Since I position myself as a person who's passionate about UX, I strongly believe that great user interface and user experience design can give one product a significant advantage over another.
This thought reentered my brain last week when I had a chance to watch Simon Sinek’s Golden Circle talk, where Sinek speaks about two types of companies (ones with purpose and ones without). There was one point in Sinek's speech that resonated with me very strongly and inspired me write this article: Sinek's discussion of the biology of the human brain and how it fits into the context of his Golden Circle theory.
The outside part of our brain, the neocortex, is responsible for processing and filtering information that we get every day, while its two inside parts, the limbic brains, are responsible for emotions, feelings, and decision-making. According to Sinek, companies that don’t have a purpose other than profits usually have a hard time getting through to the limbic parts of their customers’ brains. They can bombard customers with all types of product information (e.g. wireless charging, waterproofness, processor speed, memory size, etc.) that their neocortices can receive and process, but that doesn’t mean that customers will bother to buy these products if they aren't emotionally invested in them.
That’s because information overload doesn’t trigger respective emotions and feelings inside of the limbic parts — the part of the brain that makes us want to buy or use products.
As I looked at Simon’s drawings and listened to him talk, I started connecting some dots between his thesis and UX. If you think about the crux of user experience, its main function isn’t to communicate information but, rather, to trigger feelings and emotions. For instance, let’s say you’re using a product that is very intuitive and easy to use. This makes you happy and you want to use it more. Now think about the inverse of this situation. If the product’s user experience is very poor and you struggle every time you use it, you will quickly become frustrated until you eventually stop using the product. These are all emotions and feelings that reside in the limbic brains, the part responsible for consumer decisions.
Realizing this made me think about the products that have been able to win me over solely based on great user experience. One example happened very recently. Last month, I went shopping for walking shoes and I visited three stores: Nike, Adidas, and Skechers. Off the bat, I assumed I would purchase Nike shoes because I like what the brand stands for, and I like many of the successful athletes that Nike uses in its marketing. As to Skechers, I didn’t have much brand affinity; it hadn’t yet appealed to the limbic parts of my brain.
Then, something surprising happened. I bought the Skechers sneakers. Why?
Skechers made me absolutely love how their shoes looked and felt on my feet. Their design was amazing (very simple yet stylish) and the shoes were extremely comfortable. Sure, I didn’t have the same fashion clout wearing Skechers that I might have had wearing Nikes, but the emotional response from Skechers’ design and customer experience convinced the decision-making part of my brain that Skechers was the right choice for me.
From technology, another good example of limbic decision-making comes from Dropbox vs Google Drive. Google, consumers believe, is a company with a significant mission and purpose, while Dropbox is newer organization that many consumers don’t tie to a specific mission. So why then do millions of consumers prefer Dropbox to Google even when Dropbox offers less storage space?
The answer is that Dropbox offers a better user experience — it’s intuitive, it has a very clean and user-friendly interface, and it features more convenient integration with other apps. When I use Dropbox, I feel good.
In retail and technology, superior user experience often trumps brand cachet and brand purpose because user experience more effectively triggers limbic decision-making. The lesson for entrepreneurs is that anytime you believe there’s an opportunity to disrupt a commodity market, the first thing you should do is assess your UX capabilities. If you’re confident that you can design the best experience for your users, you’ll most likely win them over. No matter how loyal people are to the brands that they follow, they’ll be incited to make a switch if they see something beautiful and easy-to-use in a product.