Interaction Design: We Have Cognitive Dissonance

I take the Apple commute bus to and from work each day. One day, I saw my bus from far away. As I got on the bus, I did not recognize the driver, but that’s happened a lot of times before. As I chose my seat, I was hoping the bus wouldn’t get full and I would need to sit with someone. This almost always happens but didn’t happen that day. I also noticed that the back of the seats looked different. After 15 minutes, I fell asleep and was in and out. As we approached San Francisco, I looked up and saw we were in traffic and fell back to sleep. I didn’t recognize the house style that was outside. The bus hitting the first stop woke me up, as usual, and I looked up and realized I had been on the wrong bus – it lead me to the mission district which is a 20 minute drive from where my house is (and almost an hour for public transportation). There were so many clues to indicate that I was on the wrong bus and I dismissed them all. I thought I saw a blue “19” from far away on the bus dashboard, but it was a green “MD”. I wish there was some indication inside the bus that I can tell whether I was on the right bus, but I assume they don’t expect people to be so..foolish? This is cognitive dissonance. I was making every excuse to explain why the bus driver, the bus itself, how crowded it was, as simply “unusual” circumstances but never questioned I was on the wrong bus.

How often does this happen in user interfaces? Maybe you click SEND rather than DELETE (location of the buttons’ fault?). Sometimes you find yourself doing what you’re not intending to do. We love running on auto-pilot using just the primitive side of your brain. When we need to use that frontal cortex because you’re analyzing all the info coming into your senses, it makes it hard to multi-task. So there needs to be a balanced.

Consider each time you require your users to learn something, especially something complex. This requires the frontal cortex, analyzing stimuli, and synthesizing information. This can be stressful and draining. Allow users to go on auto-pilot as much as possible, but never lead them astray.

As users, we have learned behaviors and often do the same thing when we approach user interfaces. This is why consistency is so important in design. If you design something that looks like a field box with a scrollbar, expect users to tap into it to try to type.

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