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originally posted by Jamey Baumgardt: (link) - please comment at original post

Neuro Web Design

Neuro Web Design

I finally finished reading Neuro Web Design: What Makes Them Click? by Susan M. Weinschenk, Ph.D.  This was a book I swore would take me two days to read, but it ended up taking me two weeks.  It was a very quick read and 100% accessible.  I just don’t have much time to read these days.  I’ll have to work on that.

At any rate, this particular book was “assigned” to me by my boss Jonah Sterling.  He’d read it and found it quite insightful, and thought I would find it equally interesting.  So what’s my take on it?  Well, I thought overall it was pretty good, if a little misleading in its title.  To me it was much less about web design and much more about psychology.  I would have called it something like Things About Human Psychology That You Maybe Weren’t Aware Of and How Companies Selling Things on the Internet are Using This Knowledge.  But that’s a little long for a book title, I suppose.

Judging this book from its cover, I was expecting a book about design, which to me, as a visual designer, is about, well, designing visually.  This misunderstanding on my part is probably simply due to a matter of semantics in regards to the term web design.  Clearly this can mean a lot of different things to a lot of different folks.  For the author of this book, web design is something more like web strategy, especially the kind of strategy that is good for people trying to sell or promote their businesses online.  Don’t get me wrong—this is interesting stuff.  It’s just not what I’d expected.

So, all that aside, how was the book?  I’d give it a B+.  It was very quick and easy to read, and written in layman’s terms so that a non-psychologist like myself could easily grasp the concepts the author put forward.  However, the content felt a little basic in nature, and at times I wanted something deeper and with more complexity.  I will say that to her credit she cited and described countless human experiments to back up her claims, which I found fascinating.  In fact, the most interesting parts of the book for me were the summations of the psychological studies where she explained the results of the various tests she was citing.  Great stuff!

I’d recommend this book for web strategists looking to improve sales, membership, and community on their website properties.  But I would not necessarily classify it as a “must-read” for a purely visual designer.  Like I told my fellow co-worker Devin earlier today, this book will help you with interpersonal relationships much more than it will help with designing or building a website.

Here are a few highlights of things I took away from the book:

Three Brains
Apparently we have three brains: an old brain, a mid brain and the new brain.  We’ve had the old brain and mid brain for a long time, but the new brain is a relative newcomer on the evolutionary stage.  The old brain is in charge of survival, and keeps tabs on automatic systems like breathing and digestion.  The mid brain processes emotions (this part of the brain is responsible for things like impulse purchases).  The new brain handles everything else—language processing, sensory perception, thinking thoughts, planning, etc.

We have three brains: the old brain, the mid brain and the new brain.

We have three brains: the old brain, the mid brain and the new brain.

All three brains are connected of course (one of the things that differentiates humans from lower animals), and together process an average of 11 million sensory inputs every second.  That seems pretty overwhelming, but of those 11 million, we are only processing about 40 of them consciously.  The unconscious part of our brain, the old brain, handles the rest, behind the scenes.

It turns out most of our decisions are made unconsciously based on emotion (in the mid brain), rather than on conscious, logic-based thought.  We think we are making conscious, logical choices in our lives, because we are quick to create justifications for our purely emotional responses (we do this with the new brain—it’s called confabulation), but in fact it’s just not true.  Triggering an emotional response in someone is likely to yield more positive results than appealing to their logic.

Reciprocity and Concession
Reciprocity is based on the idea of “if you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.”  Actually, the apt description would be something more like “if I scratch your back, you will be more likely to feel obligated to return the favor.”  And yep, you guessed it, this is an unconscious reaction.  If someone does something nice for you, you unconsciously feel indebted to him or her.  This is an old/mid brain reaction that dates way back and that probably evolved in response to individuals finding ways to survive and operate within a social construct.

Even our distant ancestors have mastered the art of reciprocity.

Even our distant ancestors have mastered the art of reciprocity.

Concession is another survival tactic (sometimes referred to as “rejection then retreat”) that we use to get what we want.   Here’s an example:  A teenager wants her mother to buy her a $100 pair of jeans.  She knows the answer is likely to be no if she asks for $100 outright.  Instead, she asks her mother for a $250 pair of jeans.  Of course the answer is no (and if this were my mother, it would have been “Oh HELL no, are you crazy??  What, do you think we’re made of money??  Get a JOB!”).  But after her mother rejects the $250 pair of jeans, the daughter can look disappointed and offer up a cheaper alternative (for the jeans she wanted all along):  “Ok, I guess $250 is a lot for a pair of jeans… What about these?  They are only $100.”  By conceding to her mother over the expensive jeans, she was really giving her a gift, and therefore creating a sense of indebtedness in her mother’s unconscious mind.  Because of this she is much more likely to get the $100 pair of jeans than if she’d just asked for them from the start.

Snails participating in procreation, an act, if not enjoyable, then at the very least necessary to the survival of their species.

Snails participating in procreation, an act, if not enjoyable, then at the very least necessary to the survival of their species.

Danger, Sex and Food
Your old brain cares about one thing and one thing only:  You.  In the early days of the evolutionary timeline the old brain was specifically concerned with really only three things:  making sure you didn’t get killed, finding food for you to eat, and securing sexual liaisons for you to propagate the species.  And as much as Puritan America likes to fight this idea, the truth of the matter is that these basic old brain concerns still govern much of our behavior today.

If you’ve spent any time in advertising or marketing (as I have, unfortunately), or if you are more aware than most about how you are being marketed to with commercials and ads, then you are probably hyper-aware that sex sells, plain and simple.  Simple example: you are more likely to buy a certain brand of soda if you see images of people you find attractive enjoying that soda.  Sex and sexiness get our attention like none other.  Similarly, danger and food also have this unconscious effect on us.  It all goes back to our old brain wanting to protect us, provide sustenance for us, and find us suitable mates.

Telling Stories with Pictures
Pictures have been around as long as we’ve had functioning eyeballs.  That is, the world around us and everything in it, as viewed by us, is made up of a series of snapshots constantly being processed by our brains (mostly by the old brain).  We’re built to comprehend the world around us really well via visual imagery.  We’ve been doing it for hundreds of thousands of years.  Contrast that with the written word, which has only been around for a couple thousand years at most.  So it’s a no-brainer (har har) that we pick up and remember ideas and concepts much better when they’re given to us with pictures.  When you hear someone say “Well, I’m more of a visual person,” you can now respond “Duh!  We all are!!”

Watching Liz and Burton kiss on screen is a lot more powerful to us than reading "And then he kissed her" in a book.

Watching Liz and Burton kiss on screen is a lot more powerful to us than reading "And then he kissed her" in a book.

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