ui designer

First impressions

Design personas as outlined by Aaron Walter aim to create a distinct personality for a brand or product.

“A design persona describes the methods of channeling personality … and will help a team of designers to construct a unified and consistent product.”

It follows that if we create personalities for our products, we can benefit from personality impression techniques to improve the short and long term product perceptions. It’s all just standard UX principles but to give those decisions a solid foundation in theory gives them a higher chance of succeeding during user testing phases.

Your product the person

Users of our products will feel more emotionally involved if they receive the impression that on the other end of the interface there is a person. Not necessarily a real person, but a human personality integrated into the experience. We should do this because emotional experiences have been proven to improve memory recall.

“Emotionally charged events persist much longer in our memories and are recalled with much greater accuracy than neutral memories” Dr John Medina

It centres on the parts of the brain being used during interactions. Simply put, the amygdala helps create and maintain emotions, plus releases loads of lovely dopamine, and dopamine is excellent for memory recall.

“Recall is linked with emotion. If pain, joy, excitement, or any other strong emotion is present during an event, the neurons active during this event produce strong connections with each other. When this event is remembered or recalled in the future, the neurons will more easily and speedily make the same connections”
Heuer, Friderike; Reisberg, Daniel (1 September 1990)

So if we can create feelings of joy and excitement and minimize feelings of frustration and pain we can improve the experiences and memories users have of our products. This is more important if we put our products forward as personalities because the user will judge the product with the same criteria they use for interpersonal relationships.

Impression formation

We do this from a very young age and by the time we reach adulthood we are very accomplished at it. So much so that we can make a decision about our preference for something or someone within a few milliseconds.

Research has shown that in the first few milliseconds of our perceiving something we not only unconsciously comprehend what it is, but decide whether we like it or not: the cognitive unconscious, Goleman

Four principles arose out of research conducted first by Solomon Asch subsequently replicated with further research.

  • Individuals have a natural inclination to make global dispositional inferences about the nature of another person’s personality.
  • Individuals expect observed behaviours to reflect stable personality traits.
  • Individuals attempt to fit information about different traits and behaviours into a meaningful and coherent whole.
  • Individuals attempt to explain and rationalize inconsistencies when the available information does not fit with the global perception.

How do these principles transfer over to product design? Well, firstly we need to make a good impression, that means no crap experiences, no dodgy user flows that end in confusion or too many unknowns, no forcing the user to do something they haven’t agreed to because the board members think it would be cool. Secondly keep experiences consistent allow the user to build the ‘meaningful and coherent whole’ of our products without any inconsistencies. Finally we need to show that the design decisions have been made with focus and presence, that the product they are using can hopefully do what they want and do it well, and throw in some warm, friendly and positive language or where required language to suit the specific user group. A bad experience in the first few moments will cloud the subsequent experiences and vice versa.

Positive emotional response

Users are going to judge our products fast, in the first few moments of viewing them and the first few moments of interacting with them. Those moments are key to cementing a strong and positive emotional response and to get that amygdala pumping the kool-aid. Not only will that help our users to remember task processes it will make them more likely to come back and use the product in the future.

It’s important therefore, to firstly align the experience and personality to expectations for the target audience, and secondly to create a UX that provides a positive experience for the cognitive unconscious. In the same way that charismatic individuals leave a person with positive feelings about themselves, we can use techniques within our products to create strong positive memories.