UX design framework – Behaviour


The earlier posts regarding the UX design framework were concerning content and visual design. Here I explore a few principles that focus on a person’s behaviour and how we design for those feelings in what we produce.

Regardless of what you think about user experience design, as designers we need to pay more attention to how and why we behave in the manner we do . These principles derive from observations and disciplines beyond design. Psychology and sociology are as important within this list, which is of course not exhaustive.


Cognitive dissonance

Described as an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously. Cognition (thoughts, feelings and ideas) when in harmony are in consonance, two unrelated thoughts do not cause dissonance, and so the mind can carry on without disruption. Dissonance normally occurs when a person perceives a logical inconsistency among his or her cognitions that are related.



Let me give the example of street art. Bristol council has spent thousands cleaning up graffiti around its city centre and yet one of its most renowned ‘offenders’, Banksy, exhibited in the summer with his work paid for by the Mayor and his council.

In the eyes of the law what Banksy does as an artist is vandalism and a criminal act, however, such is his skill some would say he has elevated himself above others to that of a modern artist.

It could be said that the point of view of the council was an example of cognitive dissonance, where anybody else spraying on the wall is still a vandal but in Banksy’s case it is art and therefore it justified the council’s endorsement.

The painting to the left is on a building opposite Bristol’s council offices. The council put it’s removal to a public vote and the public wanted it to remain.

Photograph courtesy of

Greg Marshall


Expectation and disappointment are factors of online dissonance, where the user held an original idea and experiences contradiction and holds on to the initial thought. It can be seen in the reactions of users to poor results of search engines (they leave on the landing page) and maintain their original pursuit in finding their goal.

What should be taken into account when designing anything for mass consumption is that there will be a group who are disenfranchised and who feel that the product or publication does not sit easily with what their original belief of it was. The bounce rate has many within it who have these feelings. That they were misled, mistaken or misunderstood descriptions in a search result page.

To control this fully is impossible, but monitoring the segments of your audience, their needs and wants will make you aware of the constant shifting of visitor or customer expectations on what you provide. This encompasses all the areas of a user experience to give the air of suitability, relevance and quality.


Expectation effect

When introducing or promoting a new design your audience of potential customers are at their most receptive in terms of being persuaded. To gain the most from this claims made by the product or service must be made with statements that can be clearly illustrated and have credibility.

Looking at the recent iPad launch the levels of expectation were extreme and it was essential that the launch of the product was synchronized and communicated in way that was clear. Whatever your thoughts are on the product, a study of the official video (arguably the most persuasive of mediums) shows some interesting features.





The 8 minute video can be broken down as such…

  • 0 – 60 seconds – Jonathan Ive  gives the vision statement of the device, this gets the viewer intrigued, either excited or cynical, but nevertheless they are engaged and receptive.
  • In the next 4 minutes the VP of iPhone software explains the extreme flexibility and feature rich capabilities of the iPad, he sits outlining the benefits to a casual buyer, reaffirming  it to the fans, his sheer enthusiasm taking the viewer into Apple’s world of promise.
  • The next 2 minutes has the VP of Hardware take over, he states why the device is different  -the parts manufactured are eco-friendly and specifically made for Apple. Their control of their technical hardware is good for them, and he makes it clear it is good for the consumer too.
  • The last minute sees the original two, Marketing and Design returning to sign off and end it with a statement that will put a marker down for any other devices such as this. On the one hand it is the price – and one that is pitched low to ensure the take up of the product. On the other it is the simplicity of its design and Apple’s belief that this will change how we use and think about computers.

Four people represent the iPad’s desirability through it’s design, features, technical ability and finally (the pay-off ) it’s price. The viewer thinks either that this is a game-changing device or they are not convinced. They either require further persuasion or will voice (publicly) their opinions against the claims.

Another example can be seen in user testing with bias shown in asking questions that are felt to influence a subject. Expected outcomes from the interviewer influence their questioning. This is just one of the reasons that user tests should not be conducted by the designers of the system.


Hicks Law


The time it takes to make a decision increases with the amount of choices available to a user. Particularly seen in menu items for software.

For instance the file area could be seen as the equivalent to the three pedals of a car. For clutch, brake and accelerate, read open, save and print.

This area needs to be easy to use and quick to make a decision. As you travel right along the menu bar your options multiply and the length of time finding these options also increases.

It could be called a kind of accepted design pattern and all programs share this feature of a small amount of options in the first menu dropdown.

In ecommerce certain stages of a transaction are closed down in terms of available options to a user. This ensures user focus and a likelihood of them completing the task, and less likelihood in them being distracted by unnecessary promotions or ways to navigate away. Decreases in drop off rates in conversion funnels can be seen when Hicks Law is noted.



Hierarchy of needs

Basing this on the hierarchy of needs from Maslow where different steps of the pyramid from physiological (functionality), safety (reliability), love (usability), self-esteem (proficiency) and self-actualization (creativity) can be applied to a design. An operating system for a PC enables creativity by having a strong functional and reliable quality, and an inherent usable interface that may have innovative features enabling proficiency in its users. All of these add up to the potential of creativity being exhibited as all other lower levels of the design have been satisfied. The twitter platform though occasionally failing in reliability has enabled hundreds of developers to adapt it and create new products from the API. Their policy of using open source wherever possible has increased it’s popular adoption from so many companies.




The principle is most useful for evaluating existing designs and seeing if improvements will affect the pyramid in positive or negative ways. The evolution of the iPod is a good example of the interface becoming more intuitive (and hence more proficiency capability) without harming the 3 layers below. Creativity for this product can be seen in the Nike Plus adaptation of the iPod to be a valuable running aid and personal trainer.




This is perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of behaviour in the design of user experience. The feeling of total immersion from the interaction of a product that results in feelings of joy, satisfaction and escapism from reality. Particularly prevalent in the gaming world this is what the industry thrives off and success of a game hinges on this most important principle. But immersion can be seen in many different areas.

In games it may be about challenges that can be overcome, the greater the challenge the higher the immersion and sense of satisfaction when complete. In game design the passage of time is a great indicator to the playability of a game, that the longer the duration that a person plays (and unaware of time passing in the real world) the greater the immersive effect.


In the real world the attraction of a library for study is the ability to be immersed within a context that promotes learning and negates potential distraction. It would likely to also have a modified sense of time for that person where hours pass like minutes if they are fully immersed. A film (take Avatar for example) has the ability to completely envelope an audience in the world of the film , time is not a part of a great film experience, the story is the focus and capturing and holding the attention. Add to that IMA’s ability to serve up panoramic cinema in 3D and you have as immersive experience as one could wish for in cinema.

Online successful ecommerce stores have a flow that is goal driven and there are clearly defined steps that promote the passage of the user to an end state. The better these flows the higher the sale conversion rate due to its immersive properties as an online shopping experience. Forms need immediate feedback to keep the user engaged and that the actions taken have been registered. These interactions also need to give the user the complete sense of control, over their actions and the environment that they affect.

Immersion is not an exact science, but perhaps more of an art, as its agreed there is not  a formula for an immersive experience that will be a success. Sensory experiences coupled with cognitive engagement seem to provide the best type of mix. The human mind can only take in so much through the five senses, getting the balance right with the mind of the user being actively engaged is the answer to a truly immersive quality experience.


Mental model

In the design of interfaces there are system models ( how systems work) and interaction models (how people interact with those systems) that in combination present a mental model to the user.This is either confirmed or denied by a user through their personal experience (the quality of their user experience in using the digital product). What is important is that the model you propose fits with their own personal interpretation.

As a user experience designer it is key to have both models in place to design a solution that is effective from a user’s perspective (the interaction model) whilst addressing the needs of the client (the system model).



When designing an effective  web store it is important to understand how the factory produces the goods, how they deliver them and the length of time it takes to reach the customer. All these factors need to be built within the system model for the client to understand and that they are also revealed in the interaction model revealed to the user as the interface. Only through thorough testing can the design be confirmed as one the user’s are happy with, in other words that it fits their mental model of what the web shop should be from their customer perspective.

Design patterns are effectively interaction models that are established in user’s minds of how certain operations should work. If there are models available it is advisable to use those as a starting point. But it is likely that your specific client will have a unique need that is reflected in their system model and needs reflection in the user’s interaction with it. It is better not to use an existing model if it is nothing more than convenient. An exact fit between both models is necessary for the optimal solution.


Performance vs Preference

From a usability stand point – perhaps the most common mistake businesses make, is assuming that because the user declares a preference for something it doesn’t necessarily mean they perform better when using their choice.

People are poor at aligning what they feel they want or need and what will actually improve their ability to use a product. Commonly people prefer designs that will not help them achieve the best results when compared to alternatives they will be adamant that the product they chose is the best.

The best way to get around it is to observe the user actually using the product without any interview technique, but in their context of use and observing (not interacting with) the subject. The most important matter is to not record what they say they do, but what they actually have done. The best products have this type of research behind them, by being embedded with the user in the context for which the design is meant, allows the appropriate levels of insight required to make informed design decisions.


Recognition over recall


A persons’ memory is more likely  to recognize elements than recall them and so designs need to reflect this fact. Rather than expecting a user to recall information, introduce devices to trigger the memory, such as images, words or sounds. Where giving options ensure that the decisions the user must make are aided in some way.

The power of brands have the ability to make customers chose their products because they recognize it  rather than recall an unknown, better quality, competitor. Hence the ability of being recognized carries significant value in the marketplace.

Within an operating system, programs have become merely icons on a task bar – such is the quicker ability of the human mind to recognize imagery over recalling program types.

For more on behaviour and web design I recommend the book, Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? as a good starting point for this complex area.

Next up it is Interaction perhaps the most well known and dominant aspect of UX.

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