Many experiments involving brain imaging have revealed that the zones in our brain that are activated to perform a certain task are the same than the zones people use when they are asked to simply imagine performing that same task.
Let’s take a simple example: imagine you want to look for sites about ergonomics:
- Imagine opening Google in your browser (can you already see the interface, as if you had it in front of you?),
- typing the word “ergonomics” in the text box, clicking on the Search button,
- seeing the list of results. Again, can you see it happening?
But what does this have to do with building an interface?
Each user who wants to perform a task on the Internet activates a cerebral information network. He will do this non-consciously and he will use it to ensure the best results. Depending on the probable difficulty level of the task, the brain will estimate the level of energy needed to perform the task (I use the term ‘energy’ here, knowing of course that things are far more complicated than that!).
To come back to the example of Google, we are all used to working with this interface. This means our brain will estimate we will need a low level of energy.
Now let’s imagine Google radically changes its interface :
- You arrive on the site to perform a task without knowing the site has been changed.
- You will be surprised because the site won’t correspond to the mental model you had. Automatically your brain will give a higher energy level to the task at hand.
Still not convinced? Good for you, because you never need to believe things at face value.
This is work done by Doctor Philippe Hantraye of the hospital service Frédéric Joliot, which shows the brain activity for a simple visual task and the activity for a complex task.
Depending on the complexity of the task, the brain will either gently start to glow, or it will spontaneously ignite.
The ease of use is translated into a lesser use of memory resources.
An expert in behavioural sciences needs to understand these mechanisms to build efficient interfaces.
This goes much further than the common sense principles of usability.