You are designing for

Lazy, Forgetful Creatures of Habit


When we talk about designing and marketing, a lot of times we’ll focus on the techniques, the specific practices. Shop talk is fun.

The hardest part of any design project isn’t figuring out how to write well, or lay out a page, or code a website. We have a solid body of knowledge. The challenge is dealing with the humans. Humans are a pain in the ass. But we love them, because our work depends on them. And because they are us.

Humans, especially those of us who spend a lot of time on and around the Internet, all of us are

Lazy, forgetful creatures of habit.

That is your core behavior pattern right there. I just saved you a lot of work creating personas.

Being a lazy, forgetful creature of habit is completely rational. We only have so much energy and attention, and we have ever increasing demands on it. Why should you do anything that requires more work? Why should you go out of your way? Or commit something to memory, when Google will remember it for you?

But what works for each of us as individuals can make life very difficult for our businesses. How do you reach people who have so much competition for their attention and such well-honed abilities to ignore things? It’s not just “banner blindness”. People are often blind to absolutely everything that doesn’t match the thing they’re looking for. It’s baked into our brains — the part of pattern matching that happens below conscious awareness. (And we’re well on our way to notification blindness now.)

And how do you make sure you are working with a realistic view of the priorities of actual humans, instead of making assumptions or relying on wishful thinking? You ask yourself that question every day. “What am I assuming?”

(Wishful thinking is the lazy habit that will doom an entrepreneur.)

Established organizations are lazy, forgetful creatures of habit as well, because they are made up of humans — plus an extra layer of inertia. So, while you are considering the users of the new product or service you are designing, you had better think about all of the existing habits of the organization that has to support it. Those habits can be even harder to change because they are baked into the culture and the business model.

Many an ambitious new strategic direction with complete buy-in from the top has fallen apart because someone further down the chain lacked incentive to change what they were doing. And again, this is rational, or at least understandable, behavior on the individual level.

And researchers — design researchers, market researchers — they can be lazy, too. A lot of bad research is bad because the study was designed based on what questions were easy and oh so satisfying to ask, not based on what was going to yield the most useful information.

If your success depends on people taking action, or remembering your name, or doing anything at all new, you had better make it as easy and satisfying as possible. And the only way to make it as easy as possible is to be really and truly realistic about what makes something feel difficult to someone who is not you.

Optimism is the death of design. Cultivating a habit of critical thinking is the first step to saving it.

Next time, I’ll talk about the Fear.