On Sunday I had another insightful breakfast pow-wow with a good friend (Kara) and later I ended up purchasing and book and magazine that I had no intention of buying. As I was paying for my books I couldn’t help but reflect on how this happened and more importantly, why?


Among a dozen topics, design-related and other, I ended up mentioning my growing curiosity in exploring the psychology of habit and habit-forming behaviors / situations and how that can holistically influence my UX practice across product design. This becomes relevant just below…

The Bookstore

The conversation carried on after breakfast so we ran a few errands to keep chatting. I remembered that my copy of The Elements of User Experience has gone on a walkabout at some point and needed to be replaced. I figured today was as good as any to grab another copy and upgrade my version. To my dismay they had no copies in-store or online. Damn.

While I was searching for the book, Kara spotted the Monocle magazine while exclaiming its place in her life as an essential news resource delivering cross-cultural, cross-topic & cross-channel stories, all infused with an elegant aesthetic and knowledge of good design practices. I’m familiar with the magazine and even have an edition or two lying around but never dug in too deeply. Describing what the magazine represented for her I started to think again about what Monocle offers and grabbed the new issue to take another look. After all, sometimes it takes a trusted recommendation to consider a purchase.

As I was grabbing a copy of the magazine, Kara noticed up a book that a co-worker of hers is reading… Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman and here again we began a recommendation process. This time it was two layers deep in that 1. her co-worker spoke highly of the book, therefore qualifying it and 2. she recalled my comment from breakfast that expressed a curiosity towards the cognitive and psychological aspects of habituation. We could dive into the reputation of Kahneman and specifics about the book itself but I’m more interested in how it ended up in my hands with me at the register. Just know that he’s apparently a legend among psychologists.

In the moment I had no conscious observation of the forces at play but it surfaced for me a few minutes later, heading to the register, when Kara mentioned that it would be great if the in-store experience could be more like the online experience. A flurry of challenges took flight in my mind within seconds and as I thought about the possibilities I landed on the opposite challenge. How could the online experience better facilitate the experience I just had, leaving me with two purchases in my hands that I had no intention of making when I walked in the store?

Why did I buy that?

If I had gone to the bookstore solo there is a VERY low % that I would have made those purchases. What forces or triggers changed the outcome? Looking at it through BJ Fogg’s Behavior Model here’s how it breaks down…

Topical (Motivation)

  • I was already interested in the topic

Financial (Ability)

  • The book was on sale so I bought it in the store rather than searching online

Personal (Triggers)

  • Based on years of discussions, friendship & shared experiences I trust Kara’s personal ‘filter’ for information
  • Her co-worker had spoken highly of the book

Replicating the experience. How can these factors be facilitated online? Should we try?

A recommendation engine can only go so far to induce a referred item purchase (“Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought”). Ratings and price certainly play a relevant role in the decision but what’s missing is a ‘Trusted’ recommendation from your network.
This is an interesting discuss because it presents a moral dilemma along with a significant design challenge. Should we even try to manifest this in-person ‘trusted recommendation’ online? There’s something sacred about having one-on-one conversations. Facial expressions, vocal intonation and body language all play a critical role in conveying perspective. Do we risk sacrificing that dynamic? I believe we shouldn’t have to so now what?

You can guarantee with 100% certainty that members of your network will not place book reviews on every possible online bookstore and you can assume that a very small % of your trusted network will review books online through a single online service. Online bookstores have loads of reviews across to other online bookstores but are likely unwilling or at least reluctant to share with competitors. I figure there are 2 major questions to be asked:

    1. Can we capture/recreate the dynamic of the derived in-person ‘trusted’ relationship as an input for online use?
    2. What can be done to aggregate that valuable content with existing reviews and ratings to then redistribute it across stand-alone ecosystems?

Well then…

How would you handle this little design challenge? I can think of a few immediate solutions but want to let it simmer a bit before posting any real thoughts on that front. The first question is pestering me the most because of it’s complex behavioral component. The second question is easier, not easy, to solve in that it’s largely a technical with many existing systems already built.

Oh yeah, if I lent you my copy of Elements may I please have it back? Thanks!