How To Win Users

Dale Carnegie published How to Win Friends and Influence People in 1936. This book has sold many millions of copies and been translated in do dozens of languages. What can it teach us in 2009 about interaction design that we should know and can use to improve our design and management strategies? A lot, in fact, as we strive to Win Users and Influence People’s Behavior in the digital age.

How To Win Users and Influence Their Behavior

Most of us who have practiced, and sometimes merely preached, user-centered design understand that at its core it means giving people what they want, not what we think they do, and especially to strive never, ever, to assume that they want what we do. This requires methodical testing and reliance on empirical data. Sure, with exposure to enough of it, continually, over time we can find common patters of how people do things via human-computer interactions. And something of a common sense approach to usability can be accumulated. This is not to say that a particular point of frustration is not widely shared. Humans are not unpredictable. So there is a time to embrace our pain in performing some task with the “help” of a computer, in order to improve it for others as interaction designers. Frustrations are a great source of motivation to us. But it is equally important to disown that which we desire, in order to help others realize desires of their own. So, to use both our own pain and others desires in our work, a balance must be achieved.

Other-Friendliness In An Individualistic Culture

Disowning our desires when designing a new product or service is not easy. It runs against the tide of western civilization, and doesn’t come naturally to us, at either cultural or individual levels. Real empathy, of thought process, perception, and emotions, with those we have little or nothing in common with comes from a willingness to challenge ourselves and be challenged by others to do so. It is a complete shift in thinking, as we’re raised from birth to express and indulge our own personal desires. It is a matter of identity. Yet doing interaction design well requires that we put our realistic assumptions aside, which are probably sub-conscious to begin with, and very intentionally replacing them with “idealistic” ideas of human perception.1 To do it well might require drawing on our innermost beliefs about human value. Or perhaps a religious tradition, experience, or belief system will bring about sufficient humility (and humanity) in us to put others before ourselves. But no matter the method or reason, it must be done to do our jobs as designers of communications software that will make people’s lives more productive and enjoyable.

Lest we think there is anything new in this, let me point to a page from Dale Carnegie’s famous 1936 book, How to Win Friends & Influence People. On page 32 Carnegie states “I often went fishing up in Maine during the summer. Personally, I am very fond of strawberries and cream, but I have found that for some strange reason, fish prefer worms. So when I went fishing I didn’t think about what I wanted. I thought about what they wanted. I didn’t bait the hook with strawberries and cream. Rather, I dangled a worm or a grasshopper in front of the fish and said: ‘Wouldn’t you like to have that?’

“Why not use the same common sense when fishing for people?

“That was what Lloyd George, Great Britain’s Prime Minister during World War I, did. When someone asked him how he managed to stay in power after the wartime leaders—Willson, Orlando, and Clemenceau—had been forgotten, he replied that if his staying on top might be attributed to any one thing, it would be to his having learned that is was necessary to bait the hook to suit the fish.

“Why talk about what we want? That is childish. Absurd. Of course, you are interested in what you want. You are eternally interested in it. But no one else is. The rest of us are just like you, we are interested in what we want.”

Yes indeed. “Fishers of men” must not seek their own. Carnegie wrote this before the coming of more profound manipulations through advertising. And while to us his tactics may seem manipulative, he is careful to add that sincere interest in others is the key. Yet how often do we still indulge our own personal aesthetics and interests as designers or managers of interactive products and services, even—hypocritically, if seldom intentionally—in the name of “intuitiveness”? Too often. To prevent this natural tendency, we should challenge ourselves and each other continually to become conscious of, and test, our dearest assumptions, and become champions, in the truest sense, of others needs and wishes. We should embrace the paradox of achieving our own ends by serving those of others. This not only works, it can give our work meaningfulness.

Dale had many well grounded ideas about how to influence people that are useful to every designer or manager of interactive systems. Here I attempt to relate them to ideas and practices useful to interaction designers:

Six Ways to Make People Like You[r Site]

  1. “Become genuinely interested in other people.” There’s no faking it. Rushed usability testing or ignoring the data will show. People infer our thoughts by our actions.
  2. “Smile.” Facebook, Flickr, and other such social software express a light tone in their visual design and content. Lighten up, business need not be impersonal.
  3. “Remember that a man’s Name is to him the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” Personalization has come a long way, but has a long way to go before it nears human capacities.
  4. “Be a good listener. Encourage others to talk about themselves.” Encourage user-generated content. Providing commenting is good, responding to comments usefully is great.
  5. “Talk in the terms of the other man’s interest.” Know what their interest really is, so to speak to it.
  6. “Make the other person feel important and do it sincerely.” Evolve authenticity by continually improving.

Twelve Ways to Win People to Your Way of [Interacting]

  1. “Avoid arguments.” Avoid errors.
  2. “Show respect for the other person’s opinions. Never tell someone they are wrong.” Error or warn as politely as possible, when necessary.
  3. “If you’re wrong, admit it quickly and emphatically.” Good design, and good business, co-evolves with user’s feedback.
  4. “Begin in a friendly way.” Don’t present an arduous registration form, or any other type. Reducing task time and effort shows empathy.
  5. “Start with questions the other person will answer yes to.” Know your users motives.
  6. “Let the other person do the talking.” Don’t tell people how to use it (i.e: “click here”, “press Submit”). Show them. If they can’t express their intentions without instructional text, its time for a redesign.
  7. “Let the other person feel the idea is his/hers.” Discovery can be a joy. Make it easy.
  8. “Try honestly to see things from the other person’s point of view.” Labeling “My Account” rings truer than “Your Account.”
  9. “Sympathize with the other person.” Most interactions are, in fact, impositions. Dis-impose them.
  10. “Appeal to noble motives.” Design for enjoyment, not just efficiency.
  11. “Dramatize your ideas.” Interaction form a story. Make them a compelling one.
  12. “Throw down a challenge.” Users are not designers. Designers lead use and can extend the user’s intentions down new paths.

Technologies may be new, but we, the people, are largely unchanged. Software should, of course, support, and not hinder us. But how often does it? You might say interaction design is a profession that should not be. It should be that everyone knows how to “make people like you,” and “win people to your way of thinking” via interactive systems. But, for better or worse, our jobs seem safe for now: the qualities that make interactions work for and not against us are by no means ubiquitous in our society, businesses, or other organizations. So as ever, if we want to improve the world, we start it not there, but in ourselves. And follow not the golden rule, but the platinum one: Treat others how they want to be treated.

1. Critique of Pure Reason by Immanuel Kant, 1781

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