The Power of Progress (Bar)


man in airport

Time is precious. We don’t like to wait.  Waiting at a bus stop, being put on hold on the phone or stuck behind a queue in a newsagents; we get annoyed when we are forced to wait.   We could be somewhere else getting on with our busy lives.

And we get very impatient with technology that doesn’t work straight away.   Slow technology or latency can cost business dearly as recent research shows.

 A 1 second delay in page load times (mobile) equals 11% fewer page views, a 16% decrease  in customer satisfaction and 7% loss in conversions.    Aberdeen group 2013.

And not only do we expect the website or app to work straight away, we expect to be able to do what we need to do quickly and or at the very least to have an idea of how long it will take.     Then it is up to us to decide whether we will hang around or come back another time.

quote about lost time

If we do not know how long it might take, we have to take  a guess.   This is an uncomfortable state for us, we are stuck in limbo, unsure whether to stay and complete task or to leave and potentially lose the time we have invested so far.   How do we alleviate this tension?

On the Telephone-

image of telephone“Sorry we are experiencing a busy period, one of our agents will be with you shortly”

The same message repeated over and over again.
This is what I experienced lately when trying to get through to Edinburgh City Council Tax Support.

I had a much better experience when ringing my insurance company to check a detail about my policy

“We are sorry to keep you waiting, waiting times are currently about 15 minutes and you are currently position  no. 8 in the queue”

In that case I the necessary information I needed to make a decision.

-On the Bus-

I was waiting at the bus stop for 10 minutes and still no sign of the bus.  The only clue I had as whether the bus has been or gone is the fact that there were two other confused people hanging around.  Five minutes after I got fed up and start walking, the bus zoomed passed me.  Typical.

Bus tracking technology has completely changed this experience in the last couple of years.  Especially the real time tracking displays at bus stops.  It give passengers the freedom to choice whether to stay or go or wait for bus 19 as opposed to get on bus 45.  Fantastic.   The only downside is that every bus stop doesn’t have one.


When we go online to do something it is important we have an idea of what that task involves and how long it is going to take us.  Good design and clear navigation and information architecture can go a long way towards letting a user know what to expect.   Progress bars are especially useful when a user is engaged in some goal directed behaviour such as completing a form or working through a check-out flow.  Knowing where we are in the flow and how much we have left to complete gives the user more information and therefore more control of the situation.


progress bar

Showing progress also speaks to a human’s need for closure. We humans are generally goal directed and like to achieve goals or tasks. We also feel the need to complete those goals.   There is a good article from KISSmetrics  discussing Gestalt theory of closure which tells us that as soon as a users start out on a task they are already envisaging completeness of the task in their minds.   If the system is continually giving users indicators towards their progression towards achieving that goal it is a generally a much more satisfying experience.



Social Influence in Technology

Social Influence and User Experience

We are all social animals – It is what makes us human. 

So said Paulo Freire, the influential 20 Centaury educator.  People like to converse, discuss and to share ideas and knowledge.  It is how we develop and grow as a society and how, according to Freire, we affect change.

But how does sharing and discussion influence how we behave? Do we make choices depending on what others think, say or do?

Yes we do.  We are all swayed by others.  Whether it be following the advice of those we see as experts – parents, friends, teachers – or liking what your friends like on Facebook or simply buying something because 10,000 other people have bought it that year.

Social influence is strong.

Social Influence is the process by which individuals make real changes to their feelings and behaviour as a result of interaction with other who are perceived to be similar, desirable or expert (Rashotte 2006)

There are many ways people are influenced by others.   To name but a few:

Robert Cialdini in his book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (2006) outlines an interesting concept he calls – Social Proof –where he says that –  People will do things that they see other people are doing.  For example, in one experiment, one or more confederates would look up into the sky; bystanders would then look up into the sky to see what they were seeing.

We conform to what others do or say.  The Asch conformity experiments from the 1950s show how powerful this principle is:


Another interesting social influence has been identified as ‘herding’ and defined here as “the phenomenon of individuals deciding to follow others and imitating group behaviours rather than deciding independently and automatically on the basis of their own, private information”

Have you ever followed the crowd? How about buying something that is in Fashion?

Closely connected is – Information cascading – which states that the decision (even if not the optimal one) made early in the process tends to be the dominant one and is adopted by a group and others who join later on (Baddeley & Parkinson, 2012).

Obedience/Authority: Our decisions will be swayed by those we see as superior or in authority.   Yes Sir.

Individual differences: Of course the amount of influence exerted is somewhat down to the individual and their previous experience, attitudes, their own identity and place within the group/society. (Baddeley & Parkinson, 2012)

Or maybe we follow others actions because sometimes it’s just easier…

Taking a Heuristic Short-cut : Making judgements take time and energy, people follow the decision of others, sometimes because its easier. (Kahneman, 2012)

Why do we need to know?

