Sex and UX with Nathalie Nahai

A transcript of Episode 65 of UX Podcast. James Royal-Lawson and Per Axbom talk to Nathalie Nahai about Sex and UX and our decision making process.

Photo by Danny Hope. Cropped. CC BY-SA 2.0

Nathalie was interviewed on UX Podcast in January 2014. Nathalie is a web psychologist and author of Webs of Influence.


James: This is UX Podcast, balancing business, technology and users every other Friday from Stockholm, Sweden. I’m James Royal-Lawson.

Per: And I’m Per Axbom.

James: Hello.

Per: And we’re up to the episode that I’ve been waiting for all year and it’s only the second episode of this year.

James: Well, not much waiting then.

Per: Some of you will remember that our last show of the last year ended in us promising to do a sex show with Nathalie Nahai.

James: Oh, what have we done? Really, what have we done?

Per: Usually we kind of — try to think of a cliff-hanger for the end of the show. I don’t think we need one for this show.

James: No, if we can last to the end of the show.

Per: Yeah, I hope so.

James: So we’re going to talk sex.

Per: We’re about to call her up in a few minutes.

James: We’re going to talk sex in UX possibly.

Per: I think that’s the theme, sort of. I have no idea where this is going to land.

James: No, this will get us in all kinds of trouble now, I think. Another little thing though. Today’s episode, I’m not sure if they really know the connections between sex and the sponsorship but today’s episode is sponsored by RevRise. RevRise is Google Analytics but for web forms and tells you where users are having difficulties or dropouts. So go to to find out more.

Per: Excellent. And somebody might remember that we’ve actually interviewed Jonas from RevRise.

James: We did in December, yeah. Yeah, listen to that show. It’s pretty fun.

Per: And they subscribe to the newsletter. You get some really good optimization tips as well.

James: You can have a good sponsorship deal.

Per: I am, aren’t I?

James: Yeah. Goddamn me. Well, I will tell you what, I’m all warmed up. So …

Per: I love the way you’re moving around in your chair. You’re not at all nervous.

James: I don’t know. It’s this whole thing. I’ve always been nervous about the whole sex thing.

Per: Probably we should talk about that.

James: Yeah.

Per: Yeah, let’s call her up.

James: OK.


Nathalie: Good morning! How are you this morning?

James: We’re great. Thank you very much Nathalie.

Nathalie: Good. I’m glad. I’m good too. The builders have decided to come in next door and they’re banging. I don’t know if you can hear it.

Per: Oh, I actually heard that.

James: I can hear that, yeah.

Nathalie: Oh, they always choose use the worst times. Is that going to be too annoying?

James: Well, what we could say is we could say that it’s your neighbours are going to lie in and …

Nathalie: You guys are such — oh my god, naughty. Yeah.

Per: Oh my god James.


Per: So hang on. Let’s talk about why are we interviewing Nathalie about this topic.

Nathalie: Yeah. Why are you interviewing me about this topic?

James: Yeah, this is actually quite a good question. Now what happened was that in episode 63 of UX Podcast which was where we recommended podcasts, we actually recommended Nathalie’s podcast, The Good, The Bad and the Dirty. It was one of my recommendations. That’s not when we talked about sex.

Per: No.

James: Later on in the show, Per recommended Sex Nerd Sandra and her podcast. But you didn’t recommend her because I mean you’ve never met her or anything but you recommended her podcast.

Per: Yes, I did.

James: Just prior to that, I think the day before, I had listened to the show you did with the Brain Lady.

Nathalie: Oh, Susan Weinschenck …

James: Exactly and during that episode of your podcast, you said that you liked sex. It’s what you said in the podcast.

Nathalie: Yeah, I said that. I said something about — oh, Teledildonics.

James: Yeah. Oh, yeah, exactly. That’s when you went to that story.

Nathalie: That’s what I was talking about so funny. It’s really interesting.

James: Yeah. No, it was interesting to listen to but you actually gave that little sound bite and so I repeated the sound bite to Per in that show.

Per: You said basically, “Nathalie also likes sex.”

Nathalie: Most people like sex, like good sex.

James: Of course they do but they don’t normally shout it out in podcasts about user experience. Well, they should. It’s user experience, isn’t it? So that’s then when we started talking to you and tweeting to you about the fact that we basically promised to have a sex show with Nathalie.

Nathalie: A sex show, so kinky. You naughty boys. All right.

James: It was terrible.

Per: Yeah, but you do share a lot of relationship articles on Twitter right now.

Nathalie: Yeah, I do actually. I was thinking because for a while I just was very careful about what I shared on Twitter and the whole professional thing and then it got to the point where it was also becoming quite comfy. I think it was after about 2000 followers. I thought well, I will just start tweeting about things I like and then I dated and it ended up being mostly about general psychology, sex and relationships and gender stuff which I find all of it are very interesting.

Per: Yeah.

Nathalie: Then as soon as I did that, I got loads more interactions, loads more retweets and no one was mean. It worked out. So I said, “Great. Obviously something is going well.”

James: Just to let everyone know. There are some builders who moved into the apartment next door to Nathalie.

Nathalie: I’m so sorry.

James: If you wonder what the elephant noise is, it’s drilling.

Nathalie: There’s always a time when you don’t need it as well because they’ve been quiet the whole week. I mean we’re on Thursday now. So yeah, it’s just …

James: They’re builders. They will stop for a cup of tea in about 10 minutes.

Nathalie: I was hoping it.

