drivers for some reason. Everybody wants to make things simpler and on a massive massive scale. What an epic fail that is for humanity. Back in the day a chap called Einstein made this quote;

Everything should be made as simple as possible, but no simpler

We might have wanted to pay a bit more attention to Mr Einstein, but in the last few years the tables on the app store have started tipping dramatically towards the Linear side of the equation.

I call it the Solve and Evolve paradox.

The Biological Power of Push and Pull

Here’s the next part of the story. The bit that’s going to get me into trouble. What a lot of people aren’t aware of is that both types of problem solving encourage lots of hormonal & biological responses. Digital is effectively a biological activity in as much as it encourages different types of hormones to be released in response to the content of the activity or task.

When you engage in digital services hormones are released almost instantaneously and recent research showed that something like a steroid hormone can alter almost every function of our body, from Growth to Shape to Metabolism to the Immune functions and even of course our brains – its mood and memory – possibly even someone’s personality and behaviour.

So the more we encourage people to use a particular app or service that hasn’t even been planned with some of the above in mind (literally) it could be doing two things;

  • Making people stupider
  • Messing about with peoples physiology

You think I’m joking don’t you? I wish I was. Let’s take my old nemesis Tinder on a test drive. Now there’s a dirty little app that hit the market 18 months ago. It’s been nicknamed by scientists as one of the most addictive apps on the market.

This type of new linear digital mating ritual did not even exist until a few years ago, so it’s really a totally new frontier. A whole uncharted set of triggers, behaviours and reactions designed in an app-developers head and released into the wild with very little thought beyond the potential to change the dating game.

Here’s the story of what’s going on…

You find a couple of people in close proximity to you that tickle your pickle, so you swipe them to the right to let them know you’re nearby & interested. Each swipe with your finger sets off a small chain-reaction of events within your body that can be as narcotic as crack.

Your body has gone into adrenaline high-alert in anticipation and swings full throttle through the gears of excitement, stress, anxiety and joy. At least four emotions in one swipe & in literally seconds. That’s pretty cool huh. Designers don’t tend to think about the emotions that come during or after an interaction only really the interaction itself.

At the same time the adrenal glands are starting to produce the hormone testosterone, which is what we call an anabolic steroid and one seriously potent chemical. Testosterone fans out across the body & starts to have its physical effect almost instantaneously. It also returns to the brain, changing the very way people are going to think and more importantly behave.

It just increased peoples confidence and also their appetite for risk.

There’s a really cool side effect of Testosterone feedback loop too… it involves success and failure.

Both male or female, regardless or what happens next, whether they succeed or whether they fail, they actually emerge with much higher levels of testosterone than when you first opened that app. Those elevated levels of testosterone give you a sort of androgenic priming. It gives you the edge, making your reactions much much quicker.

Over the years Scientists have replicated these effects with athletes, and believe the testosterone feedback loop may actually explain winning and losing streaks in sports.

This is total body re-engineering using just your thumb, an app and a photo of someone near-by. But what goes up must also come down… There’s a flip side to winning streaks of course. When you lose, you go the opposite way. Quite literally crashing into the opposite end of the spectrum.

There’s something else going on too – It has to do with the amount of time we let people play on these apps and services.

Adrenaline coupled with Testosterone were really evolutions way of making you run fast enough to get away from a bear in the woods. But after a prolonged siege the body also does something else.

After playing on services like Tinder for roughly 20mins or longer (it varies dramatically between men, woman, big, small, old, young etc), another part of the brain tells the hypothalamus to send a chemical message to the pituitary gland. This message has caused another hormone to start leaking out of the adrenal glands and across your body to take over from the testosterone and this one is the really really nasty one. It’s called Cortisol.

Cortisol is another steroid hormone. Only this one is released in response to stress and anxiety and not excitement or fear. But what we’ve done is trick it to be released during what was actually designed to be, effectively, a leisure activity. Cortisol kicks in to support us during a long siege & hangs around in the body for quite a while.

Cortisol has one main far-reaching command – glucose now – It starts to dismantle your body at a biological level. So people who pull out their phone to play on apps like tinder for a couple of minutes, are running off testosterone which is great. Get stuck in pal. But if people are spending 20, 30, 40 minutes at it, then they’re running off Coritsol, which has in effect ordered a complete re-tooling of your body away from leisure and ready for all out war… we’re letting people eat their own bodies.

We’re encouraging the body to react to stress. We’ve designed Stress.

So not only are we teaching the brain to get stupider by repeatedly making people perform a linear task to find the future Mr or Mrs Smith, we’ve also just induced stress in everybody finding love at first swipe for more than 15 or 20 mins.

Back to the mission

So why have I told you all this? Well – It’s pretty basic… I imagine a lot of you have never even stopped and considered that all these little digital experiences we’re creating have such an amazing effect on us physically, psychology etc. They’re just apps, right? But with every swipe, touch, pixel and ping we’re changing ourselves and the people around us.

If an idea is worth spreading, it’s that we need to make sure we design experiences that are non-linear and that they create short bursts of positive ripples rather than long bursts of negative ones.

Nexus is a company I’ve formed to start using all these amazing little biological quirks to create products that start to have positive effects. That bring these learnings into industries and services that probably have just had teams of really talented designers and user experience people happily designing away with no real legitimate reason to stop and consider what it is they’re actually designing from a biological or psychological feedback perspective (don’t even get me started on the Stamford Marshmallow Test!).

There’s another thought too – What if we could create products that actually start to reverse the effects of atrophy in the hippocampus and amygdala – make people smarter and more analytical? Make people less stressed or depressed?

We’re collecting an incredible amount of data about people and I want to use that data to start to map the human psyche. Help understand our motivations and design the right kind of services that support those motives, rather than random stress inducing dumb ones that make us stupider and eat us.

Don’t dumb down say, banking. Make the people doing banker smarter.

I’ve got nothing against bus drivers, they get me to where I want to go… but I really want to do is start helping people aspire to be taxi drivers… metaphorically speaking anyway.

Live long and prosper.

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B = f(P,E)

Behaviour

Design revolves around finding a pain point or gap and then creating a solution for it. That’s the essence of what good design is and what good design should be. But my design interests have always sat slightly to the left or right of that core principle. What drives me is the reasons, behaviours and cognitive biases that make someone want to use (or not!) a piece of design, a service or a pattern, and not necessarily the thing itself. More importantly, I want to design products that actually move the cognitive needle – drive people back into itself and with that return, allow it to change us in some way shape or form – often quite literally.

One of the major themes in my work is the idea of a “life space” – A “life space” is the combination of all factors that influence a person’s behavior at a given moment in time, not just the screen in front of them. Therefore, a life space may include instantaneous thought, memory, drives and motives, personality, biases as well as the situation and external environmental factors.

Personality

There have been numerous studies over the decades, looking at the way the brain evolves and changes over the course of our lives. Every situation we encounter, every life moment we live in has an effect on the brain. It’s what gives us our individual personalities.

It’s an ever-evolving and solving 1.5kg blob of plasticity.

I started working in Investing Solutions four or five years ago and one of the areas I studied at length was the effects of stress on the brain. I was really fascinated to discover that hormonal responses generated by stressful situations generate subsequent risk taking attitudes. I was also blown away to discover that there is now enough empirical evidence to suggest that exposure to long-term stress can cause what’s know as ‘Hippocampal Atrophy‘ – Something normally associated with memory-loss conditions, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. That’s a pretty frightening side-effect when you stop to think about how hugely stressful the lives many of us live are.

Environment

What if we could create the opposite effect? What if we could actually use the digital experiences we create to start to reverse the effects of atrophy and change certain Behavioural Biases to make us behave better or just think differently? In theory it may actually be possible to stave off the effects of stress and mild forms of depression – maybe even before they appear – using brain focused functions so simplistic in their design that they seem almost too good to be true.

What’s commonly know now is that within the suffers of stress and forms of depression is a tendency to “amplify” unpleasant information and that makes the brain overreact to negative emotional stimuli. It’s also been shown that the children or partners of mental health patients are potentially at higher-than-normal risk of developing the same condition themselves, in part because they may inherit their parent or loved ones trait to overreact. It’s an inherited behavioural bias. So working backwards from suffers themselves, to some of the people around them, may be a really important place to start.

Reversing a behavioural bias and start to “rewire” the brain isn’t as complex as it might sound. We just need to design the right experiences into the services we build.

The trick is going to be teaching people (implicitly or explicitly) how to control the activity that is generated in a network of interrelated brain regions that are directly linked to stress and depression – the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. We can already do that using basic Neural Feedback Displays – hell, I’ve been playing with several cheap and cheerful EEG gizmos for years now. They don’t do much more than let me see roughly and crudely what’s going on inside my head, but that’s somehow a good enough place to start and it gives me a deeper connection to myself. When I perform an action, it shows me what the reaction inside my brain is, and that starts to show me more about myself than I knew before.

One of the exercises I’ve been studying shows neural feedback in the form of a thermometer on the screen. You show people sad or negative pictures that might ordinarily raise their “temperature”, and then get them to try to lower that “temperature” by adopting more sanguine mental states. After a while you start to work what the reaction looks like and in doing so create a sort of mental pro-action to stop it occurring in the first place. It’s therapy friends, but not as we know it.

You can start to reverse the behavioural bias. Over the course of a period of time you can start to change the actual structure of the brain. Which is a pretty neat concept.

