Mind The Product 2018: Psychology to design better products, Joe Leech

Tl;dr:

  • Psychology can help us understand when we can innovate in our products
  • Interaction is not the place to innovate. Don’t mess with your interaction, innovate other ways.
  • Mental models are evaluative and generative. Mental models are wonderful models to redesign the experience of your product.
  • A product manager who doesn’t understand psychology is going to be no more successful than an architect who doesn’t understand physics.
Joe Leech — “I help companies and startups do the right things in the right order for the right reasons and recover when something goes wrong”

#1 Psychology to design better products

Joe empathizes the difference between Declarative Memory and Procedural Memory. We are really bad to remember Declarative Memory but very good when we convert it into Procedural Memory. We create sequences to remember things.

This is why it’s harder to remember a password vs draw one to unlock your phone. Our brain is structured that way: sequential is much easier.

Joe explains it with the example of the Wikipedia’s Search button back in 2001. Back then, you had the choice to hit go or search: don’t really know what the difference could be.

Where do human go for the search box? We look on the top right. Then we look for the search box and then of the search button. We move the search box to another place or when we set two buttons, we break the sequence, so the knowledge is broken and people are lost.

This is a Design Axion- a statement or proposition which is regarded as being established, accepted or self-evidently true.

What do you expect when you click the logo? You go to the homepage! You shouldn’t be messing with this. This is a kind of Procedural Memory. And contact us? Where should it be? Bottom. Shopping wallet? Top right.

Hamburger menu is a controversial design item because it breaks the Design Axion.

At the end, Joe used the hamburger menu with his team at Mariott’s to hide all the stuff we didn’t want to do. They call it the Stakeholder Debt.

Back to Wikipedia: what happened after they redesigned the search button to put it on the top right? 97% of all people wanted the search box back on the left side. Users were pissed off!! The explanation is easy: Procedural Memory on existing users have been broken by this redesign. They built up incorrect procedural flow and then they broke it! This is why people hate change. Because you break there Procedural Memory. They hate it even if it’s better. You shouldn’t have broken it first.

One way to ease this change is to do it step by step. Ebay changed the background color from white to yellow and users hated it, so they changed it back. This is the worst thing to do because from now on your users are sure they control you. How did they win this battle? Using slow change. They changed the background color every day.

Key learning: interaction is not the place to innovate. Don’t mess with your interaction, innovate other ways.

#2 Mental models to innovate

You go to a coffee in France. You wait for the waiter to tell you where to sit: this is a Design Axion. You get the menu. A Design Axion again. You ask for the bill. And again.

If you are a stranger, they act differently. They make you pay directly after you order. Why? At Starbucks, your design axion is you order and you pay before you drink. So in France, they adapt this mental model to you.

Mental model theory: you take a mental model and apply it in another way.

French people in a Starbucks : they will sit and wait forever. Design model failure.

Let’s look at an example. You and a friend want to go away for the weekend. Here are the questions you’ll ask:

  • What (snow, sky, spa)
  • When (a weekend, school holidays…)
  • Where (drive, fly or train, how far?).

The mental model of holidays is: let’s go to the beach, fly, max three hours on the first or third week in may. This is how you think of a trip.

How is Expedia doing? There is no option to fit this mental model. You have to force yourself inside their questions.

Key learning: Mental models are evaluative and generative. Mental models are wonderful models to redesign the experience of your product. There is innovation here. That is where innovation come from, not from changing the color of a button or shifting the search box.

In conclusion, a product manager who doesn’t understand psychology is going to be no more successful than an architect who doesn’t understand physics.