Byravee Iyer
Jan 27, 2015

Q&A: Consider the psychology of digital users

SINGAPORE - Designers of digital experiences would do well to study psychology, including the fact that many times consumers don’t know why they choose the things they do, according to Deborah Ko, a behavioural psychologist at the Singapore-based digital agency Reading Room.

Deborah Ko
Deborah Ko
Ko makes this case in a recently released white paper titled 'Inside the consumers' mind' (see below), which argues that behaviour analysis is key to improving marketing efficiency. Campaign Asia-Pacific asked Ko for more insight.

Why did you write this paper?

One of the reasons was to fill a need in the market and understand why psychology is so important. New technology has created more choice and people have become more vocal. It’s important for product and service brands to understand what the user wants, and there just aren’t enough people to interpret that.

How critical is psychology in your agency's process?

We undertake considerable research at the start of every project. Anything we create has to be based on research, and we use it to identify functionalities, design layouts and content. A lot of my job is to analyse. For instance, I recently did a predictive analysis project to find why certain things are more likely to be shared than others.

How differently do people behave online and offline?

Online and offline behaviour is expressed differently. A lot of this has to do with adoption rates. Technology follows culture and culture follows technology. In Asia, people are becoming more outspoken because of the internet and are largely triggered by injustices—something that doesn’t often happen in Western cultures.

Your study says too much choice can’t be good.

That’s one of the reasons psychology is interesting. It uncovers things that are not intuitive. Everyone loves choice, but no one likes to make hard decisions. What I’m proposing is that too much choice can be exhausting. Making those choices easier gives people a better experience. You want to make a decision on two things, not 20.

But there are others that argue that consumption is mindless.

A lot of consumption is mindless, which is why psychology is so important. How do you find out whether or not someone really likes that wine? A lot of times consumers don’t know why they choose the things they do. That’s part of the problem with focus groups. Good psychological research uses a whole host of ways to measure this. For instance, I might observe people and do an analysis on actual actions. Then there are implicit measures—when I want to get some information but don’t tell the subject what I’m looking for.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in the agency world?

Agencies have to be interdisciplinary. They need to know how to use technology. Part of the difficulty is the changing work flow in different agencies. People work in different teams and there’s a communication lag. People need to be everywhere, doing everything. They have to have their foot in different areas to get the job done. 

Inside the consumers' mind

Here are some pieces of advice from the Reading Room's report, authored by Ko:

  • Avoid giving consumers too much choice. A Bain & Company study suggested that reducing complexity and narrowing choice can boost revenues by 5 to 40 per cent and cut costs by 10 to 35 per cent.
  • Rethink copywriting when drafting a brand message. Brands should capitalise on the fear of missing out (FOMO) and choose words that they want the consumer to focus on.
  • Colour is critical to consumption. Although colour tends to have more universal meanings, like blue for cold and red for warmth, it can vary greatly when it’s associated with different cultures.
  • A joint study by the University of Basel and Google found that when websites are visually complex, users give them a lower rating.
  • Make things easy to find and use words that are easy to understand



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