5 Tips to Help Minimize Change Aversion in Users

One tweet from Kylie Jenner questioning Snapchat’s redesign is all it took for their stock to drop a whopping $ 1.3 billion. But, it didn’t end there. A petition was floated on Change.org asking Snapchat to remove the redesign which received more than 1.2 million signatures. Humans are creatures of habit. As much as we claim to welcome change or embrace it, our actions suggest otherwise. As product users, we hate change, even when the said change improves our user experience. Despite the user research and usability tests, when the day comes, there is an avalanche of negative reactions expected. This negative reaction is termed ‘change aversion’, referring to the reaction users have to changes in a product, be it functional changes such as feature updates or visual redesigns. To combat this, we first need to understand where it stems from. What causes change aversion in users? https://medium.com/media/e4db77f6ca3aa4d5fe42444e3d3b6c60/hrefDon Norman, in his book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, made a very interesting point on how the human mind reacts to anything new. You see, when people are provided a new piece of information or shown a new visual, it results in a spur-of-the-moment response that is more emotional. This is a visceral reaction, which isn’t well-thought-out or reasoned. Mind you, visceral reactions aren’t always negative — they’re just an immediate response influenced by our Limbic System, also called the ‘old brain’ where mostly unconscious value judgments are made. The old brain is what has taught us to stay away from fires or beware of creatures larger than ourselves. Since visceral reactions stem from human genes, the responses tend to be fairly consistent across demographics. In the modern world where software users are exposed to tweaked features, or have to let go of some features — anything that affects usability — these noticeable changes are met with visceral reactions. Being humans, users let their instincts take over and influence their reactions. As designers, it is our responsibility to ensure that the changes receive a fair, if not entirely positive response. While users may not embrace the changes from the get-go but there are ways to mitigate the negativity by avoiding things that may trigger confusion and irritability. Tackling change aversion the right way https://medium.com/media/e1545a3e9bf63242b200bcbca1a49c06/hrefThe foremost thing to keep in mind regarding users’ reaction to change is to acknowledge that it stems from their emotions. And secondly, to not dismiss it as a mindless reaction and expect users ‘to come around’ eventually. The hugely successful sitcom, Friends (its problematic nature aside), still manages to rope in audiences simply because the creative team placed their viewers on a pedestal. The team of writers would be present during the live taping, taking note of the audiences’ reactions and editing the lines to elicit better responses. So yes, Chandler and Monica would have been a one-off thing in London if it weren’t for the writers paying attention to the raucous approval from the live audience. Moral? Let user reactions show you the way. Plan changes incrementally https://medium.com/media/8498ea9a126a660363f7532935604d28/hrefToo much of a change never goes down well and this applies to your product as well. When you push out a version that looks and behaves radically differently, it is bound to throw users off-track, despite all the good intentions. Even if it’s a legacy product that’s clunky and tiresome to use, people still are creatures of habit and their response to a radical change may not be positive. So, the best way would be to introduce change incrementally. For instance, you can start by increasing the line spacing slightly to make the text more readable before moving on to subtly modifying the shape of the buttons instead of introducing more colors overnight. Retain the “old brain” triggers by representing them in a modified format. Subtle, step-by-step changes stand a greater chance of being well-received by the users because it lets them benefit from it. This also eliminates the perceived burden of learning something new, which is a major factor causing change aversion. Don’t forget your BFF — User testing https://medium.com/media/9865733fe599034629476b0a162c125b/hrefIf only we’d get a penny each time someone said, ‘you are not your user’! Even in the case of intranet products, their owners cannot assume themselves to be users as they might have a completely different use case. The bottom line remains that user testing is and is always going to be your best bet in mitigating change aversion. Testing the changes incrementally is the only way to grasp user responses and ensure that the said changes are performing as expected (shoutout to the ‘Friends’ example mentioned earlier). Contrary to what most businesses believe, user testing is not an impediment to the release schedule. It is, in fact, the best way to save on the higher costs of r

5 Tips to Help Minimize Change Aversion in Users

One tweet from Kylie Jenner questioning Snapchat’s redesign is all it took for their stock to drop a whopping $ 1.3 billion. But, it didn’t end there. A petition was floated on Change.org asking Snapchat to remove the redesign which received more than 1.2 million signatures.

Humans are creatures of habit. As much as we claim to welcome change or embrace it, our actions suggest otherwise. As product users, we hate change, even when the said change improves our user experience. Despite the user research and usability tests, when the day comes, there is an avalanche of negative reactions expected.

This negative reaction is termed ‘change aversion’, referring to the reaction users have to changes in a product, be it functional changes such as feature updates or visual redesigns. To combat this, we first need to understand where it stems from.

