All of us already know how much our habits influence our daily life (for instance: what we usually do as soon as we wake up, or which road we take to go to our job place, etc.) and also how much it is hard to change a habit (have you ever tried to wake up earlier in the morning, or attend gym classes regularly, etc? If yes, you exactly know what I mean).
That happens because our brain it is already set up on constantly repeating the same actions all over the day, giving zero effort to the process; our lazy mind delegate everything it can to his effortless system, so that it can save energies for more complex mental problems, and as a result of this, we often act automatically without even think of what we are doing.
And that is true for every human being on Earth.
To better understand this concept let’s take an example: how we breathe.
Nobody of us really thinks about what we are doing, we just breathe. That’s a repeated action we learn when we are born and with a constant practice we come to the point we don’t think about it anymore, but instinctively act.
Charles Duhigg, in his famous “The Power of Habit“, explains with different study cases how a solid habit is built (and how it affects our existence), and briefly, this is the process:
CUE > ROUTINE > REWARD
The cue is the particular action, object, sound or else, which activate our brain and force it on repeating one more time the routine linked to the cue, with the aim of obtaining the same reward, which can be physical or emotional either.
And this is so automatic and embedded in our deepest being that our brain doesn’t differentiate between good or bad habits. That’s just THE HABIT.
But through inner analysis, we can actually recognize a habit which damages us and change it in a positive one; as Duhigg explains, the secret is keeping the same cue and reward, then work hard with our willpower on changing the routine, i.e. the repeated actions.
This process is similar to what Daniel Kahneman pointed out in his “Thinking, Fast and Slow” talking about Cognitive Ease and Cognitive Strain.
In fact, he says that every creature (humans too) have got two different systems to react to external events:
- the first one is called System 1 and it is fast, instinctive and undemanding – in a word “ease”- but because of these peculiarities, it is also susceptible to errors. It responds to familiar situations and it is facilitated by repetition.
It also makes you feel comfortable and judge the context in a positive way.
- System 2, on the other hand, is slow, effortful, draining and analytic. It is necessary to protect us from risks and can override mistakes through careful thoughts. It forces us on pushing our brain and consuming energy.
Essentially, System 1 reacts to a familiar situation (cue) triggering a routine, which makes us behave in a specific and predetermined way. Instead, System 2 is the analytic part which allows us to think over an action or a bad habit, implying a cognitive load (an effort) powered by our willpower.
So as a designer, why is this process so important to be comprehended?
Considering the online world as a reflection/extension of our human physical world, it is logical to understand that it responds mostly to the same human rules.
Thus, respecting a pre-built routine of targeted users, it means making them feel comfortable and happy to navigate (and hopefully buy) in your website.
And what exactly is this pre-built routine?
It is the actions users are familiar with, the same steps they usually take to achieve a goal, visual interfaces which they are used to. In a word: STANDARD.
Standards are nowadays so important because allow the users not to trigger their system 2, and quickly jump to the final result without effort, feeling satisfied with the process. Is there anything more a company would like for their customers?
What said doesn’t exclude the possibility of changing the behavior of a website in an unexpected one; this case perfectly fits the might of provoking the attention of your audience, forcing them to think on what they are doing.
But it is essential, as previously said, to keep the same cue and the same reward, driving the users to a new brand experience of use.
However, what is the ultimate price of destroying the certainties of your users?
Because, as the famous Ux-designer Steve Krug writes in his best-seller, the inner voice of people always scream “Don’t make me think!“.
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