Thursday, May 03, 2007

Thin slicing:

inside or outside the world of user experience?

In his popular book, Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking, Malcolm Gladwell, demonstrates that people make decisions based on extremely small amounts of information, and very quickly. They call this "thin slicing". A significant amount of information is building in research journals such as the Journal of Consumer Psychology about what thin slicing is, how it takes place, and when it is active. In a recent article in the Journal, Laura Peracchio and David Luna talk about whether thin-slicing judgments apply to the Internet.

Are people making quick decisions online?

Peracchio and Luna cite research that suggests that 80% of Web surfers spend only a few seconds looking at a Web site before moving on to the next site, and that the average Web surfer is unlikely to look past the first two pages of a site. This points to the fact that consumers seem to be forming judgments quickly and in a way that is consistent with thin slicing. Ambady et al (2006) suggest in their research that these visual and perceptual judgments turn out to be amazingly accurate, even without personal human interaction.

Do people use thin slicing to judge ease of use and trustworthiness?

Chiravuri and Peracchio (2003) suggest that consumers are making thin slice decisions about site security and ease of use. McKnight, Choudhury, and Kacmar (2002) and Haried (2005) maintain that consumers form thin slice judgments on the trustworthiness of a Web site during brief exposure.

And what about brand perception and thin slicing?

Most thin slicing research focuses on people make decisions and judgments about other people. But some researchers are now arguing that brands posses a perceived personality, and that people are making thin slice decisions about brand. Ambady et al (2006) says that thin slicing forces people to focus on nonverbal cues, and to ignore the actual "message," information from a previous interaction, or broader context. Peracchio and Luna argue, therefore, that brand perception might be primarily a thin slice phenomenon.

So what should a user experience professional do?

For many years usability professionals have focused on a cognitive view of usability. What are the users thinking about? What is their mental model? How does the visual design relate to the mental model? Even our methodologies (thinking aloud during usability testing) rely on cognitive processing. I'm not suggesting that we ignore our cognitive roots, but the research is building that we can't rely on these roots exclusively. It's time for us to dig in and explore the research on non-conscious processes and how this affects our heuristics, recommendations for interface design, and even our industry methodologies.

- Susan Weinschenk, PhD, CUA
HFI Chief of Technical Staff

SOURCE@ UI Design Newsletter – April, 2007

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