Study of Human Behavior

“This is stupid!” she exclaimed in a thick, New Jersey accent.

The object of this invective? A web site.

The setting? A usability test in the lab.

The result? Priceless. As the moderator, nothing I could ever say or do would convey the power of those three, simple words. It doesn’t get any better (or worse) than this.

Customer experience, user experience, focus on the customer, we care. We’ve heard it all before. Yet, time and again, companies produce designs that baffle, frustrate, and, anger customers.

Fear not user advocates. We are not alone. In her well-received book, Resonate, renowned presentation expert Nancy Duarte writes: “Companies tend to emphasize the product and its features, instead of focusing on how it can make users’ lives better.”

The question, of course, is how. How do we move away from a myopic focus on next quarter’s earnings or the seemingly endless obsession with each version of the company logo? Persuasion is rarely easy and merits its own series of posts.

In its stead, let us follow the example of Bump CEO David Lieb who deftly explains why our products are not as simple as we think. Lieb favors lightening the cognitive load over traditional definitions of simplicity such as minimizing time and reducing the number of steps required to complete a task.

Reducing the cognitive load or cognitive overhead in Lieb’s words is not a new idea. What is unconventional, however, is his approach. Lieb recommends making users work more not less, slowing down the product, and testing drunk users. You read that right. Testing users while they are drunk, argues Lieb, approximates tests with the very young and very old when neither is available.

In short, Lieb’s case for simplicity rests on a single, intriguing idea: Traditional approaches to achieving simplicity may do little or nothing to lighten the user’s cognitive load. The key, rather, is to slow things down, make users work harder, and test users at their worst.

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