SEGD Xlab Speaker Interview: Emily Wengert and Jason Schlossberg

Read Time: 5 minutes

In anticipation of SEGD 2021 Xlab (January 27, 28, and 29), SEGD is interviewing a sampling of Xlab’s guest speakers. Next up, SEGD contributor Franck Mercurio talks to Emily Wengert and Jason Schlossberg of HUGE, Inc, who will present “Mind Journeys: Designing for Cognitive UX” on Friday, January 29. Their talk will examine how the human brain filters information through different biases and how designers can use these biases to create great user experiences for both clients and users.

It’s winter. And it’s cold.

Sitting at your laptop, enjoying your coffee, you decide to purchase some cozy sweaters from your favorite online retailer. You choose several that you absolutely love and place them in your virtual cart. But the total is a little more than you had planned to spend. No matter—you deserve it—so spend! You enter your credit card info and hit the “Make Payment” button.

But then the site pauses and asks, “Are you sure you want to make this purchase?”

hhhmmmm.  Are you, as the consumer, annoyed by this? (“Of course, I want to make this purchase!”) Or thankful that the retailer has asked if this is really the amount you want to pay? (“shweh! I think I’d better backtrack. Maybe this is more than I can afford!”)

In the world of user experience design (UX) this is called ‘friction”—allowing the user to pause and double-check their decision. Although some retailers might consider “friction” as a negative (that is, as a means for letting a sale get away) others might argue that “friction” is a positive, allowing the user to feel more empowered—and more involved in the transactional process—and, therefore, more likely to support the retailer both now and in the future.

The firm HUGE, Inc, designs what they call “best-in-class experiences” to help organizations build relationships with visitors through individually tailored user experiences. Emily Wengert (Group VP of User Experience at HUGE) and Jason Schlossberg (Managing Director of Strategic Communications at HUGE) will share their approaches to UX design in the upcoming Xlab presentation “Mind Journeys: Designing for Cognitive UX.”

Wengert, Schlossberg and their team partner with clients to generate a more nuanced approach to traditional “user journeys” which typically are designed as linear experiences. Inspired by colleagues working in the fields of behavioral economics and neuroscience, Wengert and Schlossberg have created “Mind Journeys,” a process which they define as “a framework for optimizing experiences based on how the brain functions.”

The design of a typical user journey organizes data into nice clean packages, creating something that’s relatively easy for a user to grasp. But these linear stories are imperfect because they oversimplify and neglect how the brain actually works. As imagined by Wengert and Schlossberg, Mind Journeys are less linear and, instead, customized to each client’s specific needs by looking at how the human brain filters external stimuli. And the brain filters a lot of information!

“This is amazing, but 11 million bits of data are sent to our brains every second, but only 50 bits are actually consciously processed,” said Wengert. “We [humans] are trying to figure out what matters and what doesn’t and only prioritizing the things that really matter.”

“The reality is that people have biases and prejudices, and at the end of the day, the brain has to create rules, which is how we work efficiently,” says Schlossberg. “Our cognitive biases are the rules that we use to filter our perception of reality. Close to 200 biases have been identified through various research studies.”

In their presentation, Wengert and Schlossberg will explore some of these biases as they relate to the design process. Step 1: Collaborating  with each client to develop a common language and discuss which words might work best to create the optimal user experience. That common language can include words such as…
·   prime
·   nudge
·   friction
·   bias
·   heuristic
·   coerce
·   invite
·   bribe
·   choice
·   reward
… and each word’s potentially negative and positive meanings, depending on the context. Wengert and Schlossberg cite the word “friction” as one example.

“When we start to talk to UX designers and say ‘Oh, we want to incorporate friction,’ it’s like you’re saying something really controversial—and they want to laugh you out of the room,” explains Schlossberg. “And then you start to explain what we’re talking about: friction as a feature, or an intelligent use of friction to create a better user experience.”

“So, the power of ‘friction’ is a good thing, to allow people to slow down and make an intentional decision versus an instinctive one,” says Wengert. “Because sometimes your instinctive one is not always to your best interest. Clients can be the source for that pause, as opposed to the source for rushing in.”

And that leads back to the scenario we laid out at the beginning of this article: “To buy or not to buy?” or rather “To force a transaction or to work with a user as a partner?”

“There are ethical risks when you start to talk about designing for the brand,” says Wengert. “And acknowledging these risks allows us to talk about what intentional safeguards are needed, too, to make sure we’re not using dark patterns and triggering people to purchase what they can’t afford, let’s say, or go somewhere they shouldn’t go.”

Mind Journeys helps to inform these safeguards, a process that is constantly being refined by the team at HUGE.

“This still is a very theoretical topic for us,” says Wengert about the process of working with clients to create Mind Journeys. “We’re playing with it in abstract ways and beginning to develop frameworks for how to make it more concretely applied to our work; we’re continuing to evolve how we use it.”

“And the reason we described it as a kind of thought experiment, we definitely think of it as a set of evolving provocations,” adds Schlossberg. “And with each client, it slightly evolves and gets crisper.”

Want to know more about the potentials for Mind Journeys and how HUGE has applied this approach to specific client projects? Wengert and Schlossberg will present their theories and real-life examples on Day 3 of SEGD’s Xlab event (January 29). Sign-up, participate, and contribute to the conversation!