Johnson states that individuals would rather take a familiar path as opposed to exploring new routes toward a desired goal. Attention and short-term memory are burdened when an individual is problem solving to face a previously unknown action, while familiar paths are an automatic reflex and use much less attention and memory. This raises the question of what incentives or features must be in place in order to attract a user into a new experience.
Much of the research exploring digital technology use in new and unknown environments centers around physical, location-based experiments. With the common use of map and location-based software, it is simple to identify where users have been, where they have not yet explored, and what features drive them to a new location. By learning from the preferences of users in a physical sense, we can duplicate those techniques and test with users in a purely digital goal-seeking interaction.
When examining the likelihood of a user to physically visit a new location compared to those they have previously visited, Perttula, Carter, and Denoue found that user-generated content from others drove users to new spaces. By displaying “hot spots,” or concentrations of others’ activity, users would be more likely to navigate unfamiliar locations. Aggregating other user’s preferences requires no distraction or work on their part, and significantly influences those who have not been to follow suit. As this research has been performed in an environmental setting, we could apply the same techniques in a web based setting, notifying current users of past user’s preferences in an attempt to influence them into taking a new path. By introducing a gradient of highlighting according to visitation rates around links within an application, the user will be naturally drawn to choices others have made in an act of, what Johnson describes as, mindlessness.
When studying interaction with mobile systems in an unfamiliar physical environment, Lueg, Göth and Bidwell found that orientation to locations they have previously visited is important in empowering users into following new paths. Mobile information systems further help users in a new environment by providing a perspective the user can draw upon in the future. By orienting an individual within an environment according to past experiences, users feel more aware in relation to the unknown. This research further supports the use of navigational tools such as progress bars or maps of a user’s activity.
By both drawing attention to previous user’s choices and providing perspective in reference to past events within our interactive design choices, we connect to Johnson’s recommendation to “guide users to the best paths.” Based on this research I am inclined to use heat maps reflecting previous user choices within online applications, as well as ensure perspective is provided in the form of navigational tools when driving users to previously unknown experiences.
This post is a paper from my graduate studies in Digital Communication at the University of Baltimore.