UX design for the Subconscious mind

“Man is a rational animal. So at least we have been told. Throughout a long life I have searched diligently for evidence in favor of this statement. So far, I have not had the good fortune to come across it.” – Bertrand Russell

We overestimate the role of rationality and meaning in our lives. It is easy to fall into the trap of believing that all our decisions are based on logical reasoning. For example, there is no reason behind most of our preferences in color, fragrance and sound. Although it is possible that you might have a reason for liking RED over GREEN, in most cases this reason is subconscious. One doesn’t just sit down and contemplate why one fragrance is better than the other, it’s just a natural feeling, most of which is subconscious.

Understanding the role of the subconscious mind in decision making is an important step for designers. So, working on a color scheme for a couple of hours is completely worth its time and might be more important than the awesome new feature that you could’ve developed instead. Look and feel aren’t things that JUST make things ‘pretty’. Because having a ‘pretty’ design might play a pivotal role in the client choosing your product over your competition.

Donald Norman talks about three levels of design in his book Emotional Design: Why we love or hate everyday things. The first level is Visceral, which relates to our natural tendencies, all of which are subconscious. The second level is Behavioral, which we as designers tend to focus on the most. Behavioral design deals with the functionality and the usability of products, it’s about what a product can actually do for the user. This level, for the most part is the conscious aspect of using products. However, as mentioned earlier is not the only important factor behind good design. The third level is reflective, which is more about social implications of the design. Hence, questions like, how do people perceive your product? what does owning your product convey? what type of people use your product? play a major role at this level of design.

When reflecting on all these factors it becomes clear that although functionality and usability are important, our natural tendencies guide our choice. Of course having good features is crucial, but it is not the only thing that matters. Designers also have to deal with the subconscious mind to create a good product and human-centered-design is a good approach to do so.


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