User Experience: Making Memories

4th Jul, 2013
by Laura Wilson

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Recently I gave a presentation to our team on User Experience, particularly focussed on the idea of making experiences memorable. The idea of designing great User Experiences is nothing new, but something I’ve become a particular advocate for as a designer involved in the planning of campaigns and website builds.


- Jessica Frederick, Director of Product Management, ThisNext

Experience and memory are inextricably linked. When thinking about User Experience, we must also consider how the user will remember the experience. This is, after all, the basis on which they make their future decisions, whether it’s to make a return purchase, recommend a product or service to a friend, or alternatively, complain about a bad experience.

So what makes a memorable experience?

 Laura _1

The traditional view of User Experience contains the basic building blocks of a great online product, which all apply and make up a great User Experience. But this model neglects the idea of memory. What is the user left with after the experience?

If we want to design something to be memorable, then we must first consider the psychology of memory.  In this idea, the Peak-End rule, a person bases their judgement of an experience (their memory) on how it was at its peak and at its end, regardless of how long the experience lasted. In this video, Nobel Prize Winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman talks about the ‘experience’ in the context of happiness.

The riddle of Experience vs. Memory (start at 2:00)

So, how do we make it memorable?

We cannot design, nor control every part of the User Experience, but we can use some practical design techniques to make it memorable.

Simplicity in the idea. You’ve heard it a million times before. Keep it Simple. A clear sense of purpose, or a single-minded proposition makes remembering easier. Example: UmbrellaToday

Cleverness. Attracting attention or creating an unexpected experience. This can be in the visual design, tone of voice or development of the product.

Surprise. An easter egg or some unexpected functionality provides a break from the norm. Example: Drag Down

Existing knowledge. Use concepts your user is already aware of and knows how to use. This includes both digital and physical worlds. If you want the user to draw something, use a pen as the cursor. Users know how to use them, and it creates a nice symmetry between the online and offline worlds.

Establish Credibility. This can be as simple as providing information about security and visual cues to hint at it. Credibility plays a crucial role in a user’s decision to invest time and energy or simply move on. Sometimes this is about designing in elements that makes a user feel safe (bank websites use lots of lock symbols and information about security to make their user feel assured that they have security in mind). Sometimes this is just about NOT raising red flags.

Emotional Design. Beautiful works better. There are so many examples, iPhone vs Android, Mac vs PC, etc. Well designed products speak to the value of the brand.

Storytelling. Experiences are (loosely) formed in the same way stories are structured, with a memorable climax and ending. Example: Sevenly

So here’s my updated model.The Ultimate User Experience

Laura updated model

So what’s next? How do we implement these ideas into our day to day thinking?

Start at the end. Focus on what we want the user to remember. The goals are still the same as we currently deal with (Better brand experience, Repeat purchase, Referral traffic or virality), but focussing in one one of these goals and keeping it simple means we have a lot more chance of a user taking away something useful and meaningful to them.

What story we want them to tell. This is where the idea of meaningful experiences comes into play. A user who has a meaningful experience will logically have a memorable experience.

What happens if they encounter a nasty bit?

Mostly a user say nothing to you (or to the brand) they just move on with a bad taste in their mouth. But with social media it makes it that much easier to complain about a bad experience. It’s how we then deal with that complaint that can turn a potentially bad memory (or experience) into a good one.

That begs the question, is it still a good experience if it leaves no memory? If a user has a seamless experience, they may leave with no real memory of it (can you remember every FB app you’ve engaged with? No – but you remember the bad ones.)