James: Well, we’re not just going to talk about sex today. I think that would be pushing out of our –boundaries of our — if we’re going to do it too much. But sex and UX, there’s what we would like to get into the topic.

Per: And sort of how can we use our knowledge of human behaviour related to sex to make better websites.

James: Yeah. I think we — well, what I know I’ve heard in — I think one of your broadcasts Nathalie and who else — well, it’s the whole Freud thing about everything is down to sex. Everything is connected to sex.

Nathalie: That’s an interesting one. I haven’t read a huge amount around Freud because I’m not really particularly interested in psychotherapy which I’ll probably get shot for given that I’m interested in psychology; but there’s an interesting idea that we’re here because of sex. Each of us is the product of at least one orgasm by one of my parents. So sex is a really important part of life.

But I think more important than even sex for most of us is a sense of human connectedness and belonging. So there’s a social driver of which sex is a part and obviously it does other things as well. You know, excitement and reproduction.

But the need to belong is a bigger motivator for many of us much of the time. So I think that really has a massive part to play especially within UX because if you’re creating an experience which becomes easy to use, it’s familiar, that possibly increases the endorsement of your peers. So again, using social proof or social validation depending on which principle it’s using, to get people through a particular user experience or a journey. Then that can be a great way to get them to enjoy and well, yeah, to have a more fitting experience really.

James: I was reading about — it’s the old brain that you call it, isn’t it? Which is our kind of — the historical bit which is all down to kind of hunting and sex and survival.

Per: Neanderthal.

James: Yeah. That’s the thing that drives, well, most of our decisions.

Nathalie: Yeah. So in the book, I talk about a metaphorical three-system brain. The reason it’s metaphorical is because the brain is way too complex to reduce to such simplistic terms. However, talking about the brain in terms of three systems does provide a really useful way to think about the motivations behind it. So it’s actually a very useful model.

So yeah, so the primal which is kind of loosely to do with things like you mentioned, like sex and hunger and sleep and digestion and things that are responsible for the survival. That’s one of the primary ways in which we make decisions and also the emotional system.

So there was some really interesting research that found that patients who had lesions, that sort of damage to brain areas of the brain, that were responsible for emotional processing were unable to act on really simple choices when they were presented with them. So if I said to you guys, OK, what would you like — coffee or a cup of tea? You would be able to decide pretty quickly, right?

Per: Yeah.

Nathalie: Yeah, OK. But it’s not a very emotional decision, is it? However, the people who have problems with the emotional senses of the brain weren’t able to act on their decisions. So it shows that even the most mundane decisions when we act on them, the impulse to act comes from an emotional process and therefore we can extrapolate from that, that any kind of action online is likely to involve an emotional incentive as well or emotional component and process.

James: All right. So even a lot of the time we think we’re being really careful and rational, we’re thinking things through, we’re making — it’s us that are making the decision. It’s actually not. It’s our emotional and old brains that are taking over us and doing it for us.

Per: If you read Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman, I think he can go into that a lot. You are not making rational decisions anymore and I think that marketing — just the fact that the economist, the Noble Prize in economy is won by a psychologist. It’s fantastic. That says something about the new era we’re moving into.

Nathalie: Yeah, absolutely. I think what’s really interesting is what you — one thing that you sort of — slip of the tongue really that we all do and it blows our understanding about, I suppose, the idea that we have volition or agency or that we’re in charge.

So we think of that as the conscious we. So when you say that it’s not us, it’s the primal and emotional brain, well, that’s still us. It still makes up who you are. In fact, it defines who we are. But when we talk about us or me or we or you, often we talk about the conscious part of ourselves. There’s a study I read recently that said this that some estimated — I don’t know. I can’t remember how they did this. But they estimated that 0.0004 percent of the information that we process is processed at a conscious level.

So if you think about the remaining 99 point — what is that? 99.6 percent? So the most amount of stuff that we process is done unconsciously but you realize that actually the we that we talk about is perhaps — perhaps you have to think about a different definition of what that we is and most of it is apparently subconscious. It’s a bit weird. It is scary.

James: I’ve read those numbers as well and it was something like we’re constantly receiving like millions of input signals. There are millions of them and that’s when that — not a point, not whatever percent comes in. It’s just that kind of handful of things. It’s we receive as things that we’re aware of.

Nathalie: That’s it.

James: Then on top of that, we’re going to do one thing at a time.

Nathalie: Yeah, a lot of it comes down to attention. So what we can consciously attend to at any given moment. So for instance, in the blog post with — sorry, the podcast with Susan Weinschenk, one of the things I wanted to ask about that she spoke about in her conference that I saw UX Brighton, was specifically about peripheral — well, images that are placed on websites that span the width of the page, so peripheral vision. We use images that use peripheral vision and what was really interesting is that we don’t often attend consciously to that particular kind of information.

So if you did an eye-tracking experiment with someone on the page, chances are they would not necessarily look at the peripheral imagery. But those peripheral images that you use nevertheless have an impact on how the person feels based on the kind of content that’s within the image.

Per: Exactly, yeah.

Nathalie: So it’s all just a bit complex.

James: Yeah, that’s quite right. I mean I’ve done eye-tracking testing and that’s something you see all the time. We’re very — when the brain sends our eyes to look at something, which is what we’re measuring with eye-tracking, we’re hunting for keywords. We’re basically hunting for the words that answer the question that we have when we go to visit a webpage and yes, the peripheral is of course taken in by the brain because something has got to decide where to send the eyes. So yes, the feel of the entire website comes into play.