Knowing how social influence works brings us closer to understanding our customer’s actions and behaviour.
We know that we (and others) trust friends and those we see as experts/influencers.  Above and beyond any product recommendation.
Take TripAdvisor or  Bar last year’s fiasco with TripAdvisor were it was revealed users were paid to write good reviews, users do generally look to other travellers reviews to steer them when making decisions about holidays.  Just recently I noticed TripAdvisor has added an additional dimension to their customer reviews.  They made it personal.  Not only did they offer customer reviews on the hotel I was considering – they let me know that one of the customer reviews was from a friend of mine.  Smart.

Did you know (according to Facebook)   “60% of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers are more likely to recommend those brands since becoming a fan or follower”

People who “Like” stuff on Facebook have a more positive attitude towards it than if they didn’t like it.
Liking something influences later behaviour and purchase intentions.  This is close to what Cialdini calls commitment in his book. Once you have committed (even in a small way) to something, you are much more likely to behave positively towards it later on – in order to remain consistent.

Knowing the social influences at play when your users are making decisions brings us a step closer to understanding their behaviour and then… directing their behaviour in the right direction (the direction you want them to take)…

Trust as part of a positive User Experience

Trust and technology

Trust is important in any relationship and not least in building a relationship with your online customers.   Research tells us that when a customer trusts a company, they anticipate that company will fulfil their needs and expectations (Bauer, 2002; Bhattacherjee, 2002).    And that a consumer’s purchase decision to buy online is complex and sophisticated, but trust is a relevant factor (McKnight, Choudhury & Kacmar, 2002), citied in Zhang et al. 2009.


I became interested in this area when I started usability testing.  We would see two similar applications which performed very much the same in terms of efficiency and ease of use etc. but for some reason, users would much prefer one application over the other.  I believe trust was one of the elements that made the difference.

Good level of trust  =   more positive user experience.

Trust online

While talking to users about online payments, we hear that more and more customers are looking for the lock icon and/or https in the address bar before they commit their credit card details to a site but what about other aspects of trust in an online experience?

According to Nielson Norman GroupTrust is the user’s willingness to risk time, money, and personal data on a website. And they produce a report with design guidelines for increasing trust which is available to download for a fee.

Some advice for free comes from a very interesting article from UX matters which gives us some tips on building trust in e-commerce sites for first time visitors.

Trust Tips (1)

  • Use Trust Elements in Homepage: Professional looking logo , an ‘About us’ link, trusted words such as certified
  • Good Design and Content: User testimonials, the perception of easy search, easily defined categories, clear content etc.
  • Good Design: reduce the information complexity and lower the perceived risk of a transaction

Some other excellent advice for building trust comes from BJ Fogg from Stanford University and his book of Persuasive Technology: Using Computers to Change What We Think and Do.

He tells us that perceived trustworthy and perceived expertise  =  perceived credibility and that a website is more credible if:

Trust Tips (2)

  • It highlights the people or organisation behind content and gives details on service it provides (Give address, phone number, contact and email
  • Links to outside materials. Links to site you believe trustworthy
  • Displays an award
  • If meets your positive expectations – expertise – quick response, email confirmation, easy to find stuff, gives authors, is searchable.
  • If recommended by friend
  • Does not have Pop ups and ads, Out of date info or Domain name and company name not the same.

Conclusion – Building Trust online

Computer technology that is viewed as trustworthy (truthful, unbiased)    = increased power of persuasion and users more likely to perform desired task

And an increased number of trust elements (professional logo etc) combined with clear design, content and ease of navigation    =      increased perception of trustworthiness.

Zhang, X., Prybutock, V.R., Ryan.S., Pavur. R., 2009, ‘A model of relationship among consumer trust, web desing and user attributes’, Journal of Organizational End User Computing, Apr-Jun, pp. 44-66.

The Psychology of User Experience (part 2 of 3)

In the second part of my research on Positive User Experiences I am looking a little closer at what psychology /cognitive science have to do with User Experience.    What concepts are important? My first task in understanding this was to look at what was out there describing User Experience and extract any components of UX which might be considered psychological in nature.   This is what that picture looks like:


Some initial observations:

  • UX is about Humans and technology and involves processes that are both cognitive and affective
  • Emotions and feelings are a core part of user experience and the aim is to provide positive, fun and joyful experiences that connect and are meaningful to users.
  • User experience involves choices and decision-making processes which impacts user behaviour
  • Users’ have their own needs, goals, values which motivate actions
  • Users’ attitudes are important indicators of user behaviour and they come to the experience with prior experiences and expectations.
  • Perceptions, sensory, aesthetics are important concepts; especially in relation to design; elicit subconscious reactions?
  • Digital agencies talk of Experience in terms of brands, designs, and making engagement s more user friendly, meaningful and positive
  • Academics focus on the experience in terms of phenomena that is constructed in the exchange between people and technology.  It is personal, subjective, internal but also very social.

The question is how/can you deconstruct that experience ?

**Got any comments or know of any great resources related to what UX is?   Please leave me a comment!

Up next – part 3 of 3 – How to measure User Experiences..