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Can UX change behaviour?

10th July 2015

At GCD we are passionate about creating software that’s intuitive and easy to use. We are constantly revisiting the solutions we produce and consider Steve Krug’s “Don’t Make Me Think” approach as one of our founding principles. As designers and developers it is our job to do the thinking for people and make the job of using the software we create as easy as possible to use.

For a long time now I have been fascinated by the concept of usability and user experience, not only on the web but also in how we interact with objects in the real world. How easy is it to set the time on your cooker or microwave? Do the symbols and buttons on my TV remote adequately convey their purpose? Do the signs on doors instantly convey, whether you push or pull? Examples of excellent, and pretty awful, user experiences can be found all around us every day.

It was only recently that I came to realise how clever approaches to UX can not only influence but completely change behaviour. Take me for example, I used to have a really bad habit when driving. As someone who always seems to be in a hurry I would jump into my car, start the engine and drive off reaching for my seatbelt as I reached the end of the driveway or the exit to the car park. I knew this was a bad habit, and I knew it was an even worse example to my young impressionable kids, but regardless of how much I tried to change it I kept falling back into the bad habit.

That was until I changed my car last year. My new car has an automatic gearbox and an electronic handbrake. After starting the engine, you press the foot brake and shift into drive (D) then lift your foot off the brake and accelerate. No need to disengage the handbrake, that happen automatically. Sounds straightforward? Here’s where the value of UX comes in, the car is designed to move only if you have your seat belt on. (Interestingly, without your seatbelt on the handbrake has to be manually disengaged with your foot still on the brake.) I suspect that this is an additional safety feature to prevent kids messing about and accidentally causing the car to move, but it had a surprising effect on my behaviour. The simple added convenience of having the handbrake disengage automatically in exchange for me putting my seatbelt on before driving off was enough to change my habit.

Its amazing how small things can impact our experience of products or services, at GCD we are firm believers in the design, test, iterate approach to building software. We are constantly challenging our assumptions and asking ourselves is there a better way. In the words of the late Steve Jobs “Simple can be harder than complex: You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”.

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on 10th July 2015