Per: Right. So what we’re talking about now is really attraction. So how do we get the attraction between — we’ve talked a lot about recently about websites having a personality. So what we’re trying to achieve here when we’re talking about sex is really — so how do we get that chemistry between the person and the website?

James: Yeah.

Per: Usually we talk about like you started out Nathalie with — we’re trying to create a relationship, a long-lasting relationship with the user. But in my experience, we usually go for one-night stands. We create these fantastic, attractive headlines that people want to click. You read an article and you leave.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Per: And you don’t really come back until maybe again you see an attractive headline and you go in there and — so how do we actually go about having people stay and building that relationship, giving the website a personality? If that is what we’re after, are we after one-night stands on the internet?

James: I’m kind of smiling away here because I’m thinking about well, with the one-night stands, that’s that kind of — the buzz and the kind of feeling of seduction and the kind of all — all these chemicals are flying around inside you because it’s that hits you get from a one-night stand. So it’s clearly not that …

Nathalie: and adrenaline and dopamine and all that kind of juicy stuff.

James: Clearly not a bad thing to visit just once or …

Per: But is it good return on investment? That’s the big question.

Nathalie: Well, I think the question is — well, first question is what’s your goal. I mean if you’ve got a huge amount of traffic and you have a huge number of one-night stands, then you’re talking an audience which is a massive ROI.

Per: Yeah.

James: Sequential audience.

Nathalie: So that essentially is — that potentially is one optional goal and I think the other thing just to draw the analogy a little bit further is that what happens if you start off with a one-night stand. It somehow ends up being really good and then you might have another one a couple of weeks later and then suddenly you realize that you’re in some kind of a relationship where you’re visiting more often.

Per: You’re getting booty calls from the website.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: You’ve invested in the relationship with the website, yeah.

Nathalie: That’s it. I think Upworthy is — that’s how I ended up getting seduced by Upworthy.

Per: That’s right.

Nathalie: You know, these delicious promises of — and some of them are complete stinkers. Not every one-night stand is going to be one. But then actually you go back and you build up rapport and you build trust and you realize that actually you quite like to commit to this website because it delivers most of the time.

Per: And they are absolutely awesome at writing headlines on Upworthy. I think they redefine how you write headlines. They’re really long and they promise something.

Nathalie: Yeah, yeah, they completely broke the mould there.

Per: Yeah.

James: I haven’t looked so much at Upworthy. So I don’t know. I have to check that out.

Per: Really? You haven’t caught on.

James: I don’t think so, no. But this is fascinating because again, keeping the analogy about relationships and websites, Web services going. We have — you have — spice fades or the relationship fades after an amount of time. So when you’re using a service, you used it for a couple of years. We move into another phase of the relationship there. The chemicals have vanished.

Nathalie: Well, mine is even different. It’s kind of probably shorter things, like the honeymoon period.

James: I imagine so. So what does that say to us from a UX perspective? If we say that yes, it’s true, that you will enter into another phase of the relationship with a website after X amount of time, where it’s not giving you that buzz anymore. It can’t give you the buzz anymore because you become so familiar with it. So used to its quirks, behaviours, what it delivers, what it can do for you.

Per: Right. Like my reporting system, Harvest. I was really into it in the beginning. Now I just use it.

James: Is it? Yeah. So how do you add the spice back into the relationship with your website?

Nathalie: Well, I think — I mean I wonder if there’s another question that precedes that which is, “Is a long term relationship going to be the best model of a business for your website to begin with? If it is, then how do you keep that fresh and exciting?”

I imagine because each website has a — in terms of its skin or the theme or the design, has a life cycle which is I would say probably about two years, one to two years depending on the industry, maybe longer if you’re a little bit more …

James: It tends to be around about three years in my experience at least for the bigger ones.

Nathalie: Around three, yeah.

James: Yeah.

Nathalie: So you’ve got a fairly long period but I think part of — it you change that part, we like novelty and I think that’s another way to kind of get things exciting and also to keep things exciting by rewarding people without telling them that they’re going to get rewarded.

So in psychological terms, it’s called — it’s a variable ratio reinforcement schedule which sounds ridiculous, I know. But it’s basically like slot machines. So it’s the idea about if you go to a slot machine, you are sure that at some point, the slot machine will pay out but you don’t know how long you have to play before you get the payout and you don’t know how big the payout will be.

So it’s not a regular reinforcement. You don’t get ten pence every time you pull the one-armed-bandit. You have to wait for an unexpected reward of undefined quantities. So you can also do that with your relationships with people online and through your websites. So if you’ve got someone who’s subscribed or someone who visits and you say, “Well, you’re the 138th visitor. We would like to give you a free book.”

Then because it’s unpredictable, they get a reward and it’s exciting and then more clients use the site. That’s not going to work for all sites. It’s not going to work for everyone but it’s certainly a very persuasive technique that you can use.

Per: Right.

James: Yeah, an example of that would be if you’ve got a subscription site, you can say, “We still love you. Here, have a free month.”

Nathalie: Yeah, yeah, exactly.

James: You can randomly throw that in at some point.

Nathalie: Romance your users. Seduce them.

Per: Yeah, sort of. Yeah.

James: A little fascinating thing here is I mean I — I bang on about how I don’t like the big website redesigns. There are these three-year or two-year cycles. They’re expensive. They take a lot of effort because we’re dealing with very complicated things especially when we’ve got — if we’ve gone deeply into SEO and conversion optimization and usability. To kind of rip that all out and stick a new one in every three years is incredibly challenging.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: Well then if we’re saying that a refresh of that kind is probably needed to put some life back in certain relationships.

