The Halo Effect – Why Apple gets away with rubbish interaction design

As have many others in the past year or so, I recently swapped from PC to a new MacBook.

It certainly has been an experience, and it’s nice to actually have something to take out of my bag at conferences that looks so cute, that doesn’t make that embarrassing Window’s startup sound, that has a half decent battery life and that doesn’t take half a century to boot up. (My old laptop was generally out of battery by the time it finally booted, making it all but useless in conference environments anyway).

It has to be said though, that when it comes to interaction design, there are quite a few examples where the Mac falls short of my old PC.

This is not a post about the things that Apple does badly though (although, seriously – can we get past the one button mouse already? and I do think that dialog box is pretty shocking, and those little triangles that so often hide much of the information I’m looking for in Mac applications…. please!). This is a post about what Apple does well, and how this helps them get away with doing some things not so well.

As a general rule, Apple does a brilliant job with design. Highlights include the iPod, their in-store experience, the ‘out of the box’ experience, and the product design for most of their computers.

Enter, the Halo Effect. The Halo Effect is a Cognitive Bias (something our brains do that kind of tricks us or is a bit lazy, but also makes us more efficient than, say, computers). This particular cognitive bias means that the impressions we already have of someone or something colour how we perceive their current and future actions. Or, in Wikipedia speak ‘the perception of a particular trait is influenced by the perception of the former traits in a sequence of interpretations.’

So, all of Apple’s good design work of the past influence our perception of other design work we encounter. It also influences our reaction to things like, say, their customer service once you’ve bought their product. In some instances, some of these traits are not so desirable, but because of the great positive association we have between Apple and design, we are almost blinded to the fact that they’re not really delivering to the standard we’ve come to expect.

This accounts for the effect that new Mac users would be familiar with whenever they dare complain about something that Apple has designed – the almost-killer-attack of long term Mac users who seem to be almost blind to the idea that there may be something imperfect about a Mac!

OK, so that’s an exaggeration. But I bet you know what I mean :)

The Halo Effect and attractiveness are also closely linked, meaning that we are more likely to imbue attractive things with positive traits than we are less attractive things. Thereby, simply by virtue of the fact that my MacBook looks a whole lot more attractive than my now retired ThinkPad, I’m more likely to attribute it with traits like good interaction design… even when there may be much evidence to the contrary.

We can learn a lot from Apple and the Halo Effect though. If our company or our product becomes associated with good design over time, and if we design attractive products, then our customers will not be waiting to savage us when, in the future, we slip up a little accidentally. Quite the opposite – investing in good design now is almost like investing in a margin for error in the future. And couldn’t we all do with one of those now and then.

Meanwhile, next time you are attacked by rampant long-term Mac users, play nicely.

They may get a little over enthusiastic at times, but that’s just their cognitive bias talking ;)

links for 13 June 2007

thoughts on the less intentional profile

So, something that I’ve always been quite fascinated with, is the way that people ‘perform’ themselves in virtual space… consciously or not. It all started by reading some Sherry Turkle while I was at university and has simmered away ever since.

In the ‘olden days’ of social technologies, creating your ‘self’ online involved a fair amount of work. You had to craft your identity out of the lines of text that you shared with others online, on your website or in a MUDs and other places.

These days, however, your online identity is as much about what you *don’t* share, as what you do. There are so many ways and means to communicate your identity with others, that it’s almost simpler to censor those things you don’t *really* want to share. Like, only Twittering when you’re doing something cool or being somewhere exotic. Or only declaring certain favourite books or music or films.

Maybe this is not so different to what we were doing before. It just feels a whole lot easier and, somehow, codified.

What is perhaps a little different are the less intentional profiles we create. I was thinking about this in terms of the attention data that we generate and share – say through sites like Last.FM (I’m sure there are others tho none are springing to mind at this late hour).

So, one minute I’m just listening away to my music and the next I discover that Robbie Williams is my second most listened to artist and I have a quandary… I’m not going to dispute the correctness of the data, but at the same time… the impression that is created by presenting this data to my social network is not one that, to me, gives an accurate portrayal of the kind of music I like to listen to. (I’m *way* cooler than that… really?!)

Trust me? Well… I’m not sure that I would either.

After all, which is more correct – what I tell you I like, or what the statistics say?

Which is more appropriate to the creation of a ‘profile’ or a virtual self?

Guy Parsons also got me thinking about a whole other stream of data that on the surface seems kind of irrelevant – like the groups you leave on Facebook – and how this data is actually really interesting in develop a sense of how your profile is changing over time – not to mention tracking memes as they flow in and out of popularity.

Fascinating stuff, I think. The profile we create when we don’t really mean to at all.

What do you make of it?

links for 12 June 07