Posts Tagged ‘Microsoft Office’

August 18th, 2010

New Website, New Habits

By Kyle Morich

A week ago, Google performed an overhaul on its GMAIL application.  The update was mainly to the Contacts feature, but there was a slight aesthetic change to the layout of the labels on the left side, moving the Mail, Contacts, and Tasks links to the very top and creating a button for Compose Mail.  Minor, yes.  But the redesign was messing me up, if only a little bit.

The small changes to the Gmail interface

One of my old Gmail habits was to click on the Inbox link to get back to my main message folder.  I did this hundreds of times per week without thinking – automatically, unconsciously.  The unconscious mind is non-verbal.  It doesn’t read words and interpret its response accordingly; to the unconscious mind, words are just chunks of sensory information.  My unconscious mind wouldn’t look for “Inbox” in the old Gmail design.  All it knew that there was the Gmail Logo in the top left, there was a separate chunk of words below that (“Compose Mail”), and then the next section was the “Inbox” chunk, and it would click there.

Why is this relevant?  Because for the first three or four days after the redesign, I kept clicking the new “Compose Mail” button instead of the Inbox link.  And considering how the brain works, this makes sense.  My unconscious mind was still looking for the Gmail Logo (same place), ignoring the first chunk of words (now the Mail, Contacts, and Task links), and clicking on the next chunk of words (now the Compose Mail button).

It only took about a week to stop doing this, after several days of consciously forcing myself to read the words and click in the right spot.  Now I’m automatically clicking below the Compose Mail button to get back to the Inbox.  No big deal.  But the larger point is that the unconscious mind has the capability to learn and automatically perform extremely complex and nuanced behaviors, even if the interface it is learning is non-intuitive or complicated.  The classic example is Microsoft’s major redesign to its Office Suite a few years ago.  At my old company, a management consulting firm, my colleagues often used Microsoft Excel between 6 to 12 hours a day.  The “new and improved” Excel interface in Office 2008 with it’s “Ribbon Menu” really upset a lot of people.  These former Excel Gurus couldn’t figure out how to change the font.

When companies redesign websites  (Delta and MetaCritic, to name a few recent examples), they are doing so (I assume) to better the user experience and make the website easier to navigate.  But they often forget that habitual users of their site have highly ingrained unconscious behaviors related to the old design, and will very likely experience frustration having to think about using the site again.  If the changes are small, the frustration and errant clicking will pass quickly, but big enough and the experience can be exasperating for some of the company’s most habitually loyal users.