There’s another technique where a pair of faces is shown to someone on a screen every few seconds; either neutral and sad, or neutral and happy. Then a dot replaces one of the faces, and the user is asked to click on the dot. During one particular experiment using the dot technique, some people had the face replaced by the dot selected at random, but other people always had the dot replace the more positive face in the pair. Over a period of time of engaging in the dot technique, the group that had the dot replacing the positive face, where in effect being trained to avoid looking at the sad faces.

This kind of attentional-bias training, is so simplistic that most good scientists would bet that it could not alter psychological symptoms. But they’d lose the bet.

In both the examples above it’s been proven that stress-related responses – for example, increases in heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels – to negative stimuli – are significantly reduced using both techniques. These stress responses are a key marker of depression, and they diminished roughly one week after the experiments began. Incidentally, some people in the experimental groups also developed fewer defensive responses to negative faces, such as startled blinking however the people in the control groups showed no such improvement.

In another experiment researchers at Cardiff University showed eight people how their brains reacted to positive imagery. After four sessions the participants with mental health conditions had seen significant improvements in their depression.

Was it a placebo effect? Possibly. But so what, that’s still a positive outcome!

As part of the same experiment another eight people with mental health problems were asked to do the exercise but just think positively and were not shown the brain images. They showed no change over the same period of time.

The researchers said they believed the scans allowed participants to work out, through trial and error, which sort of positive emotional imagery was most effective for them.

Once you’ve taught someone the mindset to lower that temperature or unlearn that negative thought, it’s a simple case of asking them to try to recreate that mindset in their daily lives, in normal stress related situations – Call it mindfulness, call it brain-training, call it CBT… you can even call it brainwashing if you like… it’s doesn’t matter, call it whatever best fits – the point is not the label that matters, the point is the start point of the process. You show people the mirror and they start to see themselves.

Summary

There have been plenty of experiments that have failed too by the way. Or shown only a correlation to success in a percentage of the people in the test. Which is totally to be expected.

To me, the interesting aspect of all these techniques is simply that they start by giving people an insight into themselves and their biases and only then do they work towards letting people control their own brain activity.

Most people (especially those living with stress or depression etc) are actually acutely aware and really interested in a way of engaging with themselves.

I’m not suggesting we mass ship EEG devices like EPOC to sufferers of anxiety, stress and depression so they can see what’s happening in their heads – but what I am suggesting is that we can build experiences that help people to understand themselves better and by starting there, we might in turn be able to start to help people reverse or reduce the effects of some of the conditions that can debilitate a lot of people.

People are dynamic creatures with dynamic thoughts, emotions, and psychological forces. To understand people you have to consider all possible factors that influence a person’s behavior and consider how those factors interact and change in time to influence the person’s present state.

So in designing solutions that start to move the needle on behaviour and start to break biases it’s imperative that we look at all the factors and start to influence people piece by pieces. Reversing negative brain patterns and negative cognitive biases starts with understanding the individual and moves out from there to a series of small interactions that gently nudge the brain into reverse.

It’s a noble idea I know… and probably one that many of you would scoff at. But my brain is already growing out of the curiosity of where this might lead me.

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Designing Distractions

While the brain can seem almost boundless in its potential, it has limitations, such as processing speed, attentional limitations, working memory limitations, and sensitivity to interference, which can be both internal and external. You’ve all been there – that annoying, wicked challenge that you just can’t seem to get your mind to process. Frustration brews. It all goes bad.

But occasionally you might have a ‘Eureka Moment’ where the solution seems to miraculously present itself to you.

The eureka effect refers to a common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept… Some research describes the eureka effect as a memory advantage, but conflicting results exist as to where exactly it occurs in the brain, and it is difficult to predict under what circumstances one can predict a eureka effect.

Eureka can be conceptualized as a two phase process;

  • The first phase requires the problem solver to come upon an impasse, where they become stuck and even though they may seemingly have explored all the possibilities, are still unable to retrieve or generate a solution.
  • The second phase occurs suddenly and unexpectedly. After a break in mental fixation or re-evaluating the problem, the answer is usually retrieved.

The Eureka Theories

There are also currently two theories for how people arrive at the solution during a eureka moment.

  • The first is the Progress Monitoring Theory (when you hear me referring to PMT in the office, please be aware that I have a slightly different definition than most people!). A person will analyze the distance from their current state to the goal state. Once a person realizes that they cannot solve the problem while on their current path, they will seek alternative solutions. In complex problems this usually occurs late in the challenge.
  • The second way that people attempt to solve these puzzles is the Representational Change Theory. The problem solver initially has a low probability for success because they use inappropriate knowledge as they set unnecessary constraints on the problem. Once the person relaxes his or her constraints, they can bring previously unavailable knowledge into working memory to solve the problem.

Currently both theories have support, with the progress monitoring theory being more suited to multiple step problems, and the representational change theory more suited to single step problems.

FMRi (Functional magnetic resonance imaging) and EEG (Electro Encephalogram) studies have found that problem solving requiring insight (non-linear problems) involves increased activity in the right cerebral hemisphere as compared with problem solving not requiring insight (linear problems). In particular, increased activity was found in the right hemisphere anterior superior temporal gyrus.

I’ve been interested in moments of ‘eureka’ for a while now because along with the moment itself is a real sense of achievement, euphoria and self-worth. We know that a quiet mind allows the weak connections of non-conscious processing to rise to awareness.

Basically that the act of coming back fresh to a problem is valuable in itself.

New research by Neuroscientist David Creswell from Carnegie Mellon sheds some more light on this phenomenon.

Creswell wanted to explore what happens in the brain when people tackle problems that are too big for their conscious mind to solve. He had people think about purchasing an imaginary car, based on multiple wants and needs. One group had to choose immediately. These people didn’t do great at optimizing their decision. A second group had time to try to consciously solve the problem. Their choices weren’t much better. A third group were given the problem, then given a distracter task – something that lightly held their conscious attention but allowed their non-conscious to keep working. This group did significantly better than the other groups at selecting the optimum car for their overall needs.

FMRI scans showed something interesting happening with the third group. The brain regions that were active during the initial learning of the decision information continued to be active (we call this unconscious neural reactivation) even while the brain was distracted with another task. This reactivation was predictive of how good participants were at making a better decision — more reactivation was associated with better decisions.

To put it plainly – people who were distracted did better on a complex problem-solving task than people who put in conscious effort. This isn’t so surprising – the problem-solving resources of the non-conscious are millions if not billions of times larger than that of the conscious. What’s surprising is how fast this effect kicked in – the third group were distracted for only a few minutes. This wasn’t the ‘sleep on it’ effect, or about quieting the mind. It was something more accessible to all of us every day, in many small ways.

Deliberate Distractions

So now to the bit that I’m driving towards – Designing complex flows, patterns, challenges, data-capture and encouraged behaviours.

What we’ve been doing for decades now is try to simplify complex tasks – I agree this should be encouraged. Of course we want to make complex things simpler. But what if we’re missing the trick of building in other mechanisms for helping audiences solve complex challenges… like telling them to “Stop”.

Some classic examples;

  • Filling out application forms online – Big pain drain.
  • Managing an investment portfolio – Oh boy that one hurts the novice investor.
  • Writing an article (like this one!) to submit to the masses of people who demand something punchy – The pressure!

We have a lot of analytics running within our digital experiences that track everything an audience does now. From where they click, to how long they dwell… we even know where they came from to arrive at the challenge. So we can pretty much derive if they’re slick or if they’re thick. It’s how we learn about their behaviour and make our systems smarter, our messages more potent and our support programmes better.

So why wouldn’t we turn that same machine learning back on the audience? Literally tell them when they’re in a bad spot. Let’s say we spot erratic, confused or behaviour that implies someone is over-thinking or struggling to solve a problem, why not just prompt the user to take a break?

Pete, go play Angry Birds for 5 minutes buddy, come back when you’ve cleared your mind.

We’re letting people go about a cognitive challenge the wrong way – by allowing them to continue pushing at a problem consciously when we should be allowing them to go off and ignore the problem.

If we do this you’ll genuinely find that you’re audiences gets better outcomes and faster, with less effort.

There are so many things we’ve got wrong with design because we haven’t stopped to look at the brain. As we begin to develop the tools to understand the brains quirks better, I suspect that many more surprising discoveries will emerge.

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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.

Celebrate the mavericks

maverick;

  • Someone who exhibits great independence in thought and action.
  • A rebel, recusant, nonconformist – someone who refuses to conform to established standards of conduct
  • Independent in behavior or thought; “she led a somewhat irregular private life”; “maverick politicians”
  • unorthodox, irregular
    unconventional – not conforming to accepted rules or standards; “her unconventional dress and hair style”

People labeled maverick are people who dare to say ‘no‘ not people who tow the line and say ‘yes‘.

Design is the belief in the ignorance of experts

You can’t squeeze innovation out of a sausage factory controlled by people who believe in ‘doing things properly‘, that’s just not how it works. The truth is very different and by accepting the truth you can go and change the status quo.

I’ve always compared good design to charging headfirst into the unknown – the shock of becoming a parent for the very first time or riding a knuckle-biting rollercoaster without being strapped in. It’s about enjoying the ongoing struggles, the risks and challenges and the ‘what the f*** am I doing?’ moments rather than fearing them.

You’ll find most maverick people love to buck a trend, so maybe it really is time to celebrate the mavericks and back the risk takers rather than try to confine them, in order for businesses to successfully move forward.