Per: Well, that’s sort of like saying that your relationship with your wife is stagnated and you suggest let’s move to a new house. Let’s move to a new building. Is that the best option? But I’ve seen that happen too a lot.

James: Yeah. You build an extension or you create a room because the marriage is failing.

Nathalie: Well, sometimes you just need a bit of novelty to some — and also seeing your partner in unfamiliar surroundings where that perception of unity, of oneness that you’ve created like one being which is unfamiliar and not particularly arousing because it’s not separate from you. To see your partner in unfamiliar surroundings, flirting with other people where suddenly there is that separation and you feel that sense of attraction. That can be a very powerful way to get you excited again and attracted to stuff again.

Per: That’s very true. Actually it’s one good way. It’s actually someone travelling like going away for a while and coming back. It will put a spot in their relationship.

James: Yeah. You’ve increased the amount of — you’ve added a certain amount of — or comfortable amount of uncertainty and surprise.

Nathalie: Yeah. There’s a fantastic book about that on relationships by Esther Perel which is Mating in Captivity and it talks about all of these things and it’s absolutely fascinating.

Per: OK.

Nathalie: Yeah, there you go.

James: Yeah. So maybe — I’m still thinking about this again. In the practical side of this, how do I deal with UX and long term relationships?

Per: Well, there are some suggestions about how — like we’ve been into now talking about how do we keep a relationship alive. But some things aren’t like reminisce about good times. Remember the good times we’ve had and stuff like that. That’s hard to have that on a website or a digital service or whatever.

You would have to like know a lot more about your user and actually be very personal with them. You can’t really automate that. You need to have people behind the scenes actually talking to people. I mean my favourite example is KLM. When they research people’s Twitter accounts and found out what they liked and what they liked to do. Then they came to the gate with gifts, exactly fitting gifts based on what they actually — their interests were.

Nathalie: I mean that’s wonderful.

James: It is wonderful.

Per: I know, stuff like that.

James: But what really creeps some people out because you turn and put the gates and they give you kind of a box of chocolates that’s exactly the brand and type of chocolates you like. You’re going to think, “Whoa KLM! What are you doing with your spare time?” But yeah, absolutely. It’s a surprise and it really would …

Per: I would definitely travel with them again and I would recommend them to my friends which is sort of like …

Nathalie: And if nothing else, even the shock value is going to get the buzz and the word of mouth, the PR for the — three or four people will go, “Well, that’s too much.” Most people will hear that and will be like, “Oh, I would really like to get a box of chocolates in my favourite brand.” Yeah. I think that’s the other thing is that we forget about the social side, the UX is — you’ve got to take it within a wider context which is, “OK, well what’s your social strategy?” How are you actually building relationships with people? I think social media is such an important way to stay connected with people.

So to the extent where — I guess it’s sort of not common but in the book, I made sure that on the front page, I put my Twitter handle so that if people get the book, if they’re listening to your podcast or they buy a product, if you’ve got it on the packaging, it’s a physical thing.

Don’t forget to put your Twitter handle and say to these people, “Look, I would love to hear from you. Tweet to me,” and then you get pictures of people who said, “Oh, I’ve just received X, Y or Z.” And then you suddenly you can say thank you personally and let me know what you think. They actually care.

James: Yeah.

Nathalie: So you’re not this faceless …

James: Exactly, not just a faceless person at all. Yeah. That’s just the whole memory thing being brought by Per there. Well, reminiscing and reminding someone about things that you’ve done so it kind of like bubbles back to the surface, some good moment from before.

Per: That’s interesting about blogs because what happens with blogs is that you start writing new articles and you have some really good items but they’re in your history and people usually don’t find them. The companies have gone to and they’ve written some really good stuff in the past. They’re afraid to surface that again for some reason because they feel like, “Well, that’s old news.” But for a lot of people, it’s not old news. It’s just really, really good content and you should make more use of the content that you had before. That sort of connects with that. Actually reminiscing sort of with your own stuff as well and people would remember. Oh, yeah, they’re the guys who wrote that stuff and I love that.

James: Yeah, absolutely. At the same time, it will be more difficult like if you — the retail site online, retail site and you go, “Oh, do you remember that pair of socks you bought? They were excellent, those socks.”

Per: Now we’re getting into storytelling, sort of.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: Yeah.

Per: Which is really hard as always. It has been hard for the past five years.

Nathalie: Also nostalgia. There was a really interesting advert by Internet Explorer. I might have used that as an example in a couple of talks that I gave about these nostalgia and storytelling in videos specifically.

What was really interesting is that they’ve got a really mixed response from the audience. So while people were watching, it’s like remember — remember me? We met in the 80s when there was — or the 90s or whatever it was. It goes through and it shows the time you got your pets and yoyos and stuff from my childhood really. You watch this and it’s beautifully done. You get nostalgic and pretty much the whole audience seemed to respond right away.

But when we got to the end and then it says “Internet Explorer,” there was a split. Some people said, “Well, that’s the point.” They’re really stuck in the old ways even though they say grown-ups have — then the others are saying, “Yeah, but they’re saying that they’ve grown up. I will go with them.” So it’s really, really polarizing. So I think if you’ve using nostalgia and saying we would have this experience with our customers always way back, if it’s really far back, then you’ve got to be careful how you frame it so that it doesn’t look too old and therefore put you at a disadvantage.

James: Interesting advert. Was it obvious during that it was Internet Explorer or was it one of those kind of reveals where at the end …

Nathalie: It was a reveal, yeah.

