I was recently asked about the presence of humor in IVR applications. To be honest with you, I haven’t ran across too many of those, other than the one implemented at Travelocity. One of their menu choices is to hear a gnome joke. On top of it, they allowed user participation by inviting people to submit jokes. You can hear it by dialing 888.Travelocity, say “”No” on the first prompt, and then say “gnome joke of the day”.
Aside from the entertainment aspect of this type of design, I realized that the same question seems to be popping around in other aspects of User Interface Design. It seems many designers are transitioning from a notion of “self service” or “automation” to one of “user experience” and “engagement”.
In particular, I’ve seen a special type of emphasis on designers trying to marry appeal with usability. Some studies have shown that first impressions have a longer lasting effect than initially thought, and that it not only affects someone’s willingness to try the system but also to push through usability barriers, ending up in a more satisfying experience.
Interestingly enough, in the case of websites, researchers found that users rate high appeal as more interesting, easier to use, easier to navigate, more accurate, more trustworthy, and overall more satisfying than a low appealing counterpart (even if their usability is superior). Hence designers are arguing that aspects of psychology and human behavior such as persuasion should be (and are being) added to all designs (digital and physical).
Think about some of the things you know about people: they like to interact, they like to be entertained, they are curious, etc.
So, how can you leverage that? For example, if we focus on the notion of being funny and playful, they’ve found that humor and surprises can be addictive and exciting, increasing the desire of a user to use a system and to be more forgiving towards unexpected situations (I recently talked about the use of humor in error messages).
Who hasn’t seen twitter’s fail whale?
Or what about or flickr’s “error page” which you could color and send back to enter a contest for a Pro account?
I’ll argue that there’s definitively value in humor, but that humor for humor sake should not the intent. We should rather focus on how to improve the experience and make the interactions more “sticky” by carefully planning how to infuse our designs with elements like humor. Some designers like Andy Budd are calling this “Seductive Design”.
Below you’ll find the video and slides of one of his recent presentations which I found extremely fascinating. Enjoy!