Biology, Design and Revenue

by Richard Banfield

Our human form has taken shape over millennia so we can remain successful in an ever changing environment. Our environment is now changing faster than ever but our biology stays the same. In this talk I explore what this means for digital products and how we design them. I also discuss how the product designs that are best aligned with our biology tend to generate the highest revenues.

Transcript

Hi. I’m Richard Banfield, CEO of Fresh Tilled Soil, and today we’re going to talk about how biology influences the design of your product and ultimately the revenue of your company. Unless you’ve got a crystal ball, you can’t see what the future of your product line is going to be, especially if it’s digital. It’s probably changing every single day.

So, how do you design for an unknown future? So, like my son says, when asked what he wants to do with his life, he says, “How can I answer that question? The things that I’m going to be working on haven’t even been invented yet.”

You have the same problem. You’re designing for a future that you don’t know anything about, but maybe you do. The future might have already been revealed to us. By looking into our past and understanding how we’ve evolved, that might give us some clues as to what we need to design for in the future. For example, why do we even have brains? The reason why your brain has evolved at all is for you to move. This idea that you need to be stagnant or stationary is obviously one that we don’t feel very comfortable with. We have to keep moving. It’s a way for us to be more productive, obviously get our genes into the next generation. The brain has evolved to allow us to do that.

This thing that you’re looking at is this disgusting thing called a sea squirt. This sea squirt has a brain while it’s in its swimming form, moving around the ocean. But as soon as it finds a coral reef that it likes, it puts its legs down and starts digesting its brain. That’s evidence that you don’t need a brain if you’re not moving. The same is true of us. So, although we sit at our desks every day and stare at these desktops and even laptops, it’s very far from our natural state.

The desktop requires a modification of behavior. It makes us sit and do something that we’re not comfortable doing. This is the throne that we’ve built around the desktop, a home office, an entire space dedicated to a machine that takes us out of our natural state. Mobile is not just a technology. It’s a state of mind. It’s a state of who we are. We are mobile. The mere fact that we are these biological animals with a brain that allows us to move is the mobile state. The technology is trying to catch up to that state, not the other way around.

So, if you’re thinking about how to design products, technology products specifically for the future, think about how technology has evolved. We’ve brought our technology to us in a way that it fits into our world, into our biology. Just think about those first hand tools. They were designed for us, our mobile state. The tools that we have now that we’re accepting into our day-to-day lives are just the same as those early tools.

So, as we move forward in the product line creation, you’re going to start to see more and more tools that fit our lives, wearable technologies like Google Glass, a lot of the tracking that we’re doing with our day-to-day behavior like the Fitbit. That kind of stuff is going to be moving with us, as opposed to us moving with it.

So, let’s think a little bit more about the biology, because we’ve had this great insight into the fact that we’re mobile, and we can use that to understand the product line. The next thing we need to understand is that although we feel like we’re logical people, and we feel like we’re in control of our emotions, we’re actually very emotional. Almost everything that we do is emotional first and logical second.

Most of our thoughts are actually streamed through a part of the brain called the amygdala. That amygdala allows us to emotionally respond to the things around us before we even have a second to think about it in the frontal cortex. Brains make decisions when they are filtered through those emotions. In fact, if you remove that amygdala from the brain, you remove the emotional center of the brain. You are unable to make decisions. So, it’s very important that we understand that when we’re building products that we build a user experience or user interface that takes into consideration those emotional parts of our thought process.

Strong emotional connections lead to loyalty. We’ve also discovered, through our understanding of neurophysiology, that the stronger the emotional connection, the stronger the ability for us to build a habit, build a connection to the thing that we are doing or working with, and then build some kind of loyalty around that. So, whether you’re building a brand or trying to get somebody to behave in a way that takes on new behavior or new habits that connects to your product, you need to think about how those emotional connections can be strengthened and deepened, in order to lead to a deeper loyalty with that product.

We’re also unique from other animals, in that we can recognize a wide range of emotions in the face of another human being. Think about a dog or a cat. It doesn’t really show a lot of emotion in its face, but a human being shows a massive amount of emotion in the face. That can work with us, in order to help us design products, design messages, design marketing that can connect to our audience. Think about how those emotions change the way you think about the person that you’re interacting with.

Here’s a good example. This site used different people with different emotions with the same message, and they got a different response. The person with the happy smiling face got the highest response out of everybody. That just goes to show that that emotional connection that we’re making is also recognizable in the face of others. Using human beings in product design, in product marketing, helps us make that connection to the thing that we’re most familiar with.

We know that we can persuade people to do things. Sometimes, we persuade them to do good things, and sometimes we persuade them to do bad things. That habit-forming persuasion is an important part of product design, user experience design, and user interface design. What we do know from this persuasion technology or understanding is that timing is everything.

