Appealing to multiple senses enhances your customer’s experience

On the whole, humans are visual creatures, which makes sense when you think about it as sight allows us to perceive, identify, and act on objects outside of our reach. As such, many designers go to great lengths to attract customers by designing displays that are visually appealing. However, if you only consider vision, a number of interaction opportunities to make interesting, impacting and memorable designs slip through our fingers.

Humans are more engaged by things that appeal to multiple senses. What’s more, we tend to have a better memory for things that stimulate more than one sense. Think about it – what’s more memorable to you: seeing a picture of a loaf of bread, or being handed a hot slice of bread that smells amazing and tastes great? Obviously the latter, as it activates more parts of your brain – hence free samples.

This principle can be applied to user interaction. When designing a website, product, or application consider all of the ways you can ‘stimulate’ the person using your product to make an interaction more salient. For example, a big part of usability is learnability. If a customer has to perform a multi-step interaction, we as User Experience people don’t want the people to have to re-learn it every time they use it (actually, we don’t want them to have a hard time in the first place!).

This is where multisensory appeal can come into play. If the complex process is accompanied by unique sound cues or vivid imagery it is more likely to be remembered. For example, a commonly used interaction cue is simply changing the visual appearance of an item when it’s hovered over with the cursor. (e.g. changing its colour), but imagine how much more memorable it would be if not only did it change visually but it was accompanied by a subtle sound or tactile cue. This type of multisensory input often (when not overused) becomes a ‘delighter’ in the interaction, making it more enjoyable but also enhancing memory!

A great example of this would be adding a picture to a website that prompts for a password. Instead of sitting there typing in all the passwords you typically use for online sites, this multisensory cue (especially when consisting of a personal image) sparks your memory. After conducting many usability tests with Bunnyfoot, I can’t tell you how many times participants have mentioned the multisensory part of the user interface as “something they really liked about it.” This alone not only points to the positive effects on memory, but on likability as well.

In the 2-D reality of most user interfaces, adding multisensory information can become difficult. Aside from comical situations, you’re not likely to smell or taste your display. So how can you create a multisensory experience? One possible way would be to incorporate visual imagery that appeals to many senses. Instead of expecting a customer to just ‘get’ that they’re supposed to act a certain way, use pictures of people performing the action. Look for ways to augment text with visual imagery. In terms of senses like smell and touch, take inspiration from food products that pair the sound of the product with pictures. Oxford University professor Charles Spence found that the crunchy sound of a bag of crisps actually does affect the perceived taste and rating of staleness of the product, so that the crispier sounding the bag the crunchier (and tastier) the product is perceived to be. Pairing the sound of delicious coke being poured over an ice-cube filled frosty mug actually affects how you perceive it the product!

In conclusion, take the opportunity to consider multisensory appeal in your designs. Not only will it make your job more interesting, but chances are (when done right) it will be appreciated by your customers.

For those of you that really want to dig deeper:

C., Spence & M., Zampini (2006). Auditory contributions to multisensory product perception. Acta Acustica united with Acustica, 92(6), 1009-1025. Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-459x.2004.080403.x/full
C., Spence & M.U., Shankar (2010). The influence of auditory cues on the perception of and responses to food and drink. Journal of sensory studies 25(3), 406-430. Retrieved from: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1745-459X.2009.00267.x/full
R., Dhamija & A., Perrig (2000). Deja Vu: a user study using images for authentication. Proceedings of the 9th conference on U SENIX Security Symposium Vol. 9. Retrieved from: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=1251310

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