Magga Dóra

Magga Dóra

User experience designer with background in psychology and computer science. Loves anything and everything that has to do with user behavior. Also loves travelling, photography and teaching. Please refer to her CV for details. One of the founders of Arctic Girl Geek Dinner - Tæknitátur.

Watch me at TEDx Reykjavik in 2009

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The user is a pigeon

At this year’s Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco there was a lot of talk about psychology. The word “psychology” was generally not used, they called it gamification or persuasion but really they were talking about psychology.

This is a good thing. We who have a psych background have been waiting for the software development community to pick up on well known psychological principles that they can use to better understand their users and make user friendlier software. But… (here’s that but again).

In many cases when people discuss for example gamification they mention tips and tricks that can be used to lead the user in some behavior. But since they are talking about gamification but not the psychological principles that are in play, i.e. behavioral modification they are really handing out tools to the audience without the manual (how is a topic for another post).

Being ever the optimist I still like the fact that we’re finally starting to talk psych in software development conferences. If we can change the way software product managers, designers, developers think of the user, that’s a huge step in the right direction. The attitude that you all to often hear is:

The user is stupid

This idea frees the makers of software from doing anything to improve their products. It’s the user that needs fixin’ not the product. If we get the software community (to begin with) to shift their attitude to:

The user is a pigeon

as gamification suggests

then at least we have opened their minds up to the fact that there is something that they can do in order to help the users in using the product. This is a huge shift.

The important part is that we continue talking about psychology and human behavior at software conferences. That we enhance the understanding of users but not deliver what psychology has discovered about people in sound bites. We need the software development community to understand the basic psychology behind these principles so that they can apply them to their production and improve on user experience and the success of software users everywhere.


This blog post is inspired by a great chat with Kathy Sierra, Sarah Milstein and Tony Stubblebine


  1. One slice of this problem is how easy it is to install widgets. For example there is already a “gamification” plugin for WordPress .

    Installing a widget for the latest fad seems easy. Asking why you should and really following that through seems hard.

    It’s a testament to technology that it’s easier to do a thing than to think about if you should do that thing.

  2. Ryan Bradley says:

    I’d recommend every web developer and seo to take a psychology course or study the dynamics of user psychology.

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