Clockwork recently hosted a UPAMN event entitled, “Neuro Web Design – What Makes Them Click?”, presented by Dr. Susan Weinschenk. Dr. Weinschenk’s application of Psychology to technology and her work in the field of User Experience Strategy is compelling and engaging. In her presentation, she discussed the mind’s ability to make unconscious decisions and what that means for us as Information Architects and User Experience Designers.

The Unconscious Mind

Dr. Weinschenk delivered a complex understanding of various levels of brain functioning with a clear approach. Essentially, the human brain consists of three areas that react to stimuli uniquely and independently from one another based on their role in the evolutionary timeline. These areas of the brain are commonly referred to as the Old Brain, the Middle Brain, and the New Brain. The Old Brain is a less-evolved area of the brain that responds with an instinctual fight-or-flight reaction. The Middle Brain naturally responds to stimuli with feelings and emotions, and the New Brain responds with refined thought and conscious decision making. What I find most compelling is the idea that the user experience can be improved by tapping the brain’s natural reactions. User Experience Design is woefully obvious when done poorly, but usually not so obvious when done well. This phenomenon lends itself to the idea of unconscious decision making: when we have a positive experience online, perhaps it is because our conscious mind has not been overly burdened in the process.

The UX Connection

Armed with her understanding of the brain’s various components and their functions, Dr. Weinschenk has applied her knowledge to the field of User Experience Design. UX Designers can, and should, consider how users will process various types of information at various stages in the experience. We know that the Old Brain responds more primal stimuli and wants to be in control. The Middle Brain–responding emotionally–allows for empathic connections. Lastly, the New Brain affords us conscious thought and rational decision making. Dr. Weinschenk provides a basis for us to reevaluate the experience we are creating from a cognitive perspective. We can create page flows and interactions that more deeply connect to users (even on an unconscious level) and provide more satisfying experiences.

A Conscious Decision

To that end, we must reconsider our IA and UX and strategies. While planning site maps and wireframes, we are aware that we need to craft interactions that are logical and intuitive. Additionally, however, we can consider how our planned experiences might elicit specific reactions from various parts of the brain. Are the photos in the design evoking an emotional response where appropriate? Is the rating system we implemented increasing users’ loyalty? Is our content strategy supporting a narrative that the user connects with? Like all Information Architecture and User Experience Design, considering how our sites will affect users on varying cognitive levels needs to be a conscious decision on our part.

You can learn more at Dr. Weinschenk’s blog, whatmakesthemclick.net. Additionally, her latest book, “Neuro Web Design, What Makes Them Click?” is available from Amazon and Peachpit.

About Ryan
Ryan is a User Experience Specialist at Clockwork. Ryan has several years of experience planning and designing websites. His previous background in visual design lends itself to the process of creating online interactions.
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