How to Design for Every Decision-Maker

by | Nov 20, 2009 | Marketing

When you’re designing something, it’s easy to fall into the trap of designing it for yourself. If you tend to be an emotional decision-maker, you might focus on feelings and sensations rather than raw data. Conversely, if you’re a detail-oriented decision-maker, you might skip all that emotional “fluff” and go right for the hard numbers.

The problem with approaching design from this perspective is that not everyone thinks the way you do. Heck, even you don’t think the way you think you think all the time. Sometimes you might be prone to emotional decisions, for example, and sometimes not. And that’s okay. You’re human. We humans are weird like that.

So, instead of making marketing choices based on wherever our brain happens to be at the moment, we’ve found it to be really helpful to look at these different ways of thinking objectively. Then, we make sure we’re accommodating all these different decision modes instead of just the one we’re in at the moment.

The Two Important Scales

When evaluating the different types of decision-makers, you’ll want to remember two really important scales.

The first scale is slow and fast. Fast decision-makers want to check it out, scan for key points, and establish their opinion within a matter of seconds. They’re in a hurry and not going to slow down to read all your persuasive copy. Slow decision-makers would prefer to explore all the information available to them, let it soak in, think it over, and then make a choice later on.

The second scale is logical to emotional. Logical decision-makers gather the objective facts, assess all the variables, and then make the most rational choice. Emotional decision-makers aren’t worried about marginal differences in quality or features; they want to buy what makes them feel good.

Combining these two scales gives us a clear breakdown of the four different decision modes: slow and logical, fast and logical, slow and emotional, and fast and emotional. However, these names are pretty cumbersome. So, we followed the lead of Future Now, who named these types: methodical, competitive, humanistic, and spontaneous.

Historical Context

These four types aren’t new. They’ve gone by different names, and you’ll find parallels to these decision modes in personality breakdowns throughout history. For example, around 400 BC, the ancient Greeks were describing the four basic temperaments, which are roughly equivalent to these four decision modes.

Most people tend toward one mode or another, but it’s perfectly possible to switch around depending on various factors. It’s plausible to think that a single person could go through all four decision modes in a single day.

Practical Application in Design

So how does this apply to your daily work? Let’s say you have to design a website, a business card, or a print ad. You might wonder, which decision mode do I design for? When possible, design for all of them. At the very least, be thinking about each of these people as you go through the process.

For instance, consider Mint.com, an online personal finance tool. Someone in methodical mode will look for details like security issues, which Mint.com addresses right on the homepage. A competitive mode user seeks quick proof and appreciates summaries and testimonials. A humanistic mode user enjoys the overall brand experience, while someone in spontaneous decision mode responds to quick calls to action and brief benefit summaries.

Design Strategies for Each Decision Mode

  • For the methodical decision mode: explain the process, provide details and examples.
  • For the competitive decision mode: credentials and proof are key. Show what sets you apart.
  • For the humanistic decision mode: use design and storytelling to create a rich sensory experience.
  • For the spontaneous decision mode: help users see themselves with your product and encourage immediate action.

Evan from Forty has developed some sketch paper that makes it easy to jot down ideas for each decision mode. These principles don’t just apply to design; they’re relevant to sales, copywriting, negotiation, account management, or any context where decisions are made.

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