All posts tagged UX

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#UCD14 – Neurological Recipes

Less than my best presenting effort, but a real joy to be on a stage at #UCD14 in London on the 24th October. It’s quickly becoming the best conference for UX in London due to its original line-up, twisted thinkers and meticulous planning schedule – So it was a huge privilege to be there and to present.

Here’s my slides;

If you’re in the market for a really great, bijou conference next year to stop and make you think outside of the lines, then this is the one for you.

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.

What makes you click?

There’s a turf war for readers’ mouse clicks and one of the favoured trick is to phrase headlines as questions. This isn’t an Internet innovation. As a way to grab attention, question headlines have been recommended by editors and marketeers for decades. But what is new, is the easy ability today to measure how often readers choose to click a headline. For a new paper, researchers in Norway have used Twitter to find out if question headlines really do entice more clicks. This is classic Neuro CX at work. The art of fooling the inquisitive.

Linda Lai and Audun Farbrot used a real science communication Twitter feed that had 6,350 followers at the time of the study. Real stories were tweeted to these followers twice, an hour apart. The first tweet used a statement headline, such as “Power corrupts”. The second tweet, referring to the same story, was phrased as a question that was either self-referencing, as in “Is your boss intoxicated by power?” or non-self-referencing, as in “Are bosses intoxicated by power?”

Lai and Farbrot found that self-referencing question headlines were clicked on average 175 per cent more often than statement headlines (this advantage dropped to 150 per cent for non-self-referencing question headlines). The difference in clicks for question and statement headlines was statistically significant, but the difference between the self-referencing and non-self-referencing headlines was not.

A follow-up study was similar but was conducted via the Norwegian equivalent of Ebay, known as Lai and Farbrot posted adverts for an iPhone, a couch, a TV and a washing machine using either statement headlines or question headlines (self-referencing or not), such as: “For sale: Black iPhone4 16GB”; “Anyone need a new iPhone4?”; or “Is this your new iPhone4?”

Overall, across the four products, non-self-referencing question headlines were clicked on 137 per cent more often on average than statement headlines; this rose to 257 per cent more often for self-referencing question headlines. This time the difference between the two types of question headline was statistically significant. This overall benefit of question headlines was observed despite one anomaly that the researchers were unable to explain – question headlines for washing machines actually led to fewer clicks than statement headlines.

The clear take-out from this research is that you should phrase your headlines as questions, especially self-referencing ones, if you want to attract more clicks. “The combined strategy [of question headlines and self-referencing] seems to represent a useful tool for practitioners in attracting readers to their Internet-based communications,” the researchers said. However, an issue they don’t address is what happens if headline writers heed this message and adopt question headlines universally. Perhaps then statement headlines would appear more original and distinctive and attract more clicks…

Original Source:



A neurological recipe for success

 Do something for me please – before you get too comfy, get out your iPod or go to your stereo and put on your FAVORITE song and listen to it while you read this post. You’ll find out why later. Cheers.

Done? Awesome. Read on then friends.

I believe that all clear-minded people should remain two things throughout their lifetimes: curious and teachable. ― Roger Ebert

In 2013 I went on a journey into human motivation. I set out to try and understand not just what a good experience is, but why a good experience is a good experience. It’s changed the way I look at creating services, tools, apps, marketing and stories. More than ever it’s important to make Customer Experience that stands out from the competition and I believe there is a basic recipe for success.

Welcome to the most powerful tool in digital… The Brain

It’s a busy little organ the brain. It’s tireless, it never takes a vacation and has work to do 24/7. A continuously evolving organ made up of lots of little compartments for doing lots of little things & is the most complex organ in the body. A three-pound mass of gray and white matter that sits at the center of all human activity – you need it to drive a car, to enjoy a meal, to breathe, to create an artistic masterpiece, and to enjoy everyday activities. In brief, the brain regulates your basic body functions; enables you to interpret and respond to everything you experience; and shapes your thoughts, emotions, and behavior. It’s fuelled by a combination of genetic based learnings – called fluid intelligence – and experiential based learnings – known as crystallised intelligence.

What is Neuro CX?

The beginning of wisdom, is the definition of terms – Socrates

It’s to do with NeuroMarketing, right? Nah… Not this one. A totally different thing. It’s got manipulating the brain in common, but Neuro CX is about longevity and teaching consumers to repeat behavior and start associating those repeated behaviors to good feelings, good experiences and the brands that supply them.

It’s about tapping into crystalilised intelligence and making people want to continuously open your app, or visit your website or engage with your product.