The large agencies and companies that have a very rigid definition of the route to success are in big big trouble. That approach tends to emulate the way we’re brought up;

  • When we first enter into education at the age of five, we’re taught to obey the rules and fit into a system.
  • We’re forced to specialise early in our schooling (who knows what on earth they want to do at the age of 14?) and learn how to succeed in every exam by following a precise and prescriptive formula.
  • We’re deemed successful if we achieve good GCSEs, A-Levels and degrees. Then hip hip hooray, chin chin, three cheers all around if we’re chosen for a graduate scheme with a reputable and established company.
  • At home, we’re brought up to believe security and stability are the keys to success. Do what others do, fit into the mould and for God’s sake don’t rock the boat

But these norms are diametrically opposed to what makes change and innovation happen. The big companies despise rule breakers because they often fail more often. In these companies failure seems to be something to be ashamed of, hidden or forgotten and the stigma and embarrassment can often force you out of the door.

Sure, work needs to be won and delivered to high standard – first and foremost we’re a service industry. But there can be different ways of thinking that can produce results quicker, change perspective, get to market more efficiently and break the norms. Ironically clients seem to prefer working with the mavericks. It’s the odd few who get called upon the most. That should tell you something.

Designers have to be willing to take risks and embrace the unknown. They need to get things done without any structure and thrive in an environment where there are no rules. They need courage to innovate and the nerve to forge their own path – and agencies need to support that spirit even armed with the knowledge that occasionally there’s a chance they might be pouring their own and sometimes clients money down a plughole.

Across the sea

In developing countries, leaps forward are extremely high because risk taking and high levels of innovation are greatly encouraged and not frowned upon.

In these countries failure is often worn as a badge of honour and seen almost as a form of success. I would consider failing an experience, rather than a shameful indicator of incompetence.

Alternative thinking should be valued, a self-starting attitude encouraged and where the ethos that hard work pays off no matter where you’re from and what you do is ingrained in the mindset of every person in an organisation.

It’s incredibly important in modern businesses to try and minimise barriers to multi-disciplinary working and to provide a creative and innovative learning process. Encourage staff to take courses outside of their domain and engage in projects with those from other disciplines so they can draw upon expertise from across disciplines.

Throw out the rule book

So how do big companies get their acts together for the greater good of the staff, the clients and the end customers?

Firstly, get rid of this preconception of how we should behave; this notion of sticking to the rules, specialising and one size fits all is inherently bad for business.

Companies need to emphasise the importance of critical thinking, problem solving and ingenuity. Give designers the freedom and flexibility to treat each other as individuals and do what they think is right and not what they think is expected. We should encourage talent to be resourceful and creative and give them the courage to throw off the herd mentality. We have to foster an attitude that anything is possible and that failure and screw ups are all part of a learning curve. If we get this right at the core of a business (the management) – it’ll carry through into the culture of a company and furthermore into the work. Tricky decisions need to be made about those members of management who criticise people for not conforming and being maverick. What they showing is a fear of change.

Empower staff to make decisions, champion ideas and create a culture of questioning the norm. It’s not just about listening to them either. It’s also about letting them do it.

We need to inspire others to get on that terrifying, exhilarating rollercoaster ride. The design world needs people willing to take risks and face their fears.

To the naysayers who force us mavericks out of the door: stuff your rules and rigidity and let the mavericks do their bit for the world. You’re holding the company back and limiting innovation. To label someone maverick and not celebrate that is an act of pure fear. So be careful if you do use that term to describe someone in a negative context, you might just be putting yourself into the 10% that is wrong and out of touch.

Brain-Explosion

The hour between Dog and Wolf

I was recently pointed in the direction of an incredible book called ‘The Hour Between Dog and Wolf‘. It is an excellently written piece about how human biology contributes to the alternating cycles of irrational exuberance and pessimism that destabilise banks and the global economy – and how the system could be calmed down by applying biological principles.

The author John Coates is a senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge. He previously worked on Wall Street for Goldman Sachs, and ran a trading desk for Deutsche Bank. In 2004 he returned to Cambridge to research the biology of financial risk-taking.

In his book he goes into meticulous detail about the way the body reacts to experiences and the idea that they can sharpen the mind and call forth an overwhelming biological reaction we know as the ‘fight or flight’ response, which I previously wrote about.

The world is now littered with millions of seemingly irrational reactions to fake, un-important experiences such as apps, games, grinding and virtual socializing. It’s not just about recent advances in technology either – Winston Churchill recognized the power of these so-called “non-lethal experiences” when writing of his early years. He recounts a regimental polo match played in Southern India that went to a tie-break in the final chukka: “Rarely have I seen such strained faces on both sides,” he recalls. “You would not have thought it was not just a game at all, but a matter of life and death. Far graver crises cause less keen emotion“. He is of course referring to ‘the zone’ that people enter when they’re engaged in an activity so deeply that they lose all sense of reality.

When I talk about neuro mechanics and functions that might fire up the reward center, I’m talking about trying to keep people on a winning streak and stimulating (simulating?) feelings of euphoria. When we’re aroused by success, our appetite for opportunity expands and we want more of it. The ‘Tinder‘ generation are chasing a new kind of dragon. The dragon that goes PING and tells them there’s a match. There’s a flip-side too, on a losing streak we might struggle with a kind of digital fear – reliving the bad moments over and over. In those cases stress hormones linger in our brains, promoting a pathological risk-aversion, even depression. John Coates warns that during the down cycles of losing or being withdrawn from the highs, the stress hormones can circulate in our blood, contributing to recurrent viral infections, high blood pressure, abdominal fat build-up and even gastric ulcers.

‘Digital’ is now as much a biological activity, with as many medical consequences, as facing down a grizzly bear.

Recent advances in neuroscience and physiology have shown that when we engage in deep experiences, for example JawBone Up24, our bodies are doing a lot more than just ‘thinking’ about the outcomes and not just because it’s linked to physical activity. We actually start to crave the lessons we learn from the data it shows us. Our bodies, expecting action, switch on an emergency network of physiological circuitry, and the resulting surge in electrical and chemical activity feeds back in to the brain, affecting the way we think and behave. In this way body and brain twine as a single entity, united in the face of the approaching data storm. We’re talking about micro-milliseconds of cognition and excitement too. Most of the time we’re not even aware it’s happening. But it’s just enough to keep our sub-conscience aware that it’s something worth repeating.

One of the brains regions responsible for this early-warning system is the Locus Ceruleus (pronounced Ser-u-leus), so called because it’s cells are cerulean or deep blue. Situated in the brain stem, the most primitive part of the brain, sitting atop the spine, the Locus Ceruleus responds to novelty and promotes a state of arrousel. When a correlation between events breaks down or a new pattern emerges, when something is just not right, this primitive part of the brain registers the change long before conscious awareness. By doing so it places the brain on high-alert, galvanizing us into a state of heightened vigilance, and lowering our sensory thresholds so that we hear the faintest sound, notice the slightest movement. Athletes experiencing this effect have said that when caught up in the flow of a game they can pick out every voice in the stadium, see every blade of grass.

Welcome to the Engine Room

You get that all too familiar notification push PING sound from your pocket…. Your body automatically starts to create fuel, and lots of it, in the form of glucose. The body also needs Oxygen to burn this fuel, and it needs an increased flow of blood to deliver this fuel and oxygen to gas-guzzling cells throughout the body, and therefore you need an expanded exhaust pipe, in the form of dilated bronchial tubes and throat, to vent the carbon dioxide waste once the fuel is burned. Breathing accelerates, drawing in more oxygen, and the heart rates speed up. Our bodies, unbeknownst to us, are preparing for the experience when we sense it’s approach. Metabolism speeds up, ready to break down existing energy stores in liver, muscle and fat cells should the situation demand it. Cells of the immune system take up position, like firefighters, at vulnerable points of our bodies, such as the skin, and stand ready to deal with injury and infection. The nervous system, extending from the brain down into the abdomen, has begun redistributing blood throughout our bodies, constricting blood flow to the gut, giving us butterflies, and shunting blood to major muscle groups in the arms and thighs as well as to the lungs, heart and brain. Again, often so tiny a reaction we’re not even aware it’s happening at all.

The very fact we can design experiences that create excitement and anticipation that can change people physically is a remarkable feat. In that millisecond it’s taken for Tinder to fire you a push PING notification to say someone has matched with you we just made Digital become physical. Just think about that, it’s insanely cool.

“YOU HAVE A NEW MATCH” …Bang… rising levels of testosterone increase production of hemoglobin, and consequently your bloods capacity to carry oxygen; the testosterone also increases your state of confidence and crucially your appetite for risk.

This is a moment of total transformation, that the French since the middle ages have referred to as “L’heure entre chien et loup” which translates as “the hour between dog and wolf”

The phrase refers to a specific time of day, when the light is such that one can’t distinguish between a dog or wolf. Under extreme, artificial circumstances we can lose our true selves to this virtual world we swim in.

The Hour Between Dog and Wolf

In the last 15 years we’ve created dozens of new ways of firing up the parts of the body I describe above and at a mass scale. Do we even know what the effect of that might be? For millennia we’ve evolved without this wave of artificial stimulants and suddenly it’s introduced into society, globally, and in vast vast quantities. In fact it’s really only since the advent and mass adoption of the smartphone that things have got really juicy.

My name is Pete, and I’m an addict

There’s more too. The hormone, adrenaline, produced by the core of the adrenal glands located on top of the kidney, surges into your blood when this artificial stimulant – the push notification – is triggered. Another hormone, the steroid Cortisol, commonly known as the Stress Hormone, trickles out of the rim of the adrenal gland and travels to the brain, where it stimulates the release of dopamine, a chemical operating along neural circuits known as the pleasure pathways. Normally stress is a nasty experience, but not at low-levels. At low-levels it thrills. A non-threatening stressor or challenge, like a sporting match, a fast drive, being matched on a dating site, seeing our portfolio increase in our trading apps or beating the system in an app, game or experience, releases Cortisol, and in combination with dopamine, one of the most addictive drugs known to the human brain, delivers a narcotic hit, a rush, a flow that convinces you there is no better moment in the world than this one right here.

