Check out my full thesis proposal here, it’s entitled: Vote Rationally, Vote Intelligently, Just Vote: An Application to Address Uninformed Voting and Voter Apathy.

Ever wonder why a person makes the choices they make or whether or not notifications are the most effective means of alerting a user? When crafting a user’s experience, we consider usability, customer journeys, user personas, etc. but we tend to forget the largest driving force behind a decision, emotions.

This past fall, I began my thesis research for my Master of Fine Arts in Visual Communication on Voter Apathy and the usefulness of an application that would allow users to not only vote via mobile devices, but receive non-partisan information on election issues, and notifications for local and state elections.What is interesting is how this topic is not only helping me understand the various psychological states of mind as it relates to politics has led me deeper subject matters within user experience.

The first being the psychology of politics becoming the psychology of decisions. Consider how a person’s emotional state can affect their application or web experience—anxiety versus excitement could lead one abandon a shopping cart or delete an application as opposed to downloading more applications from the same developer or adding additional items into a cart. I believe we as designers/UXers focus on how an app experience (for example) can make a person feel, but rarely how a person feels dictates their app experience.

Ultimately, I hope to find a way to predict choices based on emotions and translate that into better user experiences. Example: A person is frustrated with an application, would they prefer to read through an FAQ or immediately see a phone number they can call? Traditional business would say, give all the information possible and allow a user to read through it while burying the contact number as deep as you can because call centers are expensive. On the contrary, what if a business absorbed that expense due to users evangelizing the great service, which could offset the cost through increased user acquisition and extended customer retention. Imagine an application has six different states—one of those states, a help page for example, user research has shown to attribute to specific emotions. Those emotions could potentially be confusion, irritation or anger—which, research has shown, leads user’s to one of three particular actions or desires. If we served up those three possibilities almost immediately, one would assume the user’s experience would greatly improve. Moreover, if we knew excitement led to the desire for complex choices, or anxiety to simplicity, we could service that desire given the particular state in which a user is interacting within the app. Of course this isn’t an exact science, but I believe something is there to be understood.

The second subject matter I’m digging deeper into is the saturation of notifications—are notifications effective still or are they becoming background noise? Now I must admit, I’m a little OCD when it comes to notifications, I hate badge app icons, I hate seeing the unread numbers on my email, so I check every email and clear every notification. In doing so I tend to forget that is was being notified about, my strong urge to remove a notification drives me to the action of clearing it more so than reacting to it. Interestingly enough, I believe the same could be said for those notification hoarders—yes you, the one who has 4,000 unread emails, 25 unchecked notifications on Facebook—you, the who with the “I’ll check it later” mentality. When a person has so much sitting on their mobile device or laptop waiting to be checked and it piles up to the point where it’s never checkable, but you fool yourself into thinking you’ll check back soon—how can one ever pay attention to one notification out of so many?

Well there are ultimately two opposing arguments. One states that notifications are impactful and useful, not only are they reminders which create a sense of urgency, but they stimulate meta-learning or the reflection and awareness to foster understanding and motivate learning and they help support a user’s competency of relevant subject matter. The other states much of what I stated above—there are so many notifications coming at users on a daily basis, they are no longer impactful as they once were. If the second is true, then we as designers/UXers have to being considering, how do we change how we notify? Is it possible to change how we notify users? Whether it be with the language we use, the color of the badge icon, the type of vibration or sound? Does it go beyond something that should seem so simple? Currently, all I have is questions, but as I research, I’ll find the answers.

Over the next year and a half, as I continue to develop my thesis, I’ll be posting my research findings as I dig into The Psychology of Choices and The Saturation of Notifications. I believe these subject are, and will become, increasingly important as we seek to dig deeper into user-centered design. For those interested into the psychology and politics part of my research I’ll be pulling out key subject matter as well to break down what people are thinking. I’ll periodically post questions and welcome thoughts and insights.

Check out my full proposal here, it’s entitled: Vote Rationally, Vote Intelligently, Just Vote: An Application to Address Uninformed Voting and Voter Apathy.