The challenge for any provider is creating continuous sustained usage with users. Remember, products used daily create a barrier to entry for competitors in their market. If your users are unable to imagine life without your product, you can safely say you’ve met your goal. So what makes a habit?

When a human encounters an experience (offline, online, good or bad) and it is deemed a ‘sensation‘ – i.e “that was amazing” or “that was terrible” – the brain releases the chemical dopamine which lets an areas of the brain called the ‘Reward Centre‘ know to deliver a sense of pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness and focus the attention of the individual so that he or she learns to repeat the behaviour (or not) again and again. When you think about some of the great technology solutions of the last 20 years, many share a common ground: they create a habit. When technology has created a habit in people, a person’s use of a product is automatic, without thought.

The reward center of the brain is critically involved in mediating the effects of reinforcement. A reward is an appetitive stimulus given to a person to alter behavior. Rewards typically serve as reinforcers. A reinforcer is something that, when presented after a behavior, causes the probability of that behavior’s occurrence to increase. It’s also how positive experiences remain engrained with an individual. We are literally genetically programmed to remember positive and negative things and if we like them, repeat them over and over until it becomes a habit.

The more you can get the user to do something without making a conscious decision, the stronger the habit becomes. Frequency of use leads to the creation of a habit in your users; so if your users are coming back regularly, it’s likely that habits are forming.

You can read a more in-depth overview of the biological bit here.

There are three major mechanisms we can use to manipulate the reward center. Put them together and we have Neuro CX;

  1. Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification (Joygasms)
  2. Encouraged altruism (Kudos)
  3. Repeated, interrupted experiences (Commas)

A lot of tools, websites, social media and apps offer one or some of the above… But it’s the really really sticky (read ‘Addictive’) experiences that give the user a little hint of all three.

Expanding scenarios linked to sustained progress and instant gratification – Joygasms

Associate Conditioning

Associating good feelings with desire to repeat an action, task or activity is where things start to get interesting. We call this “associative conditioning” and it’s this response of learning that positive feeling is linked to certain experiences that we can bake into our work.

If we get really contrived with it, we may even be able to encourage addiction to a service or function. Scientists have long known that the release of dopamine is strongly associated with addictive behaviours. Addictions occur when the brain betrays the body, causing feelings of pleasure from activities.

By creating certain ‘ideal conditions’ that stimulate the Reward Centre we can create repeat behaviour. Similarly we can also introduce negative scenarios and teach people to avoid things too.

Researchers at the University of Iowa have observed that emotions persist in individuals even after they forget the cause, an important clue about how the brain stores different kinds of information and worth remembering when we plan our experiences. The act of doing might vanish from conscience thought, but the feeling whist doing could remain.

Even though emotions seem fused together with memories in our stream of consciousness, it turns out that this is not the case.

Here’s another random but interesting one: A recent study published in the journal of Neuropsychopharmacology suggests that despite the bitter taste, the chemicals in beer also trigger the brain’s reward system. This pleasurable effect might explain why we’re so willing to keep drinking past the first sip — until intoxication takes over, and we’ll drink just about anything after we’re drunk. It may also explain why some people can drink casually while others slip into alcoholism.

It’s the Reward System that these artificial stimulants fire up and why drugs & alcohol can be addictive & what we can recreate the conditions of using digital.

The trick to this is also capturing people in the moment of intent – at that point where they’re deciding to or not do something like going to lunch and looking for a place to eat, or deciding whether to walk or drive to work in the morning… hit them in the moments with a little nudge of generosity and repeat that behavior over and over at the same time until the behavior is changed; “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD” … “Check your balance – NEGATIVE NUMBER, BUT DON’T FEAR, YOU’RE ON THE RIGHT TRACK, KEEP GOING YOU STUD” … “Check your balance – POSITIVE REWARD”.

These notifications need to be planned and intended to spur activity in the moment, deployed at just the right time. Built around a very important idea: Adding notifications to a service isn’t just good for letting us see what we’ve done. It’s also crucial for building services that can tell us what we should be doing.

Activity tracking is one thing; activity tweaking is something else entirely. That’s why real-life coaches are so great. They help you set goals that are relevant to your life, and they help push you to achieve them. They’re personal. This is the piece that most services have missed thus far and that we need to get better at to make Neuro CX a real possibility.

You have to create your service with the ability to constantly slurp up data from your world and sort notifications into two broad categories. The first are the notifications you get when things happen and reward you with a pat on the back when you hit a Streak or a Milestones.