It’s all happening inside us every day.

Meaning

In that hour between dog and wolf, we can’t know if we’re safe or threatened. We can’t be sure if our eyes deceive, if we truly know what we think we know. We’re caught somewhere between comfort (ignorant bliss?) and fear. It’s good, of course, to be able to distinguish between the two, but… Most people have never mastered that. It’s why the body reacts in the way it does. Irrationally. Uncontrollably. Even just on a micro level.

John Coates book analyses the phenomenon that occurs in intense periods of time on Trading Floors of major banks. The phrase “The hour between dog and wolf” feels like an appropriate description. It’s about these big heavy bursts of insanity that change people in incredible ways for good and bad. But in the world of small micro interactions we’re creating, maybe the more appropriate phase needs to be;

The SECOND between PING and POW

It feels somehow more appropriate to the Gen Y crowd.

Summary

Keep all this in mind when you question why we are becoming more and more fascinated in the biology behind experiences. It might seem silly and overkill, even benign, to start breaking these things down so deliberately, but the the body really is a marvelous machine and the potent potential we have to manipulate it with the creation of digital experiences is not just incredible but also potentially destructive. Nobody is really sure what this new surge of artificial stimulants is doing to society and biology.

A lot of people are asking me why I’m going down this path of bringing biology into the story – It’s really very straightforward – It is simply very fascinating! A story of human behaviour spiked with biology can lead to some particularly vivid moments of recognition. The term recognition is commonly used to describe the point in a story when all of a sudden we understand what is going on, and by that very process understand ourselves better. For when we understand what is going on inside our bodies, and why, we are met with repeated Aha! moments.

Today, NeuroCX more than any other subject, throws a light into the dark corners of our lives and every time I learn something new about the biology behind design and experience I get a little hit of Cortisol that keeps me wanting to learn more. :)

PG Neuro 2

Teaching customers to accentuate the positive

It may be possible to stave off depression before it even appears using brain-training software so simplistic in its design that even the psychologist testing it once bet it wouldn’t work.

Ian Gotlib‘s group at Stanford University, California, studies girls aged 10 to 14 years whose mothers suffer from depression. Such girls are thought to be at higher-than-normal risk of developing the condition themselves, in part because they may inherit their mothers’ tendency to “amplify” unpleasant information. Although none of the girls has yet experienced a depressive episode, Gotlib has found that their brains already overreact to negative emotional stimuli – a pattern they share with their mothers and other depressed people.

Gotlib is studying whether these young subjects can use interactive software and brain-imaging hardware to “rewire” their brains by unlearning this negative bias. In a pilot experiment, eight girls used a neural feedback display to learn how to control activity in a network of interrelated brain regions that have been linked to depression – these include the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, anterior insula and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex.

The level of activity in this network was measured using an functional MRI scan and displayed to the girls in the form of a thermometer on a computer screen. The girls were shown sad or negative pictures that might ordinarily raise their “temperature”, and tried to lower that “temperature” by adopting more sanguine mental states. They were then advised to try to recreate that mindset in their daily lives.

A control group unknowingly watched someone else’s scan output instead of their own, so they didn’t actually learn how to control their brain activity.

Accentuate the positive

Another set of girls in the pilot experiment received their training through a simple computer game instead. In this game, a pair of faces appeared on a screen every few seconds: they would be either neutral and sad, or neutral and happy. Then a dot replaced one of the faces, and the “game” was to click on the dot. For the eight girls in the control group, the face replaced by the dot was selected at random, but for eight girls in the experimental group, the dot always replaced the more positive face in the pair. Over a week of playing this game daily, these girls were in effect being trained to avoid looking at the sad faces.

Gotlib himself originally found this concept, called attentional-bias training, so simplistic that he bet Colin MacLeod, a psychologist at the University of Western Australia in Perth who pioneered the technique, that it would not alter psychological symptoms. Gotlib lost his bet.

In his pilot study, both kinds of training significantly reduced stress-related responses – for example, increases in heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels – to negative stimuli. These stress responses are a key marker of depression, and they diminished one week after training. The girls in the experimental groups also developed fewer defensive responses to negative faces, such as startled blinking. Control groups showed no such improvement.

Jill Hooley, head of Harvard University’s clinical psychology programme, was impressed by the findings despite the small sample size: “This is highly innovative work,” she said. “Ian is breaking new ground here.”

Gotlib is adding more subjects to the training programme and plans to compare their long-term mental health with a parallel cohort of 200 girls, half of whom have depressed mothers, who aren’t participating in the study.

What I find staggering about this study is not just the social implications which are truly ground-breaking in the study and treatment of mental health, but the wider implications. It proves with some very simple mechanisms that you can train the brain to behave outside of it’s normal bias. Stop for moment and consider how this might be applied to say, Investing. Some people behave inappropriately with their investments. They cash them in too early, they poke when they should leave them, they invest when they should save or save when they should invest etc. It’s all largely cognitive bias. The brain knows what the brain knows. So this kind of research in my view gives us a rich playground to begin thinking about simple mechanisms we can add into traditional services that might help some people start to behave differently.

Welcome to the frontier of design people.

badges

Neuro Mechanics and the power of Experience Engagement

Choosing, implementing & designing the right mechanisms is the key to successful NeuroCX and experience design. There are a whole heap of ways of doing it and as previously discussed, it’s the nexus of these events that create real behavioral change and sticky engagements. Let’s take a look through some of the theory and mechanisms here in this article.

MAJOR INCLUSION: You can now download and use my Mechanics Mapping tool (in excel, sorry!) by clicking here. The framework will allow you to look at the ‘ZEN‘ of your mechanisms. What you’re punching for is a nice even spread of functions and features around the entire circle. You can also use the framework to benchmark against a competitor. Simply add in a ‘1’ against a feature in the columns to start visualising the balance of what you have. The second tab is a glossary of the functions for you to use offline.

I mentioned ‘Zen‘ as a term because zen teaches us about simplicity and balance. Sometimes in order to grow we must subtract.

  • When using the framework above ask yourself are there any Features that don’t add to the experience? Would the experience benefit from removing it or replacing it?
  • When you add New Features do you take into account balance to insure the experience remains fun?

Introduction

The growing buzz about NeuroCX can be confusing at best and downright dizzying at worst. For marketers, it takes some effort to wade through the hype and figure out how to extract what really matters. The right strategy will take you beyond badges and leaderboards to dozens of alternative little mechanics that reward attention rather than demand it. These can be combined in different ways to create powerful new experiences that tap into basic motivations.

It’s the little things that give everything meaning. Life is an accumulation of puzzle pieces that make a spectacular picture, or the collection of letters to make words to make sentences to fill pages to complete a story. Ultimately, a thousand little things make something big — and what’s more, small beings united to make something immense often lend a certain grandeur to themselves — all the more for not having done so through any intention.

So imagine the completed puzzle – a stunning picture. Imagine being awed and mesmerized by its image, and then imagine if you were able to elicit such an appreciation of every piece along the way – how much fuller and more magnificent the completion of it becomes. This is the philosophy behind NeuroCX and behind the NeuroScience of Experience Design. It’s all about learning to love the little things to create new behaviors and habits.

While we’re creating a service or product we should really ask ourselves, the team and the client some of the following questions continually throughout the process of the experience design. Keep in mind, these questions will not apply to every situation and should be taken in context to what we’re trying to achieve.

  1. What is the main reason for pimping a product / service?
  2. What are the goals?
  3. What are the main benefits we expect to achieve?

Your reason for adding neuro mechanics into your product / service has a huge affect on how you should go about designing it. If you just want people to spend more time on your website, major distractions from your core product might be fine. If not, you may want to tone down some aspects to ensure it doesn’t take away from the pre-existing experience of your more standard features. Don’t pimp a shopping experience, it’s just shopping! Nobody wants to master mine-fields when they’re buying bras.

First, actions and rewards are fundamental to engagement. The simplest form of rewards are points. The very first thing you need to do is figure out what all activities you want to reward users for and what is most important to you. You need to do Value Weighting planning to determine what is most important so it’s rewarded accordingly and in comparison to each other appropriately.

Next, you need to think of what rules your service may need to ensure you are getting the behavior you want. You may set time limits and other rules to limit users from repetitively doing something over and over when you only want to reward for it once, etc. You really need to take cheating into account to ensure the experience is fair for all users.

You also need to see things from your audiences point of view.

  1. How does it benefit the user?
  2. Do they enjoy it?

There are a lot of ways to engage and pimp elements of your experience to trigger those happiness inducing dopamine bombs to drop. Here’s an A-Z of the possible things you might want consider;

Achievements

Achievements are a great reward if implemented correctly that collectors or perfectionist type users will really love and keep them engaged as long as new Achievements are created.

  • Do you give Achievements often?
  • How long would it take for a user to get every Achievement?
  • Do you have Achievements a user would be proud of or share?
  • Do you allow them and others to see the coolness of the Achievement? Rarity?
  • Have you implemented a place for user’s to collect and show their Achievements on a profile other users can see?
  • Do you have a way for users to show off their favorite Achievements?
  • Do you have an Achievement Map to show you the Achievements you have, ones you could earn and when available info on how you can earn them?
  • Have you implemented Achievement Tiers such as the common ones like “Easy, Medium, Hard, Insane and Unknown?”
  • Do you use clever names and graphics on your Achievements to add Character? How about humor or wit not only in the names or graphics but also in how you obtain the Achievements?
  • Have you kept your users in mind and created Achievement styles that are catered towards them?
  • Do your names for Unknown Achievements (Achievements that you don’t know how you earn them) inspire curiosity/envy in users without prematurely revealing how the user earned it?
  • Do you have Achievements with real depth that require a combo of actions / variables to Unlock?

