The Importance of Expectations

The combination of what something looks like mixed with what you are expecting shapes what your experience will be.

The old adage that “you can’t judge a book by its cover”, speaks to the idea that beyond someone’s looks they have personality, ideas, and substance. You shouldn’t be so quick to judge someone just by what they look like. There is even a good Bo Diddley song about it.

It’s interesting then that, while most people are surely familiar with this saying, we judge things by their looks all the time and probably don’t think twice about it. Let’s say you are looking at two stores that sell the same thing. Store A has a slick logo and professionally designed posters in their windows. Store B has a generic vinyl store sign and maybe a hand-written sign in the window. If you are looking for low-cost you are probably going to Store B. If you are looking for higher quality, maybe Store A. Now say these are restaurants. Restaurant A has a professional ad campaign in the window where Restaurant B is plain looking with just one of those inexpensive store hours signs on the door. If you are in a new city and are looking for “authentic” local food, you probably want Restaurant B. The fact that the owners don’t seem focused on looks is actually part of the appeal.

Think about when you are looking for answers on the internet. You have a particular question which is a little obscure, so you search. You find information about your topic on two different websites. Website A is well designed, works on mobile, robust comment section. Website B looks like it was built in a table back in 1999, has some old animated gifs, refers to the webmaster, and seems to be just one person putting content online. Now if you are researching an old historical event such as the American Civil War, where the facts probably haven’t changed much lately, Website B might actually be fine. Website B could be a subject matter expert who just isn’t great at building websites but has lots of knowledge. If however you are looking for the latest trends in web design, well Website A is almost certainly the better site.

Something’s aesthetic has to be filtered through your intentions in order to determine whether it is what you want or not, whether it is credible or not. Business Intelligence apps are no different. While content is king, your own expectations play a big part in your experience. Let’s say you are looking for some sales information and a coworker directs you to a particular app. Upon loading the app you immediately make judgements based on what it looks like and what you are expecting. If you are seeking a real deep-dive into the data, and the app just presents a few objects, you may get suspicious. The app might be beautifully designed, but if it’s sparse with details and the objects don’t allow for a deep dive analysis, it’s not meeting your expectations. Similarly if you are only interested in a few high-level KPI numbers, and instead you get loads of unaligned objects, tables with lots of details, you are turned off.

Ultimately looks alone are not what makes or breaks an experience but looks & your expectations shape the experience you are going to have. When designing for others be sure to understand what the user’s expectations are, what their needs are, and why the are going to be using the app you are building. Understanding your users will help inform what kind of experience you should build.

Do our expectations paint an accurate picture of how something is to be perceived?


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