There’s a dopamine response that happens when you get a digital pat on the back. Actually being able to connect that dopamine response to the behavior is very powerful to the feedback cycle.

Travis Bogard, VP of Product Management and Strategy at Jawbone

The other preemptive notifications need to come through a more structured goal feature which lets the user opt into day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, year-to-year goals. Telling you that you’re on track with the bigger things in life. The virtual equivalent of a beckoning spouse – Helping you at decision points born not out of a domestic routine but data, algorithms, and  connectivity.

Encouraged Altruism – Kudos

During this kind of highly structured, self-motivated hard work, we regularly achieve the greatest form of happiness available to human beings: intense, optimistic engagement with the world around us. We feel fully alive, full of potential and purpose–in other words, we are completely activated as human beings. – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Another major factor that can effect and trigger the Reward Center is altruism. MRI studies have revealed that when we perform an act of kindness, the Reward Center is aroused and we experience feelings of pleasure. The brain is flooded with happiness-inducing dopamine whenever we share something we think other people might find useful or help out someone deemed to be in need, or worse off than ourselves. So getting people to pass things around (once you’ve rewarded them with it in the first place) could be another great way of getting people addicted or immersed in your content;

You earned 100 points, unlocked the best content yet – Why not share that content or how you got to it with your friends & earn an extra 50 points.

Stand back, possible dopamine explosion imminent. The ego has landed.

The oh-so-exciting “Frontiers in Human Neuroscience“, also shed new light on how the brain responds to reward and translates it into extraverted behaviour; “Rewards like food, sex and social interactions as well as more abstract goals such as earning money or getting positive peer recognition also trigger the release of dopamine in the brain, producing positive emotions and feelings of desire that motivate us to work toward obtaining those goals even more. In extroverts, this dopamine response to rewards is more robust so they experience more frequent activation of strong positive emotions,”.

This reinforces my belief that the mavens (a trusted expert in a particular field or someone who seeks to pass knowledge on to others) have to be the crucial first wave of people to be introduced into a new service or product before release to the general populous. Beta should not be a place fir everybody, it absolutely has to be a carefully targeted thing that finds and recruits the extroverts who are going to end up being the dopamine fuelled messengers and recruiters to your new service or product. Rewarding those mavens is also crucial because the Dopamine released facilitates memory of the circumstances that are associated with the reward moment which is a significant role in sustaining extroverted behaviour. Extroverts show a greater association of context with reward than introverts, which means that over time, extroverts will acquire a more extensive network of reward-context memories that activate their brain’s reward system.

If you think about the reward center in the context of an extrovert, it’s possible that something like posting on Facebook & the ‘Likes’ generated over time from the generosity of sharing, can literally become addictive to an extrovert & therefore encourage even more sharing in order to get more likes & so on & so on. It’s why some people share so much of their lives in such a sustained & open fashion. It taps right into the part of their psyche that gets joy & reward for the generosity of telling people they’ve just done something inept or found something kinda useful.

I myself am probably as I type getting high on the idea that the 2 people who read this post might share it. Bonus.

Repeated, interrupted pleasure points – commas

The Zeigarnik Effect

Let me go back to a previous post I’ve made about the ideals of gamification and in particular the Zeigarnik Effect. It covers a simple principle – People remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks. Sounds a bit mad I know, but it’s true.

The “cliffhanger” just may be the oldest trick in the story-telling book, especially for television and there is a reason why it’s used to great affect… you want to tune back in!

Despite numerous exposures to this method, our brain just can’t “get over” suspenseful moments: it’s a relationship that just won’t die, we will always want to know what happens next!

In fact, suspense works so well that the Zeigarnik Effect would have you believe that it’s the best way to kill procrastination.

Research in that area seems to point to humans being much more inclined to finish something that has already been started (researchers interrupted people doing “brain buster” tasks before they could complete them… nearly 90% of people went on to finish the task anyway, despite being told they could stop).

A University of Maryland study of undergraduates found that after a physics lecture by a well-regarded professor, almost no students could provide a specific answer to the question, “What was the lecture you just heard about?”. Another study by Kansas State University found that after watching a video of a highly rated physics lecture, most students still incorrectly answered questions on the material. When students were quizzed about a fact presented only 15 minutes earlier, only 10 percent showed any sign of remembering it.

Suspense in stories really allows you to create addictive, memorable content, as long as the suspense appears early enough in the activity and is combined with a positive ending or reward – Now we’re getting into Neuro CX.