Example: a badge, a level, a reward, points, really anything defined as a reward can be rewarding.

Altruism

With great power comes great responsibility.

Online Experiences can be used for good, bad and many shades of gray. Product owners should take a moment to consider the health of their users as well as ways to use NeuroCX for Social Good.

  • Do you have methods to show the users how long they have been engaging?
  • Do you warn them when they’ve been engaging too long?
  • Do you give them substantial reasons to take a break such as a maximum on points per day, or a bonus for returning after a certain period of time?
  • Have you thought of ways to leverage your influence to have users do good in the real world through donations or other creative means?

Analysis

Constant Analysis of performance and user behavior has become the norm in the Iterative Design Process.

  • Do you have the right analytics tools and goals set in place to gauge your progress?
  • Do you know where users drop out of your experience? Where they lose interest?
  • Do you know when and where users are having the most fun?
  • How can you use the data you’ve gathered to optimize your Gamified Experience?
  • Are there new Features you can add or non-performing ones you can remove?

Anticipation

Anticipation is a strong psychological motivator that when used properly in your product can get users excited and allow them to endure longer play time at a higher level of enjoyment.

  • How can you use anticipation to motivate your users?
  • Do you “dangle a carrot” so users know what they are working towards?
  • Do users know the result of their next level, achievement, status title etc.?
  • Can you use chance to have users anticipate some random event or reward that might happen?
  • Can you use time to build anticipation?

Appointment Dynamic

A dynamic in which to succeed, one must return at a predefined time to take some action. Appointment dynamics are often deeply related to interval based reward schedules or avoidance dyanmics.

Example: Cafe World and Farmville where if you return at a set time to do something you get something good, and if you don’t something bad happens.

Avoidance

The act of inducing player behavior not by giving a reward, but by not instituting a punishment. Produces consistent level of activity, timed around the schedule.

Example: Press a lever every 30 seconds to not get shocked.

Balance

Balance is important to any good product to insure the experience is fun, has longevity and is fair.

  • How frequent are your rewards?
  • Will users get bored because your rewards are too easy to obtain?
  • How fast do users max out(max level, etc.)?
  • Will users obtain some benefit from being max that will be enough for them to continue to participate?
  • Is there a way to allow a user to “restart” while keeping what they earned? For example, users in WoW have multiple Level 70 Characters.

Behavioral Contrast

The theory defining how behavior can shift greatly based on changed expectations.

Example: A monkey presses a lever and is given lettuce. The monkey is happy and continues to press the lever. Then it gets a grape one time. The monkey is delighted. The next time it presses the lever it gets lettuce again. Rather than being happy, as it was before, it goes ballistic throwing the lettuce at the experimenter. (In some experiments, a second monkey is placed in the cage, but tied to a rope so it can’t access the lettuce or lever. After the grape reward is removed, the first monkey beats up the second monkey even though it obviously had nothing to do with the removal. The anger is truly irrational.)

Behavioral Momentum

The tendency of players to keep doing what they have been doing.

Example: From Jesse Schell’s awesome Dice talk: “I have spent ten hours engaging in Farmville. I am a smart person and wouldn’t spend 10 hours on something unless it was useful. Therefore this must be useful, so I can keep doing it.”

Blissful Productivity

The idea that engaging in a experience makes you happier working hard, than you would be relaxing. Essentially, we’re optimized as human beings by working hard, and doing meaningful and rewarding work.

Example: From Jane McGonical’s Ted Talk wherein she discusses how World of Warcraft players play on average 22 hours / week (a part time job), often after a full days work. They’re willing to work hard, perhaps harder than in real life, because of their blissful productivity in the online world.

Cascading Information Theory

The theory that information should be released in the minimum possible snippets to gain the appropriate level of understanding at each point during the narrative.

Example: showing basic actions first, unlocking more as you progress through levels. Making building on success a simple but staged process to avoid information overload.

Chain Schedules

Definition: the practice of linking a reward to a series of contingencies. Players tend to treat these as simply the individual contingencies. Unlocking one step in the contingency is often viewed as an individual reward by the player.

Example: Kill 10 orcs to get into the dragons cave, every 30 minutes the dragon appears.

Challenge

Challenge is fundamental to creating engagement.

  • What are the challenges in your experience?
  • Do they require skill or luck? or both?
  • Is there enough variety and depth in the challenges that users will stay engaged?
  • Do you have multiple types of challenges throughout?

Chance

Lotteries are popular for a reason, everyones loves chance, the unknown. Treasure Chests in games like World of Warcraft are a great example of chance on multiple levels because you have a chance to get a treasure chest when you kill a monster, then there is a chance of how rare of a chest you will get, then when you open it there is randomness on what item you will get.

  • How might you use the anticipation of a chance to increase fun and the engagement duration?
  • How can you implement multiple levels of chance such as the example with Treasure Chests?
  • Do you show users the likelihood of a chance happen or keep it a mystery?
  • Are chance %’s set in stone or variable based on actions or some other variable?
  • Do you have insanely rare, unique or personal rewards that can be won by chance?

Character

The reward avatar in Nike Fuel a classic example of using humor in an experience to build Character. Having unique and weird quirks can cause users to talk about your Experience. Digital enables some interesting possibilities to build Character that people will remember. In most current iterations of experience design this concept has been entirely ignored.

  • Does your company’s pre-existing brand and attitude shine through in the Gamified Experience?
  • Have you aligned your brand’s character with the User Experience to insure consistency?
  • Can you use humor, satire, etc. to build character?
  • Have you created customized content such as Achievements, Avatars, Virtual Goods etc. to match your brand that users will remember?
  • Do you use feedback or other interactions to build character?
  • Have you created content unique to your brand that users will be surprised by, such as Easter Eggs?
  • Have you implemented any features or created content that is so outlandish or unique that users will talk about and want to share?

Cheating

Cheating goes hand and hand with this stuff if you don’t properly design against it. Before and during the design process you must try to fathom how users could possibly cheat or exploit some flaw in your design. Like anything tho, if your anti-cheating measures are overdone you can hurt the User Experience. users may employ many methods to cheat such as Bots, Multiple Accounts, their own personal time and in extreme situations where real cash or valuable real world rewards are at stake they may hire people for low wages.

  • Are there repetitive tasks that are rewarded with no restrictions that users might try to exploit?
  • If so, might you limit the task with per hour, per day maximums? Perhaps you could require a combination of activity before the user gets rewarded again to create an environment that bots couldn’t exploit.
  • Have you thoroughly thought about your experience design from a cheater’s perspective to see possible exploits they would see?
  • Do you have tools and analytics in place to possibly detect unusual behavior?
  • Have you taken into account how excessive anti-cheating efforts might hurt your User Experience such as excessive captcha usage etc.?
  • Could you require users to use facebook or some other name verification method to verify their identity in the hopes that users wont cheat if people know who they really are?
  • Can you make user activity public so that users might worry others will notice unusual activity?
  • Can you enable the use of Web Reputation Systems and promote users to flag users who have unusual activity?
  • Can you create a system to reward users with points/badges etc. for catching a cheater? Do they lose a little bit of points if they’re wrong to discourage excessive flagging?
  • Do you have legal protection in place to allow you to delete user’s accounts or remove rewards if they have cheated?
  • Do you have social systems in place to reduce points dramatically if an activity was obviously done just for points without caring about quality? Such as if a user left a comment just for points and other users voted it down the user could receive no points or actually lose points.

Choices

Choices empower users, make them feel engaged and ownership over their choices.

  • Do you give users meaningful choices? Would you benefit from making them more or less frequent?
  • Do users get feedback on their choices? Do they see the effects of their choices?
  • Would your users benefit from more or less options when making choices?

Collector

Collectors will work persistently to collect everything in your experience. If you give Collectors rare achievements and items to collect they will keep on until they have them all regardless of how difficult. Not everyone is such an extreme Collector, but most people still enjoy collecting to some degree.

  • Do you have a wide variety of things for users to collect?
  • Can you create collectible content that is very difficult that will take the users a long time to collect in order to increase longevity of engagement?
  • Do you have “sets” such as item sets, achievement sets etc.?
  • Do you visibly show the user their progress in collecting? Perhaps what % they have completed of the set etc.?
  • Can you create limited edition items or other things that Collectors would go crazy for?

Community

Creating a strong bond between users, a Community is critical to long term success, virality and more.

  • Are you doing enough to promote community?
  • Do you use social network integration to leverage existing social graphs?
  • How can you give your users more ways to contact or interact with one another?
  • Have you properly implemented competition and/or cooperation so users have a need to band together and discuss?
  • Do users have a need to form groups to help each other on specific tasks or large quests, contests etc.?

Communal Discovery

The dynamic wherein an entire community is rallied to work together to solve a riddle, a problem or a challenge. Immensely viral and very fun.

Example: DARPA balloon challenge, the cottage industries that appear around McDonalds monopoly to find “Boardwalk”

Competition

Competition is the basis for most of humanity’s progress and evolution. With that being said, different personality types have different feelings about competition and sometimes competition overdone can make users shy away or hurt cooperation.

