The nerdy science that explains why the un-boring websites win
It’s easy to get swept up in carefully-crafted advertising campaigns aimed at invoking some form of action – you are presented with a well-designed product and start making assumptions about the rest of its characteristics. While this isn’t necessarily something brands are doing on purpose, cognitive biases likely affect your judgment.
You could be on the lookout for an analytics platform and come across a product with a presentation so inspiring you’re sold before you’ve seen the actual product. Operating on the assumption that a presentation this good means the platform must be just as good (or better,) you skip the demo step and purchase it, only to find out that functionality-wise – it lacks some crucial features.
The opposite is also true. You could have heard a brand’s product was more miss than hit and assume that the rest of their offerings aren’t worth paying attention to, either.
Actions based on assumptions are a daily occurrence for us. Life would be way too dull if every decision were calculated and backed by rigorous research. In his “Thinking Fast and Slow” book, Daniel Kahneman breaks down our thinking patterns into System I and System II.
System I is our “autopilot”; decisions we make on the fly without too much thought invested. System II is the nerd – spreadsheets, logs, schematics, and the other stuff we need to make sound, logical decisions.
Things like 2+2 are instinctive and are handled by System I. You know that it equals 4. Same goes for characters in a movie; you see a neat and friendly girl, you make assumptions about her other traits (even if they turn out to be wrong later on). You are conditioned to recognize character “templates.” Saying “Hello!” when you meet a friend? Yup, System I.
What’s 13 multiplied by 32? Noticed yourself lagging after reading that? That’s System II firing up. Unless you made an effort to remember the answer to that specific question, System II is responsible for figuring it out, and it’s a conscious effort to answer that question, even if you’ve used a calculator.
We’re lazy by design, which is why System I decisions come easier – System II burns more fuel. This conditioning is a judgment blind spot called “cognitive bias.”
This article is going to be a bit bipolar. We’ll show brands how to present their products better online and show customers how to avoid mind-tricks. Grab some seat.
Refresh your knowledge – cognitive bias definitions
In a study, two groups of people were asked the same question: what is the height of the tallest sequoia tree on Earth? One group was asked, “Is the highest sequoia taller than 366 meters?” The other group, “Is the highest sequoia taller than 55 meters?” The answer difference in these groups is overwhelming. Group 1’s average guesstimation of height was 257m. Group 2 – 86m.
We’ll save you the Google search; it’s 87.2m.
Your past impressions form a bias for your next steps, conclusions, and thoughts. One group of students were asked to make a sentence out of the words “old, weak, retired, wrinkles, worry.” The other – “courage, strength, wealth, young.” The first group left the room slower, and with their heads down, the second walked out cheerfully.
We form our judgment about the qualities of people or things based on stereotypes we recognize as our first impressions. This effect is deeply ingrained into our world. Here’s an example.
Take Linda, for example. It is a classical research, also made by Daniel Kanneman.
You are told that Linda is “31 years old, single, outspoken, and very bright. She majored in philosophy. As a student, she was deeply concerned with issues of discrimination and social justice, and also participated in antinuclear demonstrations.” The question is simple, out of a list of given scenarios, which one is more probably:
- Linda is a bank teller
- Linda is a feminist bank teller
About 80% of undergraduates in a study decided Linda is a feminist bank teller. While reading Linda’s description, you’ve started forming an image in your head that strengthened with every word you’ve read, and the moment you saw the word “feminist” in the list, your mind darted to it, forgetting that the question was about probability and that Linda being a “bank teller” is more probable than her being a “feminist bank teller.”
Considering to buy shoes that I don’t like
Here is an example of classic storytelling based on the halo effect.
kalso.com is the website of a shoe brand that tells a story about its founder. Looking through the story, it feels like this woman spent her life advocating for shoe comfort. She made bold decisions and stood by her vision. You get to see the shoes only after going through the whole story. I caught myself thinking that these shoes look like a statement. The brand is quite feministic: it cares for comfort and screams that a woman is not meant to please the eye; a woman makes great and important things happen.
Now, let’s imagine for a second that the first thing I saw on the website was the shoes. No story. They are expensive, unsightly shoes that I wouldn’t be caught dead in.
And now the cherry on top. Suppose I were a logical person – nothing I saw on that website proves that the shoes are comfortable. I haven’t seen any medical certifications, customer reviews—nothing of the kind.
I don’t like the shoes, but I believe the story. By telling her story on the website before showing the shoes, they bought themselves the benefit of the doubt. Now, I know that it’s a controversial brand, and I may discover more about them, but try to buy or see the shoes offline.
Looking into a new project management system without having a need to switch
How would you usually approach a software solution presentation? Unique sales points, features, benefits, customer reviews. I’m not just pulling this out of thin air – these are things we’ve done countless times for our clients, but I think this is the past.
Suppose you start your presentation by talking about what you had in your heart when you created this software. There’s a good chance the following features, benefits, and customer reviews will be perceived more favorably.
Science supports this assumption 🙂
Here’s an example: gsoft.com is a website that introduces a line of management software products while completely omitting feature descriptions. These guys present themselves, their vision, values, story… You can’t help but believe that they should be able to create substantially different products and a new way of management with an attitude like that. You believe in them.
“Accidentally” buying a Squarespace subscription
It’s all in the presentation. Take dreamers.squarespace.com, for example.
Imagine you are looking to build a website. Haven’t decided on the framework or a site-builder. You come across this website. The presentation is professional yet personal. It speaks to you. You’re presented with relatable, trustworthy people before you’ve read even a single word. At this point, you’re already emotionally invested.
“These guys look successful,” you think to yourself. You still have no idea what the website is selling, but the priming effect has taken place; you want what they have and convince yourself that you need it. This website promotes Squarespace — a famous (and good) website building platform. You believe that designers using Squarespace must be exceptional! You’re either ready to hire one or to use the platform yourself.
Everybody likes supporting the independent these days
Look at rekki.com. These guys aim to cut the middleman between restaurants and product providers. They want to encourage human-to-human interaction, allow for a wider choice and a more honest price. They support independent restaurants and independent providers.
Can you imagine this website looking posh, neat, or anything of the sort? No, they look raw, making them feel trustworthy and daring while lowering the distance. Their mission statement says this, but the trick is you don’t need to read it. You just know.
People are not rational; they rationalize.
When you present your business to the customer, think about the image you create. In no way do I suggest tricking people into false conclusions. But… consciously constructing your image and your story provides a much better starting position than the one you’d have had you immediately jumped into listing benefits.
… and actually, every business has a story, the internal drive that makes your team get up in the morning, that made you or your founders create the company in the very first place. Once we designers get our clients to think about their image, I often see how they start reinventing it, seeking a deeper meaning and a more ambitious goal.