• Andrew Pacio

Habituation

Updated: Oct 27

Recently I've been reading Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think." Krug mentions his first law of usability, which is literally "Don't make me think." Pages must be self-evident and require the users not to think at all. At the end of the chapter, he state's why this is so important.


-They(users) may have no choice but to stick with it(a website or an app) if it’s their only option (e.g., a company intranet, or their bank’s mobile app, or the only site that sells the rattan they’re looking for).

-You’d be surprised at how long some people will tough it out on sites that frustrate them, often blaming themselves and not the site. There’s also the “I’ve waited ten minutes for this bus already, so I may as well hang in a little longer” phenomenon.

-Besides, who’s to say that the competition will be any less frustrating?


His statement about "sticking with it", and "toughing it out" made me realize that this experience is similar to the concept of habituation. If users stuck with using the only website available to them, they will get used to it, and "habituate" with it.


What is Habituation?

Habituation is a type of learning process where a response to a reaction decreases as it is repeated over time. For example, a person using an uncomfortable chair will get used to it as the chair is used frequently and repeatedly.


Where did I learn this from?

Habituation is proven by the iPod designer Tony Fadell. In his TED Talk, Fadell talks about habituation and what designers should pay close attention to when designing a new product. "As human beings, we have limited brainpower, and so the brain encode the everyday things we do into habits, so we can free up space to learn new things."


Fadell uses an example through driving. When we first experience driving, we pay attention to everything that goes on around us. However, as time goes by, driving became easier and easier. We habituated driving. We are able to listen to music and talk to our friends while driving. If humans do not habituate, we would notice every little detail every time, thus having no time to learn new things.


Fadell then claims that habituation is not always a good thing. "If habituation stops us from noticing the problems around us, then that's bad. If that stops us from noticing the problem around us, then that's really bad."


In the early days of the iPod, designers noticed that gadgets that had batteries had to be charged before they were used. At Apple, they noticed. They determined that customers wanted products that they could use immediately. Macbooks always crashing to the ground while it's connected to the charger? Now we have Magsafe.


Habituation helps us identify problems that seem to have stayed for so long before anyone actually complains about it. At the same time, we as humans get used to how things are. Take the design of Craigslist, for example. It has been consistent for so many years and we've gotten used to the old school design(I would think). Since the purpose of Craigslist never changed and stays true to its basic roots of helping people post or find something, a slicker design is unnecessary. I would use habituation as a form of problem-identification with great caution.


Why it matters in UI/UX?

In order to take advantage of habituation, designers should "look broader, look closer, and think younger", as Fadell mentioned. Keep doing usability tests and look for patterns of opportunity. On a different note, customers may have gotten used to your product and probably wouldn't want any changes at all. Examples include Craigslist or even Tropicana's packaging redesign. We shouldn't rely on our users getting used to archaic designs when it can be made better; however, we should also think about factors such as product relatability or emotional attachment when redesigning a product.



I've linked Tony Fadell's TED Talk below.




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