What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of great design? Most likely something that grabbed your attention and kept it, remaining in your memory long afterward. Whether it was an iPhone or a Herman Miller chair, a well-designed object is unmistakable and unforgettable. So how do you create design that is truly great and passes the test of time?
It is important to know how people’s minds work when designing a product: from vision to the mechanics of memory and unconscious decision-making. Your design has to be adapted to your specific audience. And communicate to them in their language. The creation of a successful product requires understanding people.
But what exactly we can do better to improve the end product? What are the essential elements we should always keep in mind?
Use stories to explain your product
We remember the product better when we have a story in front of us. By story, you should understand connecting the information to an experience we had before. Why? Because combining new knowledge to something that you’re already familiar with, is more likely to stick. And transition from your short-term to your long-term memory.
Telling a story is an effective way of capturing your audience’s attention because a story has a chronological narrative that implies causation.
Since the human brain is always looking for patterns, it fills in gaps by making leaps of causation. The formula of “this caused that, then this happened, then that” — the basic pattern of any story — is easy for the mind to follow.
So how exactly to tell a story? Over 2,000 years ago, Aristotle, a Greek philosopher, came up with the three-act story structure. It means that a story must have a beginning, a middle and an end. The opening explains the characters and situation. The middle provides obstacles for the characters and solutions. And the end shows the climax and conclusion.
Simplify your message
Every waking moment, your subconscious is dealing with roughly 40 billion pieces of information. Only 40 percent of this information makes it to your conscious brain. Your brain is only capable of processing data in bite-sized chunks. Thus, when presenting information make sure you don’t provide too much at once. Always try split up whatever you’re trying to communicate into small groups.
The funny thing is that your brain decides what to remember and what to forget. If you design with human forgetfulness in mind, you’ll make sure to include the most important information only. Do I need to know all those details about your company from your homepage? Or can you move it to a secondary page? Do I need to have all those action buttons on the home screen or can you hide them behind a menu?
In the writing world, for example, there is a saying: if you can delete a sentence, you should. If it doesn’t add value to your idea, then avoid it. Otherwise, you confuse and bore the reader with clutter.
Split information into categories
To process information, people tend to create and store it into categories. Categorizing content into manageable chunks is one way to deal with the overload of information. For example, you could present the information in an organised manner by using subtitles and headings. It’s easier for us to scan the environment first and then dive into details.
The idea is to make the consumption of information as simple as possible. For example, when listing the benefits or the features of a product, you can split them into a list of titles. And people can click on them for details if needed.
Our minds wander a lot, but you can encourage focus. I’m sure it happened to you too — reading a sentence over and over again without taking any information in.
A study undertaken at the University of California found that people think their minds tend to wander 10 percent of the time. But it’s more like 30 percent of the time. It can even be as high as 70 percent — say, if you’re driving on an empty highway.
So if you’re designing a website, it would make no sense to have heavy blocks of text on the welcoming page. People won’t read it. It’s wiser to break up the information with images, illustrations, and other media such as videos. It will give your audience the illusion of wandering while staying focused on your product.
The opposite of the wandering mind is the flow state. Have you ever felt so involved in an activity that you lost track of time? Then you’ve experienced a flow state. To create this state of mind for people while they use your product, you have to cut out the distractions. Take as an example the platform you are reading this article on. Medium is a perfect example of how to remove the clutter from your reading experience.
We want to achieve a goal
If you want people to experience a flow state while using your design, you have to provide constant feedback. This is especially important when designing online. And one way to do this is to send messages that update people with information on their performance.
In essence, this is like how social media apps work. Think about it: the little red notifications you get all the time you open the app. It gives you a dose of dopamine, and the prospect of another dose spurs you to continue using the app. It’s this easy access to instant pleasure that makes social media so addictive.
Imagine that you’re offered a frequent-buyer card at your favourite local coffee shop. Every time you buy a cup, you get a stamp, and when your card is filled, you get a free coffee. Now imagine you could choose between two cards: one that has ten unstamped boxes and one that has 12 boxes, two of which have already been stamped?
Of course, in both cases, you have to buy ten coffees — but the card with 12 boxes will encourage you to get your free cup faster. People speed up their behaviour the closer they get to reaching a goal. So with two stamps already marked on the card, you’ll feel as though you’re closer to achieving it.
- Use stories to explain your product
- Simplify your message
- Split information into categories
- Provide constant feedback
From vision to the mechanics of memory and unconscious decision-making, you need to understand how the human mind works or you won’t be able to create a lasting design. Follow these steps and you will have an early start for your product lifecycle. If you want to know more, you can subscribe for future insights and read my article on how to go about the features of your product. Also, I talk a lot about designing products on my podcast.