  • Do your users want competition?
  • Is there a way you can allow users different options so if they don’t want to compete, they don’t have to?
  • Have you taken into account the balance between competition and cooperation?
  • Are there opportunities where users can be competitive and cooperative at the same time?
  • Do you have multiple ways for competitive users to compete, with both others and themselves?

Control

We all want to be in control of what we do. It makes us feel important, safe and most importantly free.

  • Can you give your users more control over their experience?
  • Are there things you currently dictate to your users that could be opened for them to control or vote on?
  • Can you give users more control or power as part of a reward or status?

Cooperation

Cooperation is paramount to building a strong community. Do you have Features enabled that will allow users to collaborate?

  • Do you have various methods of collaboration, both big and small?
  • Can users collaborate with both close friends and strangers?

Countdown

The dynamic in which players are only given a certain amount of time to do something. This will create an activity graph that causes increased initial activity increasing frenetically until time runs out, which is a forced extinction.

Example: Bejeweled Blitz with 30 seconds to get as many points as you can. Bonus rounds. Timed levels

Cross Situational Leader-boards

This occurs when one ranking mechanism is applied across multiple (unequal and isolated) gaming scenarios. Players often perceive that these ranking scenarios are unfair as not all players were presented with an “equal” opportunity to win.

Example: Players are arbitrarily sent into one of three paths. The winner is determined by the top scorer overall (i.e. across the paths). Since the players can only do one path (and can’t pick), they will perceive inequity in the scenario and get upset.

Curiosity

Curiosity is one of the basic human emotions that should be heavily considered in the Experience Design Process.

  • Are your users curious about anything that might be mysterious to them?
  • Are there any ways you could increase or create curiosity with mysterious locked items, treasure chests, or other Mechanics or Features?

Data

Data is king. In experience design users can become addicted to pouring over data about the engagement and their actions, achievements etc. users love stats.

  • Are there stats you are invisibly collecting now that users would benefit from seeing?
  • Have you given users methods to see stats from the entire experience, their personal stats and those of other users or groups?

Dazzle

It is important to Dazzle your users, take them on an experience and insure it’s visually pleasant. Beauty and wowing a user keeps them engaged and makes them remember you.

  • Have you spent enough time on your User Interface and insuring users really enjoy the graphical elements of the Gamification?
  • Are there ways you could visually make things more exciting or interesting to increase engagement?

Discovery

People inherently love to explore. Consider giving more opportunities in your experience for users to discover something new.

  • Do users currently benefit from exploring your experience or content? Do they get bonuses for finding content for the first time, personally, globally or in their group?
  • Are there things users are already discovering for the first time and you’re just not telling them?
  • Could you create new content just for the purpose of users “finding it”?
  • Can you create challenges, quests etc. that use discovery as an element?
  • Can you enable users to compete or collaborate on exploring?
  • Can you provide special recognition for a user to be the first who found something?
  • Do you take advantage of data to show a user how much they have discovered and what’s still out there and undiscovered?

Economy

Economy in your Gamified Experience can add immense loyalty as users begin to care about their Virtual Currency. Just like in real life, your Economy can be difficult to balance. You must plan carefully and take many things into consideration or it will become worthless.

  • Do users value their virtual currency or goods?
  • If not, how can you make it feel more valuable?
  • Do you allow users to trade any non-merit based goods such as money, items etc.?
  • Do you have tools and analytics in place to watch for inflation and other problems in your economy?
  • Could you benefit from implementing a Dual Virtual Currency?
  • Have you created enough Sinks to help curb inflation? Such as, paying for a right to do X, or to take a risk that net sum results in the loss of currency or items.

Endless Scenarios

Experiences that do not have an explicit end. Most applicable to casual experiences that can refresh their content or experiences where a static (but positive) state is a reward of its own.

Example: Farmville (static state is its own victory), SCVNGR (challenges constantly are being built by the community to refresh content)

Engagement Curve

Engagement is one of the most important Gamification Benefits. You can expect Engagement to spike or fall off at different parts of the experience and the life of the user.

  • Do you monitor engagement so that you know the parts of your Gamified Experience that users enjoy the most?
  • If users are dropping off at a certain spot in the experience, can you remove, replace or tweak that part of the experience?
  • If users get bored after X months, can you add content at that time to re-engage them?

Envy

Envy is not always bad. users may aspire to do better due to envy of another user’s status, possessions etc and other users might try harder because they want users to envy them.

  • How do you currently use envy to motivate users?
  • Do users have easy access to see information about other users?
  • What creative ways can you devise to leverage envy without making users dislike each other?
  • Have you taken into consideration the social implications of making users too envious of one another?
  • Do you give users something special or unique that would motivate other users to earn or find it?
  • Do you give users an easy way to compare themselves to others?
  • Do you have various depths of visible status, such as shallow at a glance(not much data) and in depth if you want to see?

Epic Meaning

Users will be highly motivated if they believe they are working to achieve something great, something awe-inspiring, something bigger than themselves.

Example: From Jane McGonical’s Ted Talk where she discusses Warcraft’s ongoing story line and “epic meaning” that involves each individual has motivated players to participate outside the experience and create the second largest wiki in the world to help them achieve their individual quests and collectively their epic meanings.

Extinction

Extinction is the term used to refer to the action of stopping providing a reward. This tends to create anger in players as they feel betrayed by no longer receiving the reward they have come to expect. It generally induces negative behavioral momentum.

Example: killing 10 orcs no longer gets you a level up

Fairness

Fairness is important to the long term viability of your experience. If users feel things aren’t fair they will feel cheated and it could result in negative results instead of positive results. Designers should plan accordingly to create fairness and monitor user sentiment.

  • Do you have feedback mechanisms to see if your users feel treated fairly?
  • In competitions that require skill, can you insure users are matched or judged based on users with similar skill?
  • Do you try to sale any virtual goods that users might consider an unfair advantage such as XP Boosts, Special Items etc.?

Feedback

Feedback is your communication to a user of what they should do, what they did etc. Without proper feedback a user could feel lost and un-engaged.

  • Do users understand the experience and it’s rules?
  • Do they clearly know what to do next or if open ended understand the possibilities?
  • Do you properly communicate to users when they’ve accomplished something?
  • Do users see visible feedback on all of their actions that earn rewards?

Fun

Everyone likes to have fun, some say it’s the reason we live. While not always required in Gamification ( see section on Invisibility ), fun is a critical aspect of Gamification Design and should be one of your metrics for success.

  • What might your users find fun?
  • Are you overlooking something simple? Simple can be fun sometimes.
  • Could you create more mini experiences, chances or moments of skill to increase fun?

This part has less questions because it’s so open ended, we just know it’s something you should focus on. Get creative!

Fixed Interval Reward Schedules

Fixed interval schedules provide a reward after a fixed amount of time, say 30 minutes. This tends to create a low engagement after a reward, and then gradually increasing activity until a reward is given, followed by another lull in engagement.

Example: Farmville, wait 30 minutes, crops have appeared

Fixed Ratio Reward Schedule

A fixed ratio schedule provides rewards after a fixed number of actions. This creates cyclical nadirs of engagement (because the first action will not create any reward so incentive is low) and then bursts of activity as the reward gets closer and closer.

Example: kill 20 ships, get a level up, visit five locations, get a badge

Free Lunch

A dynamic in which a player feels that they are getting something for free due to someone else having done work. It’s critical that work is perceived to have been done (just not by the player in question) to avoid breaching trust in the scenario. The player must feel that they’ve “lucked” into something.

Example: Groupon. By virtue of 100 other people having bought the deal, you get it for cheap. There is no sketchiness b/c you recognize work has been done (100 people are spending money) but you yourself didn’t have to do it.

Fun Once, Fun Always

The concept that an action in enjoyable to repeat all the time. Generally this has to do with simple actions. There is often also a limitation to the total level of enjoyment of the action.

Example: the theory behind the check-in everywhere and the check-in and the default challenges on SCVNGR.

Global

The world is a big place. Gamification in many ways is a connector. Connecting the real and the digital, the local and global. Designers should take into consideration their audience and potentially untapped audience.

  • Is your content suitable for a global audience? If not, could some minor tweaks change that?
  • Do your rewards take into consideration global tastes?
  • Can you create personalized experiences for different countries while still keeping them connected at the global level?
  • Can you use Patriotism at a local or global level to inspire competition and collaboration?

Goals

Goals are fundamental to good experience design. Goals provide a reason to play and way to feel progression and accomplishment.

  • Do users understand the goal of the product and the purpose of it’s existence?
  • Can you allow users the ability to set their own goals? Can you suggest goals to them to motivate them to excel?
  • Can you use goals at a global level that everyone can help work towards to inspire collaboration? Such as how some websites have raised money for charity by showing their goal to everyone and how close they are to reaching their goal.
  • Can you use goals to promote competition?

Grinding

Grinding, or doing a repetitive task to progress in experience, is fundamental to most behavioral change models and if done with the right frequency of intensity with needed breaks from Grinding, can result in dramatic increase in time spent. But Grinding if too difficult can cause users to leave.

  • Are there repetitive tasks that might be appropriate for your Gamified Experience to encourage Grinding, such as viewing of content or other tasks?
  • Do you give something fun and rewarding to break the monotony of grinding?
  • Is this change induced based on time, chance or accomplishment? If only one way could you implement other ways?
  • Can users easily see their progress, short term objectives and long term objectives/progress?

Influence

Influence over actions is a major benefit of Gamification. Most of the time you want to do this subtly and carefully as not to be too pushy with users. Give them goals or challenges that require them to do something that is important to you or reward them more points for doing something that at that moment is of the most importance to you.

