As you walk down the alleyway, you feel the hairs on your neck stand up. You’re a bit scared, but you can’t exactly put your finger on why. Was that some footsteps? Did you see a shadow shift? Why is it that you know you’re in danger?
As humans, our subconscious mind is even more powerful than our conscious one. It’s constantly making calculations in the background, figuring out answers to your forgotten questions, and examining your surroundings. This is the key to your survival. It looked for predators when we needed that. It looks for body language in the office when we need that. It processes visual information and looks for patterns when we need that.
I used to work with a designer earlier in my career and we developed a unique conversation style. He’d put together some ideas for a web app interface, and I’d point out the ones I liked and loved. Some I also really hated and I told him why. Every once in a while, I’d look at a design and I’d say “I don’t know what’s wrong with it, but it makes me feel itchy.”
Obviously I didn’t mean physically - but we both understood what that meant. Something about it was off-putting. And if I felt like that, probably some of our audience would feel the same way. Something was off and it was distracting. It didn’t feel right.
On its own, maybe one “itchy” would be ok. But these things add up.
Imagine it’s the middle of the night. You’re laying in bed and you hear a clunk downstairs. You perk up - but you hear nothing else. You decided it’s nothing - and go back to sleep. Now, imagine you heard 3 or 4 of those clunks. Now, you’d get up and investigate. Why? A potentially uncomfortable or unknown thing - something that didn’t match the pattern (quietness) - repeatedly happened. Now you’ve got a different feeling and you’ve sprung into action.
This is why good UI and UX matters. I’ve done many reviews of applications and sometimes point out tiny little details that developers and designers have missed. Some customers are happy with this and appreciated the chance to fix things that they’ve missed or have just seen so many times and now don’t see anymore. Others have pushed back, disagreed or rejected my feedback, saying “it’s just spacing” or “it’s only a period.”
Consistency matters. Patterns matter. Our subconscious mind uses these things to tell us if something is ok or not.
There are two reasons why this matters for our website: danger/scams and completing successful call to actions.
The reason I pick on these consistency points and look at tiny details is because the internet can be a dangerous place. There are many people out there looking to scam people, install malware, or in some other way hurt you. Your subconscious mind is in high gear looking for danger.
If everything sort of looks “ok,” how can we notice danger? Well, one theory I have is that we look for things like bad spacing, spelling mistakes, incorrect punctuation, etc. When something is proper, right and professional, these things are perfect. Someone spent time to create the product, others have reviewed it, people have signed off and now it’s available to you. If it’s a scam, someone launched it - probably in isolation - and pushed it out as soon as possible. The sooner they deploy it, the better chance they have of tricking people and evading protection mechanisms. They may have english as a second language, too, and not have someone available to review their grammar choices. They might not have spent time to refine their design skills and craft because that’s not what they’re trying to do with their life - it’s just a tool as a means to an end: to harm you.
I also talk about things like spacing, alignment and color choices because of the complexities of nudging someone to complete a call to action. Humans tend to enjoy and follow repetition, to move in chunked steps and to put things in ‘boxes.’ When we talk about spacing or alignment, we’re really talking about not disrupting their pattern matching, about grouping their actions together visually, and getting them to continue through something because it’s repetitive; it looks just like the last thing they agreed to. Any time we have something in the way of this processes, we can loose their momentum.
So, these things that I used to describe as “itchy” actually matter because they’re what our subconscious is using to protect us or make decisions for us. That’s why these tiny points matter. Too many clunks - too many misaligned boxes or typos - and we’ve moved from comfort, trust and compliance - to mistrust, questioning and defense.