James: I can imagine that you would feel cheated there. It’s like someone pulling a mask off and revealing who they really are at the end.

Nathalie: Yeah. But why would you feel cheated?

James: Because if you’re seduced by the advert and you’re drawn into it. You think this is — even like that but in your history, you’ve condemned Internet Explorer to being a bad thing. I don’t want. I don’t like it. But you’re being seduced by this advert and being kind of really entertained by it and think it’s excellent. Then there’s the reveal. Ah, got you! It’s your archenemy Internet Explorer that has tricked you into thinking this was a fun advert.

Nathalie: Yeah, that’s interesting.

James: So it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.

Per: There’s lots of emotion going on.

James: Yeah, you’ve been tricked rather than seduced.

Nathalie: So I wonder what a brand like that could do in those situations to try and rebrand. Maybe sort of cut its ties from the past and do a completely new rebrand where they launch as a different — under a different name or something. Yeah.

James: First and foremost, they’ve got to fix the fundamental problem.

Per: Right. They have to be a good product first and then you fix the content before you attract people.

James: Yeah. So in that sense, Internet Explorer is doing a really good job now because the newest versions of Internet Explorer are what you in the trade call proper browsers and that’s something we’ve never said before about it.

Per: And they should be making fun of Internet Explorer 6.

James: Yeah.

Per: If they did that, I would respect them.

James: Well, and 7 and probably 8.

Per: And 8 as well.

James: Borderline nine. No, exactly. That’s what they need to do is fix the products so you’ve got something good to sell and then yeah, I reckon hop back and make some fun of yourself. The nostalgic comical way about how bad you were before.

Nathalie: Yeah, don’t take yourself too lightly or too seriously.

Per: Yeah. Say you’re sorry.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Per: That’s also the relationship thing. Say you’re sorry.

James: Exactly. We see these especially in bigger brands. They’re so scared of the past and how they used to be. Things they have done in the past. Well, you can’t erase it. It’s there.

Nathalie: Yeah, it’s written in the history books.

James: I know the internet we’ve usually got — it should be pretty easy to drag things back up again and show them off.

Per: Right. But out of that example actually about nostalgic because I mean looking at Facebook, if people, I don’t know, share a picture of an old cassette tape and people say, “Like this if you know what this is,” stuff like that. Those pictures get thousands of likes.

James: They do, yeah. Child of the 80s with Facebook.

Per: So find the stuff that defines the person and that’s really easy to identify with and you feel closer to that group of people.

James: Well then, you are in different tribes there, aren’t you?

Per: Yeah.

James: You’re finding a group that relates to what you’ve got to say or the story you’ve got to tell and …

Per: Your attraction on a date. Would you like to come up and look at my stamp collection? If not, then you probably missed the mark.

James: You can tell you’ve been in a relationship for a long time, Per.

Nathalie: You’re talking about stamp collections.

James: Yeah. I’m going to ask Susan next time I see her. How did you like Per’s stamp collection?

Nathalie: It sounds like some weird euphemism for — would you like to check out my stamp collection? Why, yes, thank you. It’s like some secret weird handshake.

Per: Well, you know if they want to and you got one foot in the door.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: Yeah, you’ve hit the jackpot if you’re into that kind of thing. They say yes.

Nathalie: That’s how you screen your potential mates whether or not they come back …

Per: That’s relationship material.

James: Yeah, that is. It’s a keeper.

Per: Yeah.

Nathalie: It is.

Per: Well, you could talk about your Star Trek uniforms, James.

James: What?

Nathalie: I love Star Trek. Every time I have a podcast, I …

Per: See? That would work.

James: I just know people — see now, this is a bad excuse. I know people with Star Trek uniforms. I don’t have any myself.

Nathalie: I think they’re sexy, the Star Trek uniforms.

James: I know you’ve got a thing about Klingons, haven’t you Nathalie?

Nathalie: Say what?

James: You’ve got a thing about Klingons, haven’t you?

Nathalie: No, Vulcans.

James: The Vulcans. Oh, right. I remembered it was one alien.

Nathalie: Yeah. Well, I had a chat with Matt Wallace about that and most recently. Oh, yeah, Jabez LaBret. He’s going to be in a podcast coming up who’s also wonderful who I also met in Seattle. Yeah, Vulcans.

The point is, I have an elf thing. I don’t know. It’s like a pointy ear fetish and also like they’re really serene but underneath it’s like this raging torment of emotions. I think it’s — there is some reason it’s very attractive to me.

James: I can see what you mean with the whole kind of logic, the pure logic surface there that they admit. You know full well that it’s learn control over — from birth. They were told and taught how to keep all their emotions inside.

Nathalie: I know.

James: It’s fascinating. We could actually talk for hours about Star Trek. The Star Trek universe is actually a fantastic thing to — there’s so many themes and what have you that are explored in Star Trek.

Per: But the Vulcans have sex.

Nathalie: Yeah, of course they have sex. How do they procreate otherwise? They don’t hatch in pods.

Per: They don’t have fun sex though, I don’t think.

Nathalie: I’m sure they have amazingly wild sex. It’s like a whole hidden line of the Vulcans.

James: We’re just going to have to interview your Vulcan to ask how their sex life is.

Nathalie: Yeah, we definitely should. We definitely should.

James: Continuing the thing about [Indiscernible] if you’ve got a service that is really, really dull and boring. I mean an example here would be like a government website to do with benefits. How do we seduce people or press the kind of — the right buttons there in that kind of relationship? This is as dry as you can get now.

