Traditional design education focuses almost exclusively on matters of aesthetics – the way that things look and behave, generally following current (or somewhat outdated) fashions in digital deign. What seems to be entirely neglected is the far more important topic of influence.
That is not to say that aesthetics are to be altogether disregarded: it has been shown that users are more likely to show initial interest in interacting with an attractive interface than an unattractive one – but this tends to be superficial: if interacting with the attractive object renders no benefit, or turns out to be more difficult than expected, it is quickly abandoned. And this is the reason many websites and mobile applications fail to achieve their business goals.
In its most basic sense, influence is about guiding human behavior toward the achievement of a desirable outcome. And in the commercial world, this desirable outcome must be mutually beneficial – the firm seeks to gain a financial benefit, and to do so it must deliver a practical benefit to the user. Influence is a matter of convincing the customer they will receive that benefit, reminding them as they progress of the benefit they will receive, and demonstrating to them afterward that the promised benefit was indeed delivered.
It seems rather simple, but in reality is quite difficult – and even more so when designers focus on the attractiveness of an interface and ignore its purpose, or understand its purpose only in a superficial way. To succeed at influence, designers must have deeper knowledge of purpose and intent. To be more specific:
- The designer must know what the customer wishes to achieve
- The designer must assess how much time, effort, and money the customer is willing to expend
- The designer must convince the customer that their solution will deliver the desired outcome for an acceptable cost (or change their perception of what is acceptable)
- The designer must convince the customer that their solution is in some way superior (better benefit, less cost, less risk) than alternate methods
- To maintain engagement, the designer must keep the customer mindful of the connection between action and result and maintain a positive cost/benefit proposition
- To gain re-engagement, the designer must ensure the customer appreciates the results and is satisfied that they were worth the costs.
All of this is quite difficult, given that each customer’s perception of need, cost, and risk is idiosyncratic. And this is the reason it is so difficult to be influential, and likely the reason that influence is disregarded in favor of aesthetics, which are much easier to assess and achieve.