Seductive Interaction Design: A UX Booth Book Review

September 27th, 2011
Published on
September 27th, 2011

When talk builds about making seductive interactions, it’s nice to have people like Stephen Anderson giving us his two cents. Here are my two cents on his two cents.

When I started studying for my degree in Interactive Media Production, I had never heard of UX and neither, dare I say it, would’ve any of my lecturers. UX wasn’t something that was covered during my 3 years of study. Even as I entered into the fabled World of Work, I’d heard very little of usability, and it seemed most job roles called for designers or developers.

I then began working for a larger agency that had just created a brand new UX team which was tasked with making usable websites. After a few years of success, the team then expanded and begun to employ specialists within the UX, employing UX practitioners, UX consultants and UI designers. This change seemed to bring about a shift of focus from making websites not only usable but also enjoyable to use.

Let’s get seductive

The point I’m taking forever to make is that the web design industry has evolved at a rapid rate. It went from building websites to compete with your competitors to making websites usable and accessible, and now to what we see where information architects, UX designers, interface designers, interaction designers, and all manner of different specialties falling under the umbrella of User Experience.

This explosion of specialists has prompted the industry to flourish, and the knowledge base within it is growing by the day. It now seems to be a given that a website being published today will be usable; however, the new focus is on making websites seductive.

Stephen Anderson has written a wonderful book called Seductive Interaction Design: Creating Playful, Fun, and Effective User Experience that looks at some excellent examples of websites employing seductive design, which doesn’t stop at merely pointing them out, as Stephen explains: “…the actual examples will soon be outdated (or imitated), but the reasons these ideas worked in the first place won’t change.” This is why the book is such a success—it’s not just a book full of examples. It delves into the fundamental psychological theories behind exactly why each of the examples work so well.

That said, Anderson has a warning for anyone who thinks they can just copy these examples and expect them to be a success:

“Adding ‘playful’ elements on top of a frustrating experience will only complicate things.”

It’s all a game…or is it?

It’s always great to be in a position to think about how you can seduce your audience into loving your website or application, but you must first be sure that you’ve got the basics sorted.

One very famous example that gets dissected in the book is the now infamous LinkedIn progress bar. This idea of “gamification” has blown up since their success and it seems that every site has some aspect of gaming added to it at the moment. However, gamification shouldn’t just be added to a site without understanding exactly why certain elements work. There also needs to be a great deal of consideration around exactly what you are “gaming.”

“A game first has to be…engaging…without the points and the badges that get so much attention; a simple reward schedule…however addictive…leads to frustration if people don’t enjoy the activity being reinforced.”

The important point to take from this is that the activity you are trying to add game mechanics to must be in demand by your audience, else any success you see will be short lived. It’s not possible to make a success out of something that is failing through gamification alone—you must solve the underlying problems, which goes back to the earlier point about getting the fundamentals right before looking to seductive interactions.

One important element that Anderson highlights is that the language used in your website needs to fit the personality of the brand. He points out that a lot of forms online today seem to forget that people are being asked to fill them out, and the language being employed is that of a computer and not a conversation between two people.

Role play makes everything better…

There is an excellent, and seemingly obvious (once pointed out), role play exercise that tries to draw attention towards the language being used during a form process. Anderson recommends that you actually have a conversation with someone as if you were asking them for the information that the form is requesting. The technique is excellent at helping you find areas where the language could be friendlier and it also does a good job of highlighting the areas that could pose a problem to the person using the form.

Seductive Interaction Design is an excellent book for people looking to gain a basic understanding of psychology and how these theories are being applied to modern day websites and applications. However, and Steven also quotes these books, if you want an even deeper understanding of psychological theory, I’d highly recommend Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini.

Another recommendation I’d make with this book is that you should go and buy the Mental Notes card deck that Anderson created last year. It is an excellent set of cards that summarizes 52 UX theories and are a handy reminder to have with you.

As an end note, I’ve read a few books on Kindle for iPhone and been disappointed with the way it had been converted. However, that isn’t the case with this book. It’s a great conversion and the screenshots have been positioned exactly where you would want them. Having it on my phone means that I will always have it handy whenever I need it. So if you pick it up, don’t be worried about ebook quality.

So what about you? Have you read any books on seductive design lately? Sound off in the comments; we’d love to hear your thoughts.