So if needs should trump desires when it comes to our interaction with marketing material, does that mean there’s no point in spending on design?
Firstly, our desires still remain, no matter how much the practicalities of achieving a goal may intrude. Test after test shows that users are far more forgiving of faults on sites that are either aesthetically pleasing or for a brand they associate with quality, while they can also attribute UX failings to poor visuals (which it often is), so good design is essential at all levels. Before we even get into the process of starting a booking, looking for information or anything else, we make a snap judgement on whether we’re somewhere we like the look of – whether that’s a website, opening a brochure or visiting a restaurant.
Back in my journalism days, we were told a reader decided within five seconds – or the length of your intro paragraph – whether they wanted to read that story. But that window has reduced hugely as we’ve grown accustomed to instant information.
UX testers will often try the five second test – show a user a site for five seconds and then ask what they can remember. But that’s done more to see how quickly your site gets its message across and how memorable that is, not to do with your views on the site. That decision is made much faster – 50 milliseconds in fact. As users, we have no control over that staggeringly brief period, and tests show that once our unconscious mind has come to that decision, there’s little we can do to change it.
So yes, the desire aspect is key for that first impression. Wow them enough visually so they stay, then wow them with a user experience that fulfils their needs in the best possible way.
Secondly, all needs still require great design…
What does my user want?
If you’re a news site, your visitors aren’t looking for anything wild and wacky – they’re looking for news. But by adhering to best practices of story hierarchy, grouping (placing related content near each other to help the user find stuff they’re interested in), you’ll leave them satisfied with their experience and happy with the design of your site. If your user wants to book a holiday, a clear, sensible booking process is required – and this will certainly require a lot of attention on the design front.
Making the balance work
Needs and desires can be easily balanced once you know they are there, that they differ from each other, and that one must lead the other. By knowing what your user needs and what will appeal to them visually, you can ensure you’ll deliver a pleasing experience from the subconscious first impression through to the conscious final stages.