So, B.J. Fog has given us a model to understand this persuasion. On one axis, he said, “Let’s motivate people to go from a slow or low motivation point to a high motivation point, and at the same time, let’s try and get them to go from, ‘Hey. This is hard to do,’ to, ‘Hey. This is easy to do.'” Now, using this technique, this model, you can actually create a persuasive way for somebody to learn how to use your product.

The deepest part of that engagement is the trigger. How do you get them to start interacting with you? How do you get them to initially move? Well, that trigger point is going to be different for everybody. But a good example of that is how does somebody feel, how they interact with others. For instance, do they feel accepted by their group? Or do they feel rejected by their group? That acceptance/rejection trigger has actually been used by a lot of sites, including our social network sites, to drive people’s behavior.

If you feel like you’re missing out, you will then go and start using that tool more often. They use that principle, just like B.J. Fog has described in his model, to drive people’s behavior. Having this experience has to be done at the right time. If the timing isn’t right, it’s not going to help you. That’s why you see a lot of ads for gym memberships at the beginning of the year, because that’s when you’re making New Year’s resolutions. That’s when you’re trying to change behavior.

So, the right ad at the right time is going to have great consequences. If you saw that ad halfway through the year, you may not feel the same way. Keeping in mind, another part of our biology is that our brain is super lazy. It doesn’t like to do any work at all. In fact, if you think about it, your brain is so lazy that it creates a headache to stop you from thinking.

A headache is a weird thing because there’re no nerves in your brain that sends pain. So, how is it that you feel pain when you have a headache? Well, it’s your brain’s way of saying, “Hey. I’m running low on glucose. I need you to stop doing what you’re doing. Be lazy. Stop doing whatever you’re doing.” If you take this into consideration when you’re designing a product or a user experience, you can use it to your advantage. Make it as easy as possible for somebody to do something, and that habit-forming cycle will be created a lot quicker than if you make it more difficult.

All of us have mental filters. We develop these mental filters over time, through our child, through the influences of our family, our society, our education. Those mental filters determine what you see and what the impact of that, what you see, might be. The other part of experience design is understanding that when people learn, it makes it easier for them to learn when they are deeply happy.

Happiness actually leads to deeper memories, stronger learning, and faster learning. So, if we can bring joy and happiness into our product design and into our marketing, we can certainly influence people’s idea of what they are seeing and how they feel about it, and also deepen the relationship that they have with that product.

Ultimately this is all about sex, because human beings are designed to get their genes from one generation to another. That’s how evolution works. But, like Facebook says, it’s complicated. Human beings need to get their genes into another generation in order to feel successful. But as we’ve discovered, genes aren’t the only way to get ideas or the things that are influential from one generation to another. So, while genes take a long time, single generation most often, to get from one person to another, a meme is an idea that can transfer itself from an individual or human being to another human being very quickly.

Understanding how memes work is important. They are stories. They are tiny little stories that have the ability to transfer an idea. When you’re building a product or designing a product, think about how you can create that transfer of information through storytelling. If you have a great story, people will remember it. The ideas will be transferred quicker, and their learning will happen a lot faster.

Applying biology to design thinking is not that difficult. You don’t have to be a scientist to do this. You just have to understand the principles that we’ve discussed today and apply that to your day-to-day design. Let’s use this as a good example. A friend of mine sells cars. A lot of women who came in to buy cars were stating that safety was important in their purchase decision, that they wanted a car that was safe for their kids.

So, he would show them the car that had the most safety features. And yet, even after all that, they would go away and buy some big SUV that wasn’t on the lot. He would then approach them and say, “That’s interesting that you chose that. Why?” And they said, “Well, the SUV just looks and feels a lot safer.” So, even when you have the features and functionality that say one thing, remember our emotional side is going to overwhelm us and very often make the decision for us.

So, when you’re designing, you’re thinking about a product, when you’re putting a marketing campaign together, think about your biology. Think about how we’ve been predisposed to be mobile, to be emotional, to be completely overwhelmed by happiness and joy in our decision making. Think about what did my audience actually see. What did they actually feel? What motivated them? What’s their story? And what’s their irrational story?

So, thanks for your time. I hope you learned something about how biology influences the design of products and how that will ultimately influence your revenue as a product company. If you would like to find out more, we have a great blog, FreshTilledSoil.com/blog. We also have a fantastic weekly podcast, entitled “The Dirt”. You can find that on our blog as well. If you’d like to follow us on Twitter, our handle is @FreshTilledSoil. Thanks again.

About Richard Banfield

Richard is a the CEO and co-founder of Fresh Tilled Soil. After completing a degree in Biology, Richard was attracted to the...