Designing for the visceral level of experience attracts attention and may motivate a customer to buy a product. But consider what can happen when the product does not deliver at the behavioral level what it implies at the visceral:

Shortly after midnight, a resident of a small town in southern California called the police to report hearing a man inside a house nearby screaming “I’m going to kill you! I’m going to kill you!” Officers arrived on the scene and ordered the screaming man to come out of the house. The man stepped outside, wearing shorts and a Polo shirt. The officers found no victim inside the house. The man had been yelling at his computer [39, p. 89].

The description above, based on a police report from Seal Beach, California, illustrates the intensity of frustration that can develop when the behavioral level of experience is not addressed in software design. And this example is not even the most extreme: a man in Lafayette, Colorado was arrested on suspicion of felony menacing, reckless endangerment, and the prohibited use of weapons after he shot his laptop four times in a bar and hung it on the on the wall like a hunting trophy. He never explained what prompted his actions, but told police that it seemed like the right thing to do at the time [24]. These are extreme examples of what is referred to as “computer rage” [25]; computer rage is widespread, for example, 70% of computer users surveyed in the UK admitted to shouting, swearing, or being violent to their computers [16]. The cost to British industry is a staggering £25,000 ($40,000) per employee per year in lost productivity as users work to troubleshoot computer problems [25]. As astounding as this estimate is, controlled research backs it up, one study showing that 38% of computer user’s time is lost to frustrating experiences [23]. Chief among these frustrations were user interface issues such as poor error messages, bad URLs, system responses that are inconsistent with user actions, and annoying, missing, or hard to find features.

For companies that use software and intranet information sources—whether externally or internally developed—this sort of frustration carries a huge cost in lost productivity and dampened employee moral. For companies that sell software and Web services, this sort of frustration provokes customer defection, damages hard-won reputations, and reduces word-of-mouth referrals, the consequences of which are well documented: reducing customer defections by 5% can boost profits by 25% to 85% [110] and retaining existing customers is six times less expensive than attracting new ones [114]. Add to this the escalating support cost when users vent to support staff, and you begin to understand the business impact of poor behavioral design.

A positive behavioral experience results from a combination of product usefulness and usability. A product is useful when it meets the day-to-day needs of its users. In other words, most of its features are needed or wanted by most of its users. This is a delicate balancing act: missing features will frustrate users, while too many features will make the product unwieldy and cumbersome. Observational methods outlined in the User Research section  (see p. 15) can help you discover the features that have significant user appeal and avoid investing resources to develop features that will simply clutter your product.

A product is usable when it is effective, efficient, engaging, easy to learn, and error tolerant [106]. These “Five Es” of usability are explained below:

  • Effective. Affords goal accomplishment with minimum effort.
  • Efficient. Allows rapid task completion with few errors.
  • Engaging. Offers enjoyable day-to-day operation.
  • Easy to learn. Supports rapid initial skill acquisition and expanded skill development with experience.
  • Error tolerant. Prevents errors and supports error recovery.

A product with good usability will have all the above attributes. Combined with usefulness, usability provides a consistently positive behavioral experience that inspires high-levels of product loyalty. Behavioral and visceral appeal together create a product experience that is attractive on first impression and remains enjoyable over the long haul, making a compelling product offering. However, there is one more level of experience to consider during product development, the level.

Contents, User Experience Engineering (UXE) Essentials Series