Consider the idea that lots of positive, but unfinished tasks, start to shape a formula for successful and sticky experiences that people will want to engage with and repeat over and over again.

This is of course nothing new – It’s just the old nudge strategy mapped back to some new thinking and neurological reasoning. But by breaking things down and mapping seemingly dispirit principles together, I’ve done is make us realise just how important it is to plan in a solid set of these functions in every single project I work on.

Nice work fella, you just read a piece of content about Investing… have 5 points. 10 bits of content read… have 100 points. But no more today, tomorrow is a better day to unlock your destiny.

Positive Distractions Help You Remember

The Zeigarnik effect also suggests that people who suspend their primary task and engage in totally unrelated activities such as playing games, will remember the primary material better than those who complete tasks without a break. We should literally be interrupting task flow with totally unrelated, positive experiences.

It’s possible that interrupting people mid-registration or an important application might be something for us to try. Literally going against what we’ve been preaching for over a decade now. Instead of making registration simple and quick, let’s make it longer but bite-sized. Lewin’s Field Theory states that a task or experience that has already been started, establishes a task-specific tension. This tension, once established is relieved upon completion of the task. In the case of task interruption the reduction of tension is being impeded. Through continuous tension the content can be more easily remembered.

It’s also great if the positive secondary experience is not directly linked to your primary, because we can teach consumers something totally random and they’ll begin to associate that with the brand or procedure that served it up + distract them from potentially dull or time consuming primary subject matter.

For alcoholics, research has found that even the sight or smell of beer is rewarding to the brain, pushing them to drink – A secondary experience linked back to the primary drive. In a related study published by neuroscientist Valorie Salimpoor at the Montreal Neurological Institute, it was discovered that music can also activate the same reward circuits in the brain as alcohol.

In 2005 Teresa Lesiuk studied “the effect of music listening on work performance” and found that music promotes a “positive mood change and enhanced perception on design while working.” Results showed that quality of work was lowest when no music was played, and that individuals actually spent longer on a task when there was no music. On the other hand, those who who did listen to music finished their assignments more quickly and proposed better ideas.

An article from Psychology Today adds that while listening to music may be productive for some, it can be a distraction to others; therefore, they offered several things to consider when choosing music for productivity:

  • Use music with no words to avoid interfering with language tasks.
  • Silence is a kind of music and can be just as effective as music. If music is a distraction, try nature sounds.
  • Listen to music you like because it helps you feel better.
  • Try different speeds, or tempos, of music as it alters the mood and can help with tasks that require a different pace or energy.
  • Take musical breaks. A change of environment, even sonically can make a big difference in work productivity.

So here’s a thought for you – why not start to introduce new, totally random elements into traditionally boring tasks. For example, what if the first question in a long, drawn out banking application process was “what’s your favourite song Bob?” which drags the tune out of iTunes & plays an instrumental version of it in the background while you fill in the boring bits. In theory dopamine would flood the reward system and you’d feel positive throughout the experience. The perfect distraction to the dull job at hand. Associate Conditioning also starts to link the happy feeling with the task and / or brand too. It might not be as random as it sounds.


I’ve also put together another post around applied application of NeuroCX here.

In theory if I was practicing what I’m preaching I would have stopped halfway through the article and offered you a game and then released the rest of the article tomorrow. Trust me, you’d have come back – You wouldn’t have been able to ‘not’ too!

Neuro CX is about by-passing the reptilian brain in order to THRIVE instead of SURVIVE. The reptilian brain is based in survival mode which elicits impulsive programmed responses (constant reaction to present triggers). Characteristics of the Reptilian brain include dominance (dominate or be dominated), aggression, sex and seeking a mate, rigidity, obsessiveness, compulsiveness, worship, fear, submission and greed. These are all constricting and limiting frequencies. Looking at the Limbic parts of the brain and tapping into the Reward Center start to open up huge possibilities in the field of UX and Experience Design.

A lot of people reading this might be thinking “gamification”, but NeuroCX is that thinking plus some more. The traditional explanation of ‘gamification’ would be something like; “Taking techniques from games and game design and applying them to non-gaming contexts”. But the biology behind good experience is far more complex and can be manipulated by more than just game thinking. The idea that badges (otherwise known as achievements or trophies, once you have completed a feat, challenge, or task) as a means to show your achievement are what makes something sticky is too simplistic, NeuroCX can be anything just as long as its sustained & continuous throughout a relationship with the product user. It’s the good vibe, not the little token.

