RE: Taking advantage of "reflexive" responses in users

Subject: RE: Taking advantage of "reflexive" responses in users
From: Amy Griffith <Amy -dot- Griffith -at- dstm -dot- com>
To: TECHWR-L <techwr-l -at- lists -dot- raycomm -dot- com>
Date: Thu, 5 Oct 2000 08:25:35 -0400

I agree that we ought to be aware of reflexive responses in users and use
them to our advantage. However, I find it most useful to be aware of what
those reflexive responses are and use them to our advantage.

I know that there are some software installations that make you click a
checkbox or press a certain key before you can click Next on the license
agreement page. I think the Windows installation does this. During an
install, a user's normal course of action is to just keep clicking Next
until the files start copying. In these cases, you have to actually be aware
that you are on the license agreement page. Of course, no one can MAKE you
read it, but at least you know that you were responsible for agreeing to the

Because I've spent some time in tech support and know what it's like to get
calls from angry people who messed something up because they "overlooked"
important information, I try to think of creative ways to get information
out to my users. On the most elementary level, I think (or hope) that most
of us on this list use features in our text that draws readers' attention to
information that is critical or even information that wouldn't be obvious to
most users. We use a style tag called Note that always begins with either
"Note," "Important," or "Caution" in bold. I think most people have
something similar. To take it a step further, I make sure that the placement
of these notes are in a place that users are most likely to see them. The
first page of each chapter in our user's guides is basically an overview of
the chapter. The "meat" of the chapter starts on the second page. I don't
put notes on the first page because I know that users quickly determine that
they don't need to read that page.

Taken to the next level, we can incorporate this into the interface. A few
weeks ago I went to a design meeting for a Web-based application we make.
This application has a feature that allows users to change field names. You
open the form, enter the changes you wish to make, and then click OK. The
developer wanted a pop-up box that said you had to restart the Web server
for the changes to take effect to appear after you clicked OK. Knowing that
users tend to click away error messages without reading them (much like you
mentioned in your original example), I suggested that we just put the
warning next to the OK button on the form. More users will see it there, and
even if they miss it the first time, they may notice it when they go set the
changes again after they notice that the changes didn't take effect. It
won't work for every user, but it will probably save a few phone calls.

As with any type of technical communications, knowing your audience is
important here because otherwise you won't know what their reflexive
responses are. I used to think "tip of the day" boxes were pointless because
everyone knows that all users turn them off. While talking to our customers
on the phone, I found that wasn't true in our case. It makes sense. We make
maintenance software that is generally used by people who perform work on
machines used in production environments. These people aren't computer-savvy
as a general rule. I'm pretty sure the reason they haven't turned off the
tip of the day feature is because they don't know to look for the checkbox
on the bottom that turns it off. Of course, they will eventually quit
reading these tips, but we can at least make sure that the first one or two
that show up have the most important information in them.

I'll agree that "tricks" on the Web designed to make you read advertisers'
materials are annoying and even (possibly) unethical, but if we're taking
advantage of people's responses to give them a better understanding of our
products, it's much more justifiable.

Amy Griffith
Datastream Systems, Inc.
amy -dot- griffith -at- dstm -dot- com

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