Nathalie: Yeah. I mean I think — OK, so sometimes — I don’t know how naughty we can be on this talk because we’re talking sex here.

Per: Go for it.

James: Go for it. Be naught as you like. We will beep you if you’re really naughty.

Nathalie: All right, brilliant. OK. So if I give you an — in the UK, if I want to pay tax return or I want to look out and figure something out about my VAT or whatever, the UK, British UK government website is really difficult. So they make it really hard to get into bed with them. It’s really, really tricky. So sometimes you don’t want to go through all the foreplay. You just want to get right to it and I think government websites are notoriously bad for making it seriously difficult for you to get anywhere that you want to get to.

So like sometimes you just got to make it easy for people. Make it easy for them to find what they want. Even just putting a search bar in so you can search other things if all else fails. I think that would be the first thing that I would say about government websites is make it easy to use.

Once you’ve done that, then you can start worrying about the rest. But if you can’t find what you’re looking for, there’s no way you’re going to be able to get to your goal.

James: Yeah.

Per: I just had an epiphany. I mean what you’re saying then is that if you’re a commercial website, you’re actually trying to attract users to make them want to have sex with you. But when you’re a government website, you want to have sex with the government website because there is no other option. So you have to make it easy.

James: You’ve already paid. You just want your goods now.

Per: Yeah, exactly. There’s no option.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Per: So get out of my way. I don’t want the foreplay.

Nathalie: Yeah, it’s just like let’s get this over with.

Per: Yeah, exactly.

Nathalie: Oh.

James: You only love me when you’re drunk.

Nathalie: You know what? That is a good approach. Could someone who is drunk use this website and find what they’re looking for? That should be your MO for a government website.

James: I like this because …

Per: I’ve seen tests like that on YouTube, I think.

James: Yeah, there’s an excellent YouTube clip of a woman that was supplied with tequila. She was given a lot of free tequila drinks and then set loose with Windows 8.

Nathalie: Set loose!

James: It’s a hilarious video because she just rips pieces out of Windows 8. It’s just …

Nathalie: Can you send us the link for that?

James: I will put it into your notes. I think we mentioned it before. It’s really — it’s done by a usability firm I think in the US and it’s really interesting, really fun. I think they’ve done a little series now of drunk-testing films.

Per: Right.

James: But this is exactly right. This whole thing about goals, we — when w reach our goal, that’s when we get our hit. It’s probably like we said. Just that simple, that if you aren’t aware of what users want to do with your website, what is their question that they’ve got when they land on your site? If you can help them answer it and help them complete what they need to do or want to do, have decided to do, then they’re going to get that buzz anyway even if you’re not very sexy.

Nathalie: Yes, because they’ve succeeded.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah.

Per: Exactly.

James: Exactly. So that’s it. We’ve sold everything.

Nathalie: There we go.

James: UX is all about sex.

Per: But since you’re sort of a specialist on gender on the culturability, Nathalie, can we attract both sexes with the same language and what happens in different cultures?

James: Good question.

Nathalie: OK. So one of the interesting things with culture is that Geert Hofstede — he is a psychologist. He spent 40 years looking at cultural dimensions, which is basically like personality traits but for countries, found that you get — you tend to get the largest gender differences in a highly individualistic and what he calls masculine culture.

So individualistic societies are those in which it’s kind of me, not we. So we’re out for ourselves. We want to sort of self-actualize. We have looser societal structures. We tend to value friends over family. I mean I’m painting a very extreme example but that’s an individualistic society. A masculine society would be one in which the gender roles are very distinct.

So for instance, traditionally, women, we’re in the home. They take care of the babies. They cook. They were homemakers. Men went out and were the financial supporters of the family for instance.

So in societies and cultures that are highly individualistic and masculine, you tend to find larger gender differences and this does tend to translate online. So for instance, some researchers found that women — I think this is in the UK which is highly — it’s either the UK or the US but both the UK and the US go highly for individualism and they’re more masculine.

They found that women subconsciously prefer websites that have been designed by other women, which gives you a sense that — from that you can infer that women design in a different way to men. When you consider that men typically make up the majority of Web designers, it might — there’s definitely a case to say, well, maybe you should have a female designer look at this if 50 percent of your audience or all of your audience is female.

Per: Right.

James: That’s an interesting point though because yes, Web designers are often men. But UX designers on the other hand are often women.

Per: Right.

Nathalie: And it’s interesting that that has got the experience part in it as well. I wonder if there’s a relational element that attracts them and perhaps more.

James: Yeah.

Nathalie: Also the other thing that’s interesting is that there are different behaviours that men and women exhibit online. So there’s another piece of research that I cite in the book which is about research behaviours. So men tend to research — go into research sites a lot more than women. I know this from experience with my dad, with my fiancé. Anecdotally, I’ve seen this in action.

But what’s interesting is that some research found that boys as young as the age of seven exhibit the same preferences. So it kind of makes you think, “Well, have they had enough time to learn this behaviour or is it something that’s perhaps a little bit more innate, innate versus nurture?”

James: Yeah. I’ve got a daughter and a son. So I’ve had an experiment running now for seven and a half years and with one of each gender and it’s a very small sample set. I understand this and I have no intention of increasing my sample size but I can say that I was — I actually thought that a lot of things were learned behaviour when — my daughter is the eldest and I thought, “Oh, it’s learned behaviour, all this kind of gender stuff.” Then my son came along two years later and it’s an eye-opener when you realize that when he’s like four months old and starts wheeling that car along on the ground and broom, broom, broom before he even really knows what a car is. The same car we’ve had since before my daughter was born. You start to get ideas about realizations that there is a whole lot of stuff going on a level which is not learned.