I hope that by altering how digital is approached using NeuroCX we can improve motivation & change consciousness.

If consciousness is about awareness or how an individual perceives and interprets his or her environment, including beliefs, intentions, attitudes, emotions, and all aspects of his or her subjective experience, then in theory by creating experiences that make users neurologically addicted (how pompous does that sound!) and providing it to the widest possible audience, then we could change collective consciousness. Collective consciousness is essentially how a group (an institution, a society, a species) perceives and translates the world around them. Change a collective consciousness (Facebook anybody!?) and you create a fundamental shift in perspective or worldview that results in an expanded understanding of self and the nature of reality. The beliefs, attitudes, perceptions, and assumptions through which we filter our understanding of the world and our place in it also move.

It all sounds very complex and esoteric, but trust me when I say it’s not. In fact most of you are probably already doing bits of it by accident. However I do think it’s crucial that you use these facts of biology and behavior to actively guide clients and products towards better experiences. It should be inherently part of EVERY experience strategy, not just the ones you think need to be a bit gamey or kooky. Your project doesn’t have to be the next Nike Fuel to include Associative Conditioning – In fact it’s even better if it isn’t! Map it into your boring topics even more vigorously. Make them addictive. Make them pleasurable & make the user want to come back again and again.

Special thanks due to the Barclays Behavioural Finance team for inspiring me to explore the wider side of Experience Design outside of my normal box – Greg B Davis, Emily Haisley & Antonia Lim.

CX and Design Principles – The basics

Design principles aren’t a new concept, but they do seem to be unpinning a lot of conversations I’m having with clients at the moment. It’s a simple premise – You develop them at the start of a project, or even at a digital brand level and use them when you plan your web, app, store-kiosk, mobile interfaces to always ensure that your design and development choices live up to a baseline standard and create a consistent experience across all interfaces. Simple to say, very difficult to police.

It’s about engineering the experience to be complete, thorough, and polished at every stage. Devoting time and energy to small things that principles denote gives you instant credibility because it’s the small things that are often picked up by users. I love the Microsoft App guidelines;

  • Sweat the details.
  • Make using apps safe and reliable.
  • Use balance, symmetry, and hierarchy.
  • Align your app layout to the grid, the new layout for apps.
  • Make your app accessible to the widest possible audience, including people who have impairments or disabilities.

Fluffy. But simple. SWEAT THE DETAILS – Don’t scrimp. Go sell that one to the PM!

As with any design led organisation, there are certain beliefs we should hold true, certain qualities that we strive for in our work. It’s what enables us to debate whether something “Right” or “Wrong,” it’s what allows us to evaluate whether anything we’re designing could be improved.

In Jared Spool’s article Creating Great Design Principles: 6 Counter-intuitive Tests he has 6 tests that he says you should run your principles through to test their robustness;

  1. Does It Come Directly From Research?
  2. Does It Help You Say ‘No’ Most Of The Time?
  3. Does It Distinguish Your Design From Your Competitors’?
  4. Is it Something You Might Reverse In A Future Release?
  5. Have You Evaluated It For This Project?
  6. Is Its Meaning Constantly Tested?

It’s hugely important to not only have them, but to adhere religiously too them. Here’s 11 great examples of principles courtesy of;

Out of the box CX

Here’s a little known fact about me: I never studied design or multimedia or service design way back when I was a student at university in the noughties. I knew what I wanted to do and be part of (even back then!) and I wanted to learn about design, information architecture (I didn’t call it that back then, I was just fascinated in information delivery and consumption), product design, digital (or multimedia as we called it back before the interweb 1.0 proper) and the users interface with ‘stuff’ because I was always a righter-brainer & rubbish at the good stuff. I was working part-time at a CBT (computer based training) company helping put together training CDRoms (remember them?) for Helicopter Pilots and I was really unimpressed with how bad they were to use (the CBT materials, not the helicopters!) and how bad the graphics were – In todays world we’d call that ‘poor experience’, and so I got myself on the ‘Packaging Design’ course at Bournemouth University. PACKAGING? ARE YOU MENTAL?! A lot of my mates (and colleagues at the CBT company!) thought I was insane doing a degree in Packaging, they thought I’d decided I wanted to design milk-cartons and not carry on doing what I was doing… but here’s the thing, I was doing what I always wanted to do… think about the component parts of all packaging;

  1. Form
  2. Function
  3. Instruction / Product Information
  4. Design / Brand
  5. Fast moving, evolving consumer goods

Sound familiar? Not so skeptical now are you!