  • Can you influence actions of users through the use of Neuro Mechanics without it ruining the experience?
  • Can you tweak your User Interface to influence users?
  • Can you set rules to get users to do what you want?
  • Can you set goals to get users to do what you want?
  • Are there other creative means to influence users without them feeling you are controlling and interfering with their experience?

Imagination

Imagination captives and spires. We want to stimulate our user’s imagination but also Designers will be able to use their imagination to create creative solutions to problems.

  • Are there ways you can stimulate your user’s imagination?
  • Have you created unique and imaginative content that users will remember?
  • Does your Gamified Experience have toy like attributes that inspire child like joy and curiosity?

Instantaneous

We live in the age of instant, on demand and A.D.D. Assuming you have the technology , it’s a powerful tool in your experience design arsenal.

  • Are there aspects of your experience now that are delayed but could be more exciting if they were real-time?
  • Has your UI/UX taken into consideration the power of instant?
  • Could you create content in real-time that users would be surprised and engaged by?

Invisibility

Sometimes you’ve got to be Invisible. The beauty of Gamification is it can be weaved into every part of our lives. Some people will want to see every detail of the experience while others will not want to be bothered and they just want to see the results and rewards.

  • Are there some aspects of your Gamification Design that could benefit from being less visible or entirely invisible?
  • Can you give users options to make things visible or invisible through settings or more temporarily and situational with modes so if I want no feedback today for a specific reason, I can switch modes?

Leveling Curve

Levels are an important method in experience design to show progress and status. When designing you should take into account how fast users will level, will they reach max level and when and does the difficulty change per level?

  • Have you researched the various types of level curves such as wave, straight, progressive etc. and found the one that works best?
  • Are there rewards for levels you could give that would make the level meaningful?
  • Do you foreshadow to show users what they can earn the next level or future levels?
  • Can you create “Tiers” or milestones so that for example every 10 levels could have some major importance with a new status title, power or some other reward?

Longevity

Creating experiences that have Longevity and long term appeal takes skill and persistence.

  • Do you have a plan to continue generating interesting content and rewards so users stay interested?
  • Have you made users feel ownership over their achievements and possessions so that they will not want to lose them if they left?
  • Do you have mini experiences and meta experiences outside the main goal that will keep users busy?
  • Do you have some rewards that are insanely hard to obtain that can take a tremendous amount of time and effort?
  • Have you gave collectors content to keep them busy?
  • Are you properly monitoring how fast users progress so you will know when users need new content?

Lottery

A dynamic in which the winner is determined solely by chance. This creates a high level of anticipation. The fairness is often suspect, however winners will generally continue to play indefinitely while losers will quickly abandon the experience, despite the random nature of the distinction between the two.

Example: many forms of gambling, scratch tickets.

Mini Experiences

Mini Experiences are a great way to add character to design and give a change of pace to break monotony. The classic Nintendo game Zelda is famous for having mini games including fishing, racing and more. Mini Experiences can be obvious or sometimes are entirely hidden almost like an Easter Egg.

  • How might you create a simple mini experience that adds value to your Experience?
  • Do you closely integrate the mini experience into the main experience or just have it be a stand alone way to earn more points etc.?
  • Can you use mini experiences to increase social interaction or virality?
  • Are mini experiences constantly available, time limited or unlockable?
  • Are there creative ways you could use your mini experiences such as “Events” , Competitions etc.?

Meta Experiences

Meta Experiences are experiences played above the “experience”. Meta Experiences can be a great way to make data interesting, to show progress and much more.

  • Do you have meta experiences that give the user an extra reason to participate in the main experience?
  • Can you create a meta experience that requires no extra effort but visually is an interesting way to see your progress?
  • Can users Unlock Meta Experiences?

Meta Experiences require a lot of imagination. The possibilities are wide open to how you can use all this Product Data and Life Data in interesting and possibly fun ways.

Micro-Transactions

Micro-Transactions have opened a lot of untapped potential in experience design by helping to support Freemium Business Models and allowing users to pay for uniqueness, status, boosts and more. Micro-Transactions like many things can be implemented poorly with harmful results. If over used or implemented too early or pushed too hard, users might become unhappy and feel the game is unfair or all about money.

  • Have you created a clear set of goals to monitor the engagement etc. of your users to insure they already care about their points, status and other rewards before implementing micro-transactions?
  • Is there a way you can gradually roll out micro-transactions to ease users into it and monitor results closely?
  • Are there things that users have expressed a desire for that you could possibly charge for?

Modifiers

An item that when used affects other actions. Generally modifiers are earned after having completed a series of challenges or core functions.

Example: A X2 modifier that doubles the points on the next action you take.

Playtesting

Playtesting in traditional gaming happens very early in the design process and is important not only for finding bugs, but for determining what is fun, if experiences inspire the feelings you thought they would etc. Playtesting is different in the context of Gamification , tho still very important.

  • Are you testing your Gamified Experience privately before your release to the public?
  • Could you perhaps release to a limited set of top users to get feedback from your most trusted fans?
  • Do you play with potential new features privately before rolling them out to the public?

Progression

Progression drives engagement. Users want that next level, reward and to see how far they’ve come.

  • Do you constantly give users feedback on their progress via stats, progress bars or other means?
  • Is there more data you could surface to show users their progress for multiple things, in multiple views?
  • Could you use progress data in creative ways to entertain the user such as using the data to power a meta-experience?

Punishment

Punishment has always been used in game design to keep users from doing something you don’t want them to. In traditional gaming if you make a mistake, you might die. In Experience Design, you should use punishment carefully as it could turn off some users.

  • Are you currently punishing your users for actions you don’t want them to do?
  • Do the users feel it’s fair?
  • Can you use decay in your experience so that users must return or they begin to lose something?
  • Are you currently using any form of punishment that is excessive and users generally dislike that you could remove?

Quests

Quests lead users on a journey. In many experiences this really ends up being just a list of tasks you should complete, ordered or not, to receive X reward.

  • Can you create unique quests that help build character?
  • Can you create many quests of varying levels of difficult and time length requirements so that you have some that take only minutes and others that take months to complete?
  • Do you give difficult appropriate rewards for the completion of Quests or perhaps a unique reward for the most difficult ones?
  • If users have completed parts of a quest they don’t know about, are they informed?
  • Can you create Quests that create competition and/or collaboration?

Rewards

Rewards are fundamental to good Experience Design. Having the right Rewards is key to making sure users feel their is value to their actions. Keep in mind rewards are not necessarily physical or even things like points, sometimes acknowledgment and status are the most important rewards.

  • Do users care about your rewards?
  • Do you have unique rewards that users will cherish?
  • Do your rewards seem to be appropriate for the level of difficulty it takes to acquire them?
  • Can you possibly give users a choice in what kind of rewards they get?

Real-time v. Delayed Mechanics

Realtime information flow is uninhibited by delay. Delayed information is only released after a certain interval.

Example: Realtime scores cause instant reaction (gratification or demotivation). Delayed causes ambiguity which can incent more action due to the lack of certainty of ranking.

Risk

Risk stimulates our instincts and can make things seem more exciting when something is on the line.

  • Can you create more opportunities for users to take a risk?
  • Can you make the risks optional so they have meaning and users can chose to participate or not?
  • Can you use risk to simultaneously increase engagement and fun while also providing a Sink to help balance your Virtual Economy?
  • Do you have limits to risk set to protect against users losing too much and burning out?
  • Does risk add to your Gamified Experience or does it create a sense of unfairness to users if elements of chance are involved?

Rolling Physical Goods

A physical good (one with real value) that can be won by anyone on an ongoing basis as long as they meet some characteristic. However, that characteristic rolls from player to player.

Example: top scorer deals, mayor deals

Rules

Rules make experience engagement possible. As with many things, rules must be carefully planned to insure balanced and fun engagement.

  • Do users clearly understand the rules of the product?
  • Do you have some rules that are community policed?

Self-Expression

Self-Expression if properly done leads to a feeling of accomplishment and ownership which can result in loyalty.

  • How do you enable and encourage self-expression?
  • Do you allow users to make meaningful choices which might allow self expression?
  • Do your users have the ability to use a picture of themselves or character as an avatar?
  • If so, can they customize the avatar?

Skill / Chance Balance

Skill is the core of most engaging experiences. An “Experience” requiring no skill will eventually become boring. users love to feel they’ve became better or mastered a scenario. Some users love chance whereas others despise it and want everything to be based off of skill. The vast majority are perfectly fine with a nice balance of both.

  • How might you add more skill to your experience?
  • Is Skill optional?
  • Do you accommodate beginners while still providing a deep challenge to experts?

It is critical to balance skill/chance in your Experience. You may decide to have only one or the other but typically it’s best to have both. The balance really depends on your product Target and your goals.

Status

Status is of immense importance in experience design. It separates “them” from “us” and gives loyal users a feeling of belonging.

  • In your “Experience” how can you empower users with meaningful status?
  • Does status give them anything of reward?
  • Do other users know this?
  • How do you show the change of status? Do you show it just to the user or to others?
  • How can you give a user the chance to indirectly flaunt their status?
  • Have you taken advantage of multiple forms of visible status, such as status titles, levels, tiers, rank?
  • Can you find a way to give users status not just globally but locally based on friends, geography or some other creative way?

Social Interactions

Social Interaction is important to build a community, increase virality and encourage competition and collaboration.

  • Is your Experience enabling Social Interaction?
  • Are users rewarded for interacting with their friends?
  • Do you give users ways to compete or collaborate with one another?
  • Do users know how to contact each other and have open communication channels?
  • Do you have social interactions that take into account multiple “friend spheres” such as facebook, twitter, local users etc.?
  • Do you enable users to do light social interactions or “ping” one another through some action in the experience? If so, is there some substance to how you enable this and various ways to achieve it?