Nathalie: No, it’s just primal.

James: Yeah, primal.

Nathalie: And I think with that sort of thing, I mean also it’s interesting to look at it from — I mean there may be — may well be a strong biological basis. But then if there is, then for those of us who don’t conform to this serious science, maybe there’s a neuro-chemical element. So for instance, according — there’s some fantastic work that was done by the biological anthropologist Helen Fisher and she wrote a book called Why Him? Why Her? which is about the neuro-chemical basis for attraction and relationship styles.

What’s really interesting is that — so I took the test and I ended up being like a minority of women who show for high dopamine levels and testosterone levels which is typically associated with masculine traits. So you end up — also as a kid, I kind of exhibited gender — different gender behaviours and like things like wanting to do DIY with my dad or do shooting or to build stuff. But also it’s maybe — I had like one doll that I played with but I also did sewing, like weird — pangender behaviour basically.

So with your kids, it may be that they are sort of gender typical and that the girl expresses more scientific and feminine behaviours and the boys are exhibiting more masculine behaviours. But again, that also depends on their biological makeup and how that interacts with the culture in which they’re raised and whether that behaviour is going to be enforced.

James: Exactly.

Nathalie: Which often we do on a subconscious level.

James: We do it all the time.

Per: It can be reinforced just by allowing them to do something. Well, the expression on your face while they’re doing it.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: It’s so easy to reinforce certain gender stereotypes that we ourselves are not even aware of.

Nathalie: Yeah, and most of the time we’re not — again, going back to sort of most of the behaviours that we exhibit. Basically subconsciously that it’s very difficult not to express the preferences of our culture in society in ways that we don’t even notice, but …

James: Yeah, and that’s true even when designing. Well, designing Web services or websites. An awful lot of things you do without realizing it.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: Yeah. Culturally best.

Nathalie: Yeah, absolutely.

Per: So the conclusion there is basically have both genders look at the website. So in your sample of usability testing as well, of course gender will play a role even if you don’t want it to be that way.

Nathalie: It depends on how far you — how far does the rabbit hole go. You can start with — obviously if you’ve got a limited amount of budget and time, then start with you targeting group, the people who are running your favourite customers and get them to use and see if there are differences based on certain clusters so by gender differences by personality, et cetera.

But then you could also look once you’ve looked at gender and personality, you could look at culture and you could look at any number of individual differences that depends on how granular you want to go really.

James: I think we’re actually saying — to answer your question Per that you put — the one ago about — well, what gender is the website basically. It sounds like we’re saying you can actually make a mixed gender persona.

Per: Right. So are boys more attracted to boys’ websites or made by a boy websites? That’s interesting as well. Is this more a bisexual thing?

James: Well, you include elements. I think we have to include elements in your design that appeals to certain aspects of both genders. So maybe you have something that’s not what you would consider to be feminine and not something that you consider masculine. But from certain angles, it possibly appeals more to masculine and feminine.

Per: And of course it’s always easy to generalize like we’re doing now and what you want to do is be aware that there can be a difference there but you always have to test. Of course.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Per: And interview and do ethnographic studies hopefully.

James: I hope you don’t get into an argument here. I mean here in Sweden, the — oh, the gender discussions can be very heated, political, awkward.

Nathalie: Which is really interesting because Sweden ranks very highly for feminine culture in which gender roles are a lot more fluid which is possibly why there’s so much debate around them because there is a room to have that conversation.

Per: There is, yes.

James: Yes, absolutely. There’s also the perceived culture that we are equal and that we’re expected to be equal. So when you — when something bubbles up that’s not fitting into that perceived perception of our culture, that it’s male or female or whatever, then there’s a discussion around it because it’s not — there’s a reaction, yeah.

Per: Mostly nowadays around the conferences, that’s how we witness it basically. If there’s too many — well, there’s too many male speakers basically.

Nathalie: How interesting.

James: Then there’s quite a backlash, yeah.

Nathalie: It’s funny because you actually get the backlash. Most of the conferences I go to, often I would just be the only female talking. I think there are — again, I guess because I’ve met a lot of women who are really, really smart, who do fantastic things but when you ask a lot of women and my friends, “Come on. Let’s go to this conference.” Often they won’t want to. They won’t want to get up and speak and I wonder if that’s because culturally they’re taught to be good and to conform and not to put themselves out there and not to take risks in the same way that boys perhaps are or if that’s because there generally isn’t that desire to get up and speak, in which case no amount of positive discrimination is going to make a difference and I think that’s only useful in certain situations anyway to begin with. The trick is — it’s a very thorny, tricky subject.

James: It is.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: Although we did actually — we’ve actually decided that we’re going to try and interview a few more ladies on our podcasts.

Nathalie: That is always a good thing.

James: Well, it’s now that we just realized that we haven’t talked to actually very many. It wasn’t ….

Nathalie: There are some amazing women out there. I hope you know.

James: Oh, absolutely. It’s not like we’re deliberately avoiding them. It just suddenly dawned on us that we don’t have a handful of female guests.

Per: Maybe it’s easier just for us to approach men. I don’t know.

Nathalie: Yeah. I mean you start to analyze and think, “Well, why?” Like, suddenly you realize that this is the case. I realize this with the podcast. I had done like five and it had all been men. Right. I’m going to go and have to hunt for some women.