It was literally the only course I could find that would teach me everything I wanted to know about design. About the esthetic form of something, the information architecture of something, the design of something that needs to stand out in a crowded aisle, the typographic quality of something (print anybody?), the brand of something, the perishability, materials, mass appeal, recognition, touch… you name it and in those 3 years I learnt the lot. I just did it using the paradigm of cardboard, tetra-pack and plastic. We even covered sales & marketing as part of the course. It was great.

It’s also something I continuously refer too today because it’s even more relevant in towards world. All our UX is just packaged design.

Packaging on a supermarket shelf has less than three seconds to grab the attention of a consumer.

Those three seconds are exceedingly important when you consider that more than 70% of purchasing decisions are made at the shelf. Add to this the fact that supermarkets can contain on average 40,000 packs to choose from, then that pack has got to work hard. It’s the same with websites, apps, digital outdoors etc.

Packaging’s role is threefold:

  1. To sell the product
  2. To protect the content
  3. To facilitate the use of the contents

Ditto, the role of digital is the same. The component parts are the same too;


Packaging graphics have more to do than simply look pretty. They must work to cut through the white noise that is the crowded supermarket shelf, and attract a potential buyer.


Packaging comes in all shapes and sizes. The structure of a pack can serve to create shelf standout and sell the product, to prolong the life of the product and to facilitate the use of the product. There’s also a lot we can learn from packaging that ‘just is’. It’s practical & boring in some cases, but absolutely necessary to transport the precious cargo to the end user.


The packaging industry has been vilified over the years, not least on the subject of plastic bags. Yet, brands have always been looking for ways to reduce materials and maximise packaging for both environmental and financial reasons. Web optimisation in UX is the same.


Traditionally certain materials have been associated with certain markets. But as markets change and consumer attitudes adjust it is unsurprising that material choice has also changed in the packaging sector accordingly. Same in digital, only our material is now ‘content’ and ‘conversations’ and bits of media.


The packaging industry spans many markets and so is regulated by many different forms of legislation and voluntary codes. More parallels – I work a lot in Financial Services so I know this all too well.

Golden Rules

There are 8 golden rules of packaging design that we were taught at uni too that I stilI also apply in UX:

  1. Conduct a thorough audit of all competitors in your market before you start, and make sure you understand their respective positionings and attributes. Then create your own.
  2. Look at what is happening in other markets, e.g. if you are just considering the UK or Europe, what is happening in the US or Far East that might give you a point of difference?
  3. Put measures in place at the start so you can track and learn as you go, e.g. measure awareness of and attitude to your packaging now and in the future. A good research agency will tell you how to do this.
  4. Be different and ensure your pack has its own visual equity and has a strong personality and attitude.
  5. Make sure your pack works at all stages of its life cycle, from leaving the factory to ending up in the user’s hands.
  6. Mock up how your pack would look alongside your competition. Test it in store and make sure it really does leap out at point of purchase.
  7. Design with tomorrow in mind. Create a pack that is in keeping with current market trends and future trends.
  8. Consider doing some pre-market testing to make sure your pack will find a willing audience. But be careful how you test it as consumers never quite know what they are looking for until someone shows them something new. Henry Ford once said: ‘If I’d listened to what people wanted I’d have built a faster horse!’

Out of the box UX

Everybody in the field of UX should be digesting and using content and background materials from the field of Packaging Design. It’s a rich seam of knowledge that can be directly applied to what we do. Take a website for example, it’s just in many cases a fast-moving-consumer-good and it comes with all of the same elements. Now that interfaces are merging with the real world it’s more relevant than ever.

2013 is the year where I go right back to my roots and start to bring packaging to the forefront of the area of UX that I work with. I’m going to start taking packaging examples to client meetings & as part of all my Discover, Define, Design phases. It’s actually one of the single biggest areas of parallel comparative research available to us so when you start a new brief this year, make an effort to go down to the supermarket & decide what kind of package your making for your digital content.


How excited am I?!

I’m not late to this party. I saw this when it first landed last month. What I have been doing is studying it… and quite intently… because from what I’m seeing ‘IF’ this is the experience they’re going to go live with and it’s not just a really polished up demo video (we’ve all done it to sell something, it’s what Computer Games have been doing with their advertising for decades; “Not actual game footage”) then this could be potentially game changing. Not just for social networks, but for the way we design our websites.

