Top psychology lessons for product design

At hibob, we’re all about making life easier, and better – specifically the day-to-day lives of business people. Whether they are employees or employers, HRs, CEOs, accountants or whoever – we want to help. We’re working to take away the stress around HR management, benefits and employee engagement.

Product design can create behavioural change

So how are we doing it? It’s more than rolling-out new features, integrating with APIs, and testing. We have to think differently. This means remembering that we are humans creating for humans.

Employees resist other HR systems

What’s our angle? It may sound simple but we concentrate on usability. You’d assume that usability is a key feature of all software products, but as very few employees actually use their workplace HR systems, there’s clearly something missing. To a busy member of staff, it’s just another tool, cluttering up their day.

To counter this, we’ve put effort into understanding the psychological aspects defining human interaction.

The online world affects us every day

Nathalie Nahai is a web psychologist, writer and speaker. In one of her talks she explains the psychological fundamentals and tactics used by product designers in order to invoke actions, adoption and habits.

According to Nahai, web psychology is “the empirical study of how our online environments influence our attitudes and behaviours”. Basically, our day to day interaction with online tools affects our thoughts, changes our opinions and triggers our behaviours. The online leaks out into the real world – and into real human actions.

“Product designers have to tackle our basic decision making processes”

Any action or interaction with an interface (a software tool) can be considered as conversion. That could be something like clicking on a link, watching a video, leaving a comment, or taking a trial.

Product designers have to tackle our basic decision making processes to get the conversions that they want, and they use three key psychological principles in order to get them:

  1. Induce a positive emotional state: Where conscious thought conflicts with emotion, our neural structure is designed to always defer to emotion. That’s why advertising uses humour or other positive emotions (like happiness, love, or longing) to reach our hearts, and only present the product/brand once we’re feeling good – to convince our hearts to decide, not our minds.
  1. Minimise cognitive load: Performing certain tasks imposes requirements on our cognitive system. We each have a limited capacity for cognitive processing, and any build-up in that load reduces the chances of completing a task. This is why the best practice for checkout flows (the bit where you actually sign up for a product) is to divide any forms into small, manageable steps. It’s so each step doesn’t overload our cognitive capacity.
  1. Create an experience of fluency: The key to driving users to take an action is to make it easier for them to process their information. Three basic tactics help achieve fluent processing:
  • Semantic priming – Make your message clear and ensure it stands out.
  • Visual clarity – Make the message understandable at a glance.
  • Simple, concise language – Talk to people they way people talk to each other.

Nahai shares examples of these principles in her talk, and shows how they can be used in a positive or negative way. Essentially, it is about whether you undermine the customers’ goals for your benefit (win-lose), or whether you help your customers to achieve their goals as well (win-win).

At hibob we like to go for the win-win.

How you and I adopt products

Good products succeed in driving users to take repetitive actions that elicit a sense of reward. For example, gaming apps often use a virtual currency to allow you to ‘buy’ other stuff or progress faster in the game. You may have seen this recently with Pokemon Go.

Excellent products succeed in creating actual usage habits.

 Time Off

Engaging Time Off feature in bob

Creating usage habits is not always for the better – Twitter, Tinder and other app notifications get you hooked by activating your dopamine system, and hooking you into a pleasure seeking loop of perpetually seeking rewards (more likes, more notifications, etc). So, if you think you are addicted to your phone, you could be right.

“Excellent products succeed in creating actual usage habits”

Nahai shares four key principles that cause this type of behaviour and allow access to the loop (and to gain control over our free will!):

  1. Endless satisfaction: We are never completely satisfied, so we consistently seek out more rewards.
  2. Waiting Vs. Getting: Anticipating a reward is often much more pleasurable than the reward itself.
  3. External triggers: Dopamine loops are easy to cue through simple external triggers, such as notifications (e.g. your friend liked your photo, or uploaded one of his own).
  4. Small and unpredictable rewards: Studies have shown small, unpredictable rewards are most likely to drive continuous reward seeking activity.

Addiction is not necessary

Fascinating, isn’t it? Of course, you don’t have to negatively influence the dopamine loop to drive adoption.

Instead, at hibob we put our minds (and hearts) into creating empowering habits. We do this by offering clear tangible benefits to our users, creating a calm experience, and delighting our customers. All so that they associate us with positive and empowering habits.

Human Resources doesn’t feel human

Human Resources just didn’t feel very human to us, and – from a technology perspective – felt pretty unloved. At hibob our purpose is to make all the administrative HR paperwork into something simple and worth playing with. We also want to give employees a sense of belonging to their companies, and of the culture of their teams – even when they are out of the office.

We create the world we live in

Whatever product you design, you have to remember that persuasion exists as a fine line between facilitation and coercion, and that as product designers we actually create the world we are living in.

This sounds like a cliche from the TV series Silicon valley, but wouldn’t it be grand if the world was a better place because of the products that we create?

I’m working on it.

From Ron Ben-Haim