Per: Right.

Nathalie: And it got into the point where I hunted for two or three and then I got those two or three and then they were recommending these amazing other women that I have not heard of. Now I’ve got loads of women. It’s a lot more gender equal. But yeah, it’s a weird starting point, isn’t it?

James: OK, Nathalie. So who — so who’s the next woman that we should interview in the UX podcast?

Nathalie: UX. Well, I think the one that I would recommend, there’s two women I would recommend who are absolutely amazing that look at decision-making and that kind of thing, which something is fascinating, which for UX is really important especially if it’s a subconscious most basically.

So Noreena Hertz, She’s brilliant. She’s a fantastic speaker. She has spoken at TED and she has written books and stuff and also Maria Konnikova who has also written books and is a very wonderful speaker. I think those two women would be fantastic to invite them to your podcast.

Per: Excellent tips.

James: You said her name wonderfully well.

Nathalie: She has got a beautiful name.

James: It is. I’m not going to say it that easy. I’m not going to try.

Nathalie: Because I might be pronouncing it completely wrongly but she is very polite. So she didn’t …

James: You said it so nicely, so that’s fine.

Nathalie: Yeah.

Per: That’s excellent.

James: Well, I think we’re going to have to wrap it up.

Per: I think so as well. I think we managed to keep it pretty clean actually.

James: We did.

Nathalie: Yeah.

James: And relevant.

Nathalie: Yeah. Well, for a Thursday morning just getting off talking about — getting off to start talking about sex, I think it’s a lovely way to start the day.

James: We haven’t even had any wine.

Nathalie: I know. I think it had to be coffee.

James: Oh my word. I’m sorry.

Nathalie: Well, it woke me up.

Per: I’ve had three cups of coffee already.

James: You have? I’ve had one cup of tea. But the builders did have a cup of tea. Do you notice that? They did stop for 10 minutes for their cup of tea.

Per: That’s true. That’s what you said. They would stop. They stopped.

James: Yeah. You see?

Nathalie: Yeah, you’re right.

James: That’s how English builders work. So I was making a gross generalization.

Nathalie: Well, you know what they say about stereotypes. They have a grain of truth in them.

James: Yeah, they come from somewhere.

Nathalie: They come from somewhere.

James: OK, Nathalie. Thank you very, very much for joining us again on the UX Podcast. This time, we got to talk to you for more than 10 minutes, which is great.

Nathalie: Yeah. Well, and I’ve got to have you guys in mine also.

Per: Awesome.

James: Oh, that would be great.

Nathalie: Very good.

Per: Thanks so much again and we will talk to you on social media, I guess.

Nathalie: Sounds great!

Per: Yeah, and let us know when you’re in Sweden.

Nathalie: Oh, I will. I certainly shall. That would be awesome.

James: Yeah, excellent.

Per: Bye-bye for now.

Nathalie: All right. Have a great day.

James: Yeah. Thanks Nathalie. Yeah.

Nathalie: Bye.

James: Bye.

Per: Bye.


Per: All right then. That was pretty fun.

James: Yeah. It’s great fun talking to Nathalie.

Per: Yeah.

James: Yeah. I think we’ve said it more than once that she’s a very clever lady.

Per: Yeah. She’s so smart and she knows how to put things in context.

James: Yeah. And to me who has got a Northern English accent and Nathalie has got a lovely clear crisp British accent. So it all sounds kind of very …

Per: True.

James: It’s easy to listen to explanations, I think, when Nathalie says it.

Per: Just English is easier than Swedish.

James: Well, especially if you don’t understand Swedish.

Per: I know. But from my experience, it’s so interesting. The times I’ve given talks in English. I’m so much more confident and it feels so much better than when I’m giving talks in Swedish even though there should be — I’m more adept in Swedish basically. But English just makes it — the audience feel more at ease. I don’t know. It seems like they get more respect from me when I speak English.

James: Interesting. A different psychological trail for us to investigate. Well, I think we did pretty well at covering sex in UX.

Per: Yes, we did.

James: Without being too dirty.

Per: I’m pretty surprised.

James: I’m actually a little bit surprised. I was a bit worried going into this that we would get into all kinds of weird positions.

Per: What? You actually said something during the show and I was like — something about bang. I like to bang on about …

James: No, I didn’t. Did I?

Per: Yes, you did. I had a hard time keeping a straight face but I did.

James: You should have just laughed. Well, anyway, thanks to RevRise for sponsoring today’s show and you can check out their form analytics tool at Don’t forget to visit for the links and resources we’ve mentioned in the same show.

If you’ve enjoyed this podcast, then please let your friends and colleagues know about us. You can find us pretty much everywhere as UX Podcast. Oh, I know the telephone number now.

Per: You do?

James: Yeah.

Per: OK, read it out.

James: You can ring us and leave a message on +1 for the States, 646–783–1050.

Per: Cool. Hey, why don’t you just be the first person who does that? That’s pretty cool.

James: God, yeah. Ring now.

Per: Yeah. Let us know what you thought of the show.

James: Yeah.

Per: Of course we’re UX Podcast on Skype as well if you just want to call us via Skype.

James: Yeah. So thanks very much for listening.

Per: Yeah. Remember to keep moving.

James: See you on the other side.


[End of transcript]

This is a transcript of a conversation between James Royal-Lawson, Per Axbom and Nathalie Nahai recorded for UX Podcast in January 2014. To hear more episodes visit or search for UX Podcast in your favourite podcast client.