So what about it then? It’s an important piece of design because it’s gone balls out to be awesome. Which means no compromises. It means giving people the time and the bandwidth to do something amazing. Working within those variables inevitably means great (no, AMAZING) work emerges. All too often as UX practitioners we’re given the brief, but we’re not given the time or budgets to do the brief justice. A deadline dictates the output. The budget dictates the deadline. The competition / competitors dictate the deadline. What we end up with is work that quite often we are not happy with and that shows in the output. I believe that.

So just do what I’ve done for a while now and go over this video again and again and again and absorb the quality of the interaction design. The dedication to the experience design. The attitude of the team (which this oozes by the way – ATTITUDE – the attitude to want to produce the greatest interaction experience on the internet… it smells of hunger and want, doesn’t it?!) to win.

In four words: “I already love it“.

The CX of Visualising Data

Introduction – Visualizing the abstract

I’ve been working on a project over the last couple of months that’s opened my mind to a whole new place in UX that I’ve fallen deeply in love with. It’s always been there and I’ve always admired it, but I’ve never had to interact with it first hand and given it much studying until now. The area of Data Visualisation or InfoViz as I’ve been calling it with my clients.

I’ve got some new heroes in the form of Hans Rosling and David McCandless. Men who not only do the visual part, but have become voices that help articulate the importance of visualising data in ways that the normal user can consume. I love that quality in people.

By visualizing information, we turn it into a landscape that you can explore with your eyes, a sort of information map. And when you’re lost in information, an information map is kind of useful. We should allow the dataset to change our mindset and if we can do that, then maybe it can also change behavior. It’s a fascinating area.

David McCandless in one of his Ted Talks said the following; “We’re suffering from information overload and data glut. We need to help visualize information, so that we can see the patterns and connections that matter and then design that information so it makes more sense, or it tells a story, or allows us to focus only on the information.” Never truer words spoken about ANYTHING we do in UX, not just InfoViz.

Data is the new oil?

Lots of wonderful comparisons to natural resources when I having my adventures round data land. If the data is the kind of ubiquitous resource that we can mine and can shape to provide new innovations and new insights, and it’s all around us, and it can be mined very easily if we set our UX up to gather and harvest at the right times.

Graphis diagrams: The graphic visualization of abstract data

I recently found out about this book by Walter Herdeg, which is truly a great great thing if you can actually find a copy of it. The original was published in 1974 but still has some genius to it and the v.2 book is also full of thoughtful quality. A seminal vision for the convergence of aesthetics and information value, which codified the conventions of contemporary data visualization and information design. One of the 100 most influential design books of the past 100 years, it features work by icons like legendary designer and animator Saul Bass, Brain Pickings favorite Milton Glaser, TED founder Richard Saul Wurman and many more.

For instance, check out this beauty:


During my exploration for this project I’m working on I’ve stumbled upon a whole wealth of amazing InfoViz and I wanted to share my favorites with you so you can marvel at the Data, but also at the incredible Interaction Design and Visual Design that go into making InfoViz so magical.

Four Ways to Slice Obama’s 2013 Budget Proposal

With Obama’s recent budget for next year proposed, Shan Carter et. al of The New York Times let you explore the plan in their new interactive graphic. It provides four distinct views of what the breakdowns look like, all the while keeping a distinct link between each click with smooth transitions and consistent objects. The transitions make this graphic. It’s often useful to see data from different angles, and the smooth transitions (rather than abrupt jumps) let you see how things are and how they have changed, effectively. This is fine work. Click here to check it out in all its interactive glory.

The London Riots from The Guardian

The Guardian newspaper in the UK are the bonafide gurus in visualizing news information. Here are two amazing examples from the same news topic – The London Riots – and both prove just how incredibly talented the Guardian designers and InfoViz experts are + just how fascinating some of the data from the London Riots is.

The shooting of Mark Duggan on 4 August sparked a series of riots, first in Tottenham then across England. This timeline was created to follow the spread in interactive realtime, culminating in what could be the most incredible catalog of an even ever put into digital form. Their version of it for the Arab Springs was similarly fascinating and groundbreaking!

It’s both Visual and Visceral. Articulating time as a road is very clever and breaking events across the timeline by location is equally captivating. Massive kudos indeed – Click here to go have a fiddle and marvel at this one.

However… it wasn’t the jewel in the interactive InfoViz crown for the Guardian. Oh no… they kept that back for this:

The analysis of 2.6 million tweets shows Twitter is adept at correcting misinformation – particularly if the claim is that a tiger is on the loose in Primrose Hill and that’s exactly what they did with this amazing info t0ol:

Throughout the UK riots, many scanned the internet in search of reliable information. In the absence of confirmed news, the web was often the only way of tracking events. Amidst the hubbub, countless topics came and went. As worries mounted, speculation grew. Rare individuals requested sources, countered hearsay, sought the truth. The rise and fall of rumours on Twitter is a striking display of social forces in action. Click here to have a play, it’s really quite a breathtaking thing they’ve created.

Rethinking the food nutrition label

The food nutrition label is on almost every food item, but it can be confusing in the sense that it doesn’t tell you much about whether something is good or bad for you. The UC Berkeley School of Journalism hosted a challenge for designers and food experts to rethink the label.

We are confused about what and how to eat and so we’re eating too much of the wrong things. In fact, we’re eating too much of everything. Two-thirds of American adults are overweight or obese. The obesity rate among preschoolers has doubled since 1970. Type 2 diabetes has become an epidemic. We want to make it easier to choose healthy food.

Visual designer Renee Walker won with her rework shown above. The rectangles on top of each label represent main ingredients, and bars on the bottom provide a quick thumbs or thumbs down for a breakdown of fat content, carbohydrates, etc. Icons of spoons and scoops are used to supplement serving size since no one knows what 182 grams looks or feels like. Click here to find out more.

Electricity Generated from Renewable Sources

I really enjoyed the simplicity and fluidness of this one. It’s basically a breakdown of energy consumption by country, by year. Simples. Check it out. This is the kind of thing that would normally be shown to the consumer as a table of data, or a bar chart. It’s a much more engaging experience when you can reach out and touch the data. Brilliant.

If you liked that one you might also like this one from the U.S, which is Your Electricity Bill redefined.

Political Climate Chart

Another great example of how to break 3 dimensions down into one clean interaction. Time, Issues & Political Party. The norm’ would be to add things onto a bar-chart or similar. This way we get something much more fun and something much easier to digest. Click here and have a go yourself. Some fascinating data.

Here’s another two from the U.S that give us interactive views of similar data scenarios. What a “Hundred Million Calls to 311 Reveal About New York” and the “US Health Care Spending: Who Pays?” breakdown.

Sources & great references

I’ve browsed A LOT of great resources recently and digested a lot of great InfoViz… here are some of the sources I’d recommend if you’re starting to fall in love with Data like I have like the carbonite offer codes:

Cartophile Cartographia
Chartsbin Chartporn
Cool Infographics Comicbook Cartography
Daily Infographic Daily Statistic
Data Visualization Everyday Venn
iGraphics Explained iLove Charts
This Is Indexed Information Design
InfoGraphic Directory Infographic Site
Info Graphic World Info Graphics News
Infograph Love Infosthetics
Information Is Beautiful Junk Charts
Flowing Data Fuck Yeah Visual Data
Mind Map Art Neoman Infographics
News Graphics Old Map
One More Graphic PD Viz
Social Media Graphics Mega Maps
Infographic Showcase Visualsing Data
Vizualize Viz World
Well Formed Data

CX Prestige

Every great magic trick consists of three parts or acts. The first part is called “The Pledge”. The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird or a man. He shows you this object. Perhaps he asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn”. The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you wouldn’t clap yet. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige”.

I’ve started to think about this a lot recently – Process – that fallen tree on the path to the Emerald City. I think we’ve over-compicated it. Let’s pull delivery down to an essence, call it Lean or whatever you want, it’s just 3 simple phases to fix a problem:

Discover Define Design
Magic The Pledge The Turn The Prestige
Advertising The Insight The Concept The Solution
Client Business Objectives Customer / User Need Technical Requirements
Agency Quantitative
Desk Research
Ethnographic Observation
Mental Model
Experience Design / Map
Strategic Response
Skeleton / Structure
Sketch / Wireframe / Patterns
Tech / Prototype / POC
Final Screen Designs
Content / Taxonomy

Remember that UX is just the focus… a thread that runs through all of our disciplines, and which no single discipline owns (Nick Fink).

Now… before you all go batty and start bashing me. Know this. I ‘get’ that the above table isn’t exhaustive and there’s a ton of other big and little things that we could be doing, but if we strip all the noise & delivery back to simplicity then why not just offer 3 phases and 9-12 deliverables (we’d never do all the Discover stuff, right?!). I’m sure it’d be easier for clients to digest.

Banks. Atomic Units. Apathy. UX.

From my recent lecture entitled ‘Banks and the Atomic Unit':

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