Tag Archives: daniel pink

Research proves it: People like it when your web site is nice to them

As mentioned earlier in this blog, Daniel Pink has done informal research into how your web site’s prompts and error messages could stand a little humanity. Now there is formal research to back this up. New Scientist magazine (paid registration required) covers research that proves “computer glitches would be a lot less annoying if the machines were programmed to acknowledge errors gracefully:”

The trick, according to a researcher who has analysed users’ responses to their computers, is to make operating systems and software more “civilised” by saying sorry more often. That way people won’t feel they are stupid or at fault, so they become less apprehensive about using computers, and perhaps more productive and creative.

National Tsing Hua University’s Jeng-Yi Tzeng is quoted in the article as being inspired by the Chinese saying, “No one would blame a polite person.” He wondered if this applied equally to “polite” computers.

So Tzeng wrote a couple of versions of the same computerized guessing game, and recruited nearly three hundred students to play one version or the other. The control group got a brusque version, and the test group, an apologetic one.

The game’s goal was to guess a Chinese saying, but annoyingly, the program often made users guess the same sayings again and again. It was also unhelpful in the clues it supplied during the guessing process. The control group received a typical set of error messages, but the test group saw messages such as, “We are sorry that the clues were not very helpful for you. Please try the next game.”

After half an hour’s play, users of both versions were equally disappointed with the game itself. But those who had played on the apologetic version were more likely to describe it as fun, and 60 per cent of them said the apologetic feedback made the game more enjoyable.

However, apologies made no difference to 25 per cent of them, and 12 per cent said they felt they were being manipulated. Tzeng will report his findings in a forthcoming edition of the International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.

“It is what I expected,” comments Eric Horvitz, manager of Microsoft’s Adaptive Systems and Interaction Group. “Arrogant software rubs people up the wrong way just like an arrogant person would.”

The take-away: Take another look at the error messages you show your prospective and current customers. Although hyper-politeness can be as grating in certain cultures as bluntness, softening messages, and making more “human, ” can only serve to improve outcomes.

Your web site’s messages should show a little humanity

It’s simple. The reason for Apple’s spectacular success is that, although the human mind is capable of impressive calculation, what makes it uniquely human is its ability to dream.

When they aren’t trying to parrot what Windows-based machines do, most Apple products promise a more fertile ground for right-brained thinking. Mostly these products succeed. And they do because they touch us in the heart at least as much as in the mind.

Now think about your web site. Is it still behaving as if its users are more robot than human? Watch out, because your competitor’s sites might not. They may realize that the most buttoned-down web users haven’t forgotten to smile.

Author and public speaker Daniel Pink made this point, but on a more global scale. His book from two years ago, A Whole New Mind contended that as workers in a new, Conceptual Age, we need to sharpen these six skills: design, storytelling, creative collaboration, empathy, play and rendering meaning — although he labeled them far more colorfully than I just did, which is why he is the famous business author and not me.

Lately he’s been talking about using empathy in public messages. Once again, he was speaking more globally than messaging on web sites. But just review some of these examples and see if you aren’t inspired to breathe some warmth into your site’s content:

Restaurant Sign:
Don’t worry, this line moves really quickly.
Movie Theater Electric Hand Dryers:
We don’t like them either, but they are the most energy efficient and environmentally-friendly choice.
Hong Kong Airport:
Relax. Train comes every two minutes.

These three have one thing in common. They respectfully ask us to take a breath and side with the human being who is delivering the bad news.

How can this relate to your site? One of the most lighthearted set of web error messages come from the disruption-prone Twitter site. Although the originals were LOLcats, the latest batch — such as this one — take a more conventionally cutesy tack:

A typical (and all too frequent!) Twitter error message

Is this frivolous — therefore below consideration for your site?

That depends. If your current error messages are pushing people over the brink, you’re losing business. There is nothing warm or cute about that business reality.