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UX Design for Dogs

UX Design for Dogs

It is becoming increasingly difficult to attract attention to the specific web content that makes your site unique. Using concepts such as classical conditioning can help us understand how users think and act to amplify this attention and focus on the most important content.

Pavlov, Conditioning & User Experience

The concept of conditioning behavior is so well-known it’s practically pop culture. Pavlov showed that dogs could learn to salivate when he rang a bell, and since then, many of us have tried to adapt his theories for humans. In The Big Bang Theory episode where Sheldon uses positive reinforcement in an attempt to change Penny’s behavior, he gives her a chocolate every time she does something the way he wants. Wouldn’t it be best if our users felt rewarded for learning to navigate the digital spaces we design?

Inferences and Icons

Most of us have developed a series of involuntary but conditioned responses in how we use a website. We no longer have to learn the Internet anew with every session. From checking messages to making calls, calling up a map or taking a picture, icons allow us to organize a large set of tasks even using small devices. Many of these icons have become so conditioned into our set of Internet responses that they have become different kinds of inferences in the design world.

The best way to understand an inference is to think of a door. Some handles tell us to push, some handles tell us to pull. We don’t stop to think about this, and if the door reacts in a different-than-expected manner we get frustrated.

On web pages, there are certain icons we expect to behave much like these door handles. An ‘X’ in an upper right hand corner will close a window. A radio button implies a single choice while a checkbox can imply many. Links are underlined and buttons should be clickable. All of these inferences evoke a Pavlovian response in our behavior and should allow us to focus on the content of a site.

Don’t Push Users Away

What happens to content when our inferences are misleading? Much like the frustration involved with a door that only pulls open when the handle looks like it should be pushed, it can be embarrassing or even cause a customer to leave. In order to maximize the time we get from our users, it is important to keep the focus away from how the site works and draw attention to the message you want to send.

Steps to maximize the conditioning your users already have:

  • Inventory
  • Focus
  • K.I.S.S.
  • Test
Figure out what you have on your page. Do you have 15 unclickable icons? How many of your links don’t go anywhere? An automated crawler tool will be the fastest and easiest way to accomplish this, as the software robots will find all the hidden items you might not notice with your naked eye.
Once you have a list of everything, pick what is most important to your target audience. Even pick one specific page. This may seem in opposition to some of the SEO buzz going around, but it actually isn’t. Your strongest metadata and keywords should be focused on your most important content. If Google parses to your blog of December 2010, this won’t be as strong as getting hits on your product launch page, no matter how many hits you get. Users should be landing on a page that they can understand and gives them a representative view of who you are.
Keep all the brainpower focused on your key content. Every time the user has to stop and figure out a navigation item, such as how to get back to the home page, they stop thinking about what you really want to tell them.
Test, click, and test again. If you have time, go through every button and link and make sure it behaves as it should. Anything that is broken will draw the user’s attention away from your message. At this point I strongly emphasize usability testing. Whether it is beta users, interviews, or in-person testing this is the point where someone else will start to notice the things you have become conditioned to yourself.

The fight for attention is exactly why we have to maximize the tools we already have. Basic browsing and icon navigation have become classically conditioned behaviors that we can capitalize on to bring focus to our specific content message.

(Editor’s note: A version of this article originally appeared on the Content Insight blog.)

About Kate Hagan

I graduated from the Master of Science in Information Management program in 2013 after studying UX and Content Strategy. I served as the Publicity Officer for AIMS during my time as a student and am a proud alum. I currently work as a Content Marketing Strategist located in the SODO area of Seattle, and as a freelance writer and information manager. I'm an avid SciFi fan. When I'm not reading I'm probably spoiling my dog or doing yoga.

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