What causes change aversion in users?

https://medium.com/media/e4db77f6ca3aa4d5fe42444e3d3b6c60/href

Don Norman, in his book ‘The Design of Everyday Things’, made a very interesting point on how the human mind reacts to anything new. You see, when people are provided a new piece of information or shown a new visual, it results in a spur-of-the-moment response that is more emotional. This is a visceral reaction, which isn’t well-thought-out or reasoned. Mind you, visceral reactions aren’t always negative — they’re just an immediate response influenced by our Limbic System, also called the ‘old brain’ where mostly unconscious value judgments are made. The old brain is what has taught us to stay away from fires or beware of creatures larger than ourselves. Since visceral reactions stem from human genes, the responses tend to be fairly consistent across demographics.

In the modern world where software users are exposed to tweaked features, or have to let go of some features — anything that affects usability — these noticeable changes are met with visceral reactions. Being humans, users let their instincts take over and influence their reactions.

As designers, it is our responsibility to ensure that the changes receive a fair, if not entirely positive response. While users may not embrace the changes from the get-go but there are ways to mitigate the negativity by avoiding things that may trigger confusion and irritability.

Tackling change aversion the right way

https://medium.com/media/e1545a3e9bf63242b200bcbca1a49c06/href

The foremost thing to keep in mind regarding users’ reaction to change is to acknowledge that it stems from their emotions. And secondly, to not dismiss it as a mindless reaction and expect users ‘to come around’ eventually.

The hugely successful sitcom, Friends (its problematic nature aside), still manages to rope in audiences simply because the creative team placed their viewers on a pedestal. The team of writers would be present during the live taping, taking note of the audiences’ reactions and editing the lines to elicit better responses. So yes, Chandler and Monica would have been a one-off thing in London if it weren’t for the writers paying attention to the raucous approval from the live audience. Moral? Let user reactions show you the way.

Plan changes incrementally

https://medium.com/media/8498ea9a126a660363f7532935604d28/href

Too much of a change never goes down well and this applies to your product as well. When you push out a version that looks and behaves radically differently, it is bound to throw users off-track, despite all the good intentions. Even if it’s a legacy product that’s clunky and tiresome to use, people still are creatures of habit and their response to a radical change may not be positive. So, the best way would be to introduce change incrementally. For instance, you can start by increasing the line spacing slightly to make the text more readable before moving on to subtly modifying the shape of the buttons instead of introducing more colors overnight. Retain the “old brain” triggers by representing them in a modified format.

Subtle, step-by-step changes stand a greater chance of being well-received by the users because it lets them benefit from it. This also eliminates the perceived burden of learning something new, which is a major factor causing change aversion.

Don’t forget your BFF — User testing

https://medium.com/media/9865733fe599034629476b0a162c125b/href

If only we’d get a penny each time someone said, ‘you are not your user’! Even in the case of intranet products, their owners cannot assume themselves to be users as they might have a completely different use case. The bottom line remains that user testing is and is always going to be your best bet in mitigating change aversion. Testing the changes incrementally is the only way to grasp user responses and ensure that the said changes are performing as expected (shoutout to the ‘Friends’ example mentioned earlier). Contrary to what most businesses believe, user testing is not an impediment to the release schedule. It is, in fact, the best way to save on the higher costs of redacting changes post-release.

Let users shift between the old and new versions

https://medium.com/media/7053511968619615b67a84fb678990c6/href

A change also should not be shoved down the throats of users, it just lets the resentment fester. You don’t just throw out a child’s worn-out toy when you bring them a new one, no matter how worn out it may be.

The mere-exposure effect is a psychological phenomenon by which people tend to develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them — sounds a lot like legacy users, doesn’t it? Therefore, to combat this, it’s better to offer users the flexibility of flitting between the old and new versions to help them absorb the changes at their own pace. If that isn’t feasible, have placeholders to showcase new elements so the users have an idea of what’s coming. Letting the users play with a beta preview is a great way to offer flexibility and gather feedback. Even if the project’s ultimate objective is to retire the old version, the mere option to switch between old and new for a fixed period not only makes users feel they are in control, it also gives the design team to learn of any sharp reaction and prepare for the same in a controlled manner.

Explain the benefits in advance

https://medium.com/media/64191756764956e4fc48d3d9b7e62b85/href

Clear communication holds the key to avoiding conflicts in most situations, and product updates are no exception. Surprising users with change catches them unaware and has an adverse impact on product usage. In such a case, it is unfair to blame the users for resisting change and perhaps even defying it, despite the utility of the new features.

Therefore it is important to notify users of functional and visual changes to the product in advance. Also, simply informing them of incoming changes won’t do