Story

Story is one of the most important aspects of Experience Design. While typically not so important in digital design, there are opportunities to have story elements in the new Experience economy.

  • Can you produce episodic content that is unveiled as the user advances?
  • Can you generate a story based on the Achievements and Facts about a user?
  • Can a meta experience be created that uses the data from the original experience to create a new experience that has a story-arc?
  • Can users create their own story content and share with others?

Surprise

Surprise seems simple, but it’s very important. People love to be surprised with something they didn’t expect and surprises are known to have an emotional impact on us that we remember.

  • What can you do to surprise users in a positive way?

Get creative, surprise is one of those areas that is so broad that you’ve really got to open your imagination.

Time

Time is our friend and enemy, a relentless and inevitable force.

  • How do you use time to your advantage?
  • Do you use scarcity of time to your advantage?
  • Do you use features such as countdowns, timers etc. to maximum effect?
  • Do you use cool downs so users will come back again and again when an ability, action or event is available again?
  • Do you use decay over time to insure users return?
  • Do you give bonuses based on time spent engaged or in any other creative way?
  • Experiences where your time is the score?

Unlockables

Unlockables are a great way to show progress in a cool way. users can unlock areas, specials, levels, status, achievements etc.

  • How might you implement locked content and unlockables to make users excited when they’ve unlocked something?
  • How can you create artificial scarcity with locked content in order to enable unlocking?

Urgent Optimism

Extreme self motivation. The desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.

Example: From Jane McGonical’s TED talk. The idea that in proper experiences an “epic win” or just “win” is possible and therefore always worth acting for.

User Experience

User Experience has become an art form and just like with other technology is very important to insure users have a pleasant experience. When pimping a non-experience you must keep in mind the original user experience and how Neuro Mechanics will affect that experience in a negative or positive way.

  • Does your design hurt or help the original Experience?
  • Do users clearly understand the Experience, it’s purpose, Rules and how to participate?
  • Can you empower users to change how they use certain features?
  • Are you properly using your UI to influence users to take the actions you want them to?
  • Is any part of the experience painful for a user and reducing fun?

Vanity

Mirror, mirror… Many users love recognition and love to hear about themselves.

  • What features can you create to feed user’s vanity?
  • Can you create a “Customer of the Week” or similar concept so users will want the chance to be recognized for their efforts?
  • Can you do something to make users most important Achievements known to their friends, or everyone?
  • Is there a way you can more personalize feedback and communications to target the specific user so they feel special?

Virality

Virality is important to growth of user base which if done right should enrich an experience.

  • How can you increase virality?
  • How might you encourage users to “recruit” new users willingly?
  • Are your viral mechanics fun and natural or do they interfere with the flow and experience?

Virtual Goods

Virtual Goods help to build community, economy and a sense of ownership.

  • Have you created virtual goods that users care about?
  • Could you create virtual goods that actually serve some function?
  • Can you use the power of “Vanity” to make items seem more special?
  • Can you create scarcity to drive demand for items?
  • Can virtual goods be traded, gifted etc. to help build a community?
  • Do you allow users to customize their virtual goods?

Conclusion

It’s a wondrous thing the new world of Digital Engagement and your options are limitless. Just stop and have a think about some of the above before you crack on design things… you might find once you’ve launched you get a bit more engagement  and a bit less attrition.

(Based on an original article at Badgeville)

dopamine

5 Tips for creating better #NeuroCX

A lot about creating great experiences online and around us requires us to study what is bad as well as what could be good. I have my golden rules but there’s a lot of other factors in play – fluke being one of them. To me, helping the customer regulate their emotions, manage their thoughts, and behave in a positive manner under the circumstances which brings them to your site or service is hugely important and trying to think with those things in mind when you build a product is hugely important.

Developing new digital product is about finding the courage to live according to the values you set it and being bold enough to create your own definition of success. Traditional KPI gets you to sales & business success, but your own customer focused definition of success might be “I want people to feel adulated when they finish a new task” or “make them whoop when they achieve a new level”.

Neuro CX involves more than just consumer willpower; it requires hard work and commitment from the customer. It’s about establishing healthy habits and getting the customer to choose to devote time and energy to self-improvement or to your product over Product Z.

Although it’s easier to achieve that dopamine rush when a task is simple — often, true addiction becomes most apparent in the midst of overcoming the really wicked CX challenges.

Identifying those really chewy challenges and working them through is the best way to prepare for your products inevitable obstacles.

Here are 5 exercises that can help you develop a plan for looking at your product in a slightly different way;

1. Evaluate The Core Beliefs

We’ve all developed core beliefs as people, about ourselves, our lives and the world in general. Core beliefs develop over time and largely depend upon our past experiences. Whether you’re aware of your core beliefs or not, they influence your thoughts, your behavior and emotions.

Your product needs a similar set of core beliefs and values. A lot of people call them experience principles, but I like to think of them as beliefs and values because it instantly gives them a more human centred approach.

Sometimes, core beliefs are inaccurate and unproductive. For example, as a person, if you believe that you’ll never succeed in life, you may be less apt to apply for new jobs — and inadvertently, you may not present yourself well on job interviews. Therefore, core beliefs may become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Its the same with product values. Don’t set yourself up to fail with them.

Core values are about identifying the right tone of voice, objectives (just a few small objectives, not waves of them) and portraying publicly that the journey you’re about to go on with the customer is an exciting but supported one because you have values.

It sounds silly, but it’s so important in CX to have those beliefs. So you absolutely have to identify and evaluate the right core beliefs for your service. Look for values that are black and white, and then find exceptions to the rule. Very few things in life are “always” or “never” true. Modifying core beliefs requires purposeful intention and hard work, but it can change the entire course of a product.

2. Help The User Expend Mental Energy Wisely

Wasting brain power ruminating about things you can’t control drains tolerance very quickly. The more a customer thinks about negative problems that they can’t solve, the less energy they’ll have leftover for creative endeavors. For example, sitting and worrying about how long it’s going to take to do the grocery shopping online isn’t helpful. If you’ve got to eat, worrying about getting it sorted won’t prevent it. We can, however, help the customer to prepare for it. Help them focus on what is within their control. A line of copy at the start of an online shopping experience that tells the customer to kick-back, grab a cuppa, stick on their favourite album and head into the inevitable drawn out experience of packing their digital shopping cart is such an easy thing to do.

Help them save mental energy for productive tasks, such as solving problems or setting goals. When thoughts aren’t productive, make a conscious effort to shift their mental energy to more helpful topics. The more we practice expending the mental energy of a customer more wisely, the more it will become a habit.

3. Replace Negative Moments with Productive Moments

Although most of us don’t spend time thinking about our thoughts, increasing your awareness of your thinking habits proves useful in building resilience for the customer. Exaggerated, negative thoughts, such as, “I can’t ever do anything right,” hold people back from reaching their full potential. Catch the negative thoughts before they creep into your service and spiral out of control and influence the customer behavior in a negative way.

Identify and replace negative situations with situations that are more productive. Productive tasks don’t need to be extremely positive, just realistic. A more balanced task may be as simple as helping the customer focus on what they’re good at in a Running App rather than setting them up to fail; “I have a weakness because I really struggle to run long distance (at the moment!), but I also have plenty of strengths such as being able to run quick bursts and then walk for a while.” Changing the customers thoughts requires constant monitoring of the behavior and data and providing a complex personalisation strategy, but the benefits are huge and can be instrumental in helping customers become their best self.

4. Practice Tolerating Discomfort

Contrary to the old wisdom that usability is about making things a ‘no brainer’, the world is different now and having a successful service means the customer shouldn’t just get the job done quickly and easily, but also experience a range of emotions both negative and positive along the way. It’s what makes your service addictive. Success requires you to become acutely aware of the emotions you want people to experience so you can make the best choices about how to respond to them when they occur or how to elicit them in the first place. Great CX is about accepting the customers feelings but trying to stop them being controlled by them.

Neuro CX also involves getting an understanding of when it makes sense to try and convince the customer to behave contrary to their emotions. For example, if they experience anxiety that prevents them from trying new things or accepting new opportunities, try getting them to step out of the comfort zone and continue to challenge themselves. Helping the customer to tolerate uncomfortable emotions takes practice, but it becomes easier as their confidence grows.

Encourage the customer to start a new relationship with you by behaving like the person you’d like them to become. Don’t assume in Social Media that every consumer will will totally outgoing… instead help them to choose to behave in a more outgoing manner, whether they feel like it or not – Be the devil on the shoulder “go on Ash, give it a go, you might like it”. Some discomfort is often necessary for greater gain, and helping the customer to tolerate that discomfort will help make your vision a reality, one small step at a time.

5. Reflect on Your Progress Daily

Today’s busy world doesn’t lend itself to making much time available for quiet reflection. However, it’s hugely important for you to create time to reflect upon your progress toward developing the service and product you had in your head. At the end of each day, ask yourself what you’ve learned about your customer, their emotions and their behavior. Then consider what you hope to improve upon or accomplish tomorrow. Getting the CX right for something is literally a day by day, hour by hour thing… not a “leave it for a couple of months and then come back to see if it’s working” type affair. That’s failure right there. Good CX is organic.

Developing successful Neuro CX is a work in progress. There is always room for improvement, and at times this will seem more difficult than at other times. Reflecting upon your progress can reinforce your ability to reach your definition of success while keeping the customer living according to your original values.

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