Usablility and Seduction

by Joe Havelick 21. October 2012 14:36

In our company book club, we have read a few books with focuses on usability. These include Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability, and Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experiences. They are both excellent books and have slightly different focuses. Don't Make Me Think includes a lot of simple principles that can help developers understand the fundamentals of web usability. While there is nothing groundbreaking there, it's a great starting point for those that have never thought too hard about usability in their own apps or websites. Seductive Interaction Design discusses techniques by which you can "seduce" users to achieve certain goals using techniques that map to psychological principals. While there is a usability component to this, it's actually a much higher level function. However, it's a lot more fun to use. Implementations include elements of gamification and aesthetics, which are just plain fun for a developer to design. But therein lies the rub:

Building a seductive interface is meaningless, unless basic usability issues have been addressed.

Back in the 90's, there was a sketch comedy troupe on MTV called The State. And they had a sketch called Taco Man. The crux of the dialog is that the postal customer is upset that he is not getting his mail, despite getting fabulous tacos in his mailbox. It's not that he doesn't want the tacos, but that he needs his mail. Without the mail, he can't pay his bills, and would lose his house, making the tacos irrelevant.

Just like Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which theorizes that higher level psychological needs (love, self-actualization) cannot be met before basic ones (physical needs, safety), I propose that there is a similar hiearchy for features and usability in apps:

  1. Works as designed - The app is able to perform as advertised
  2. Works as expected - The app has basic usability and a user doesn't need to refer to a manual.
  3. Flow - The app has advanced usability and a user is able to "autopilot" through tasks efficiently.
  4. Seduction - The user desires to use the application. They use it, even when not necessary.
 
Now, the hierarchy could be broken down differently, so I'm not going to contend that I have the best model. The point of this is that there are levels that must be achieved, and you are not able to skip over a level. You cannot build a seductive app out of one that is fundamentally unusable. It's not that the tacos (seduction) are not important, it's just that the mail (usability) is a higher priority. So while it may seem like fun to invest in designing and implementing seductive interfaces, developers and product managers should be conscious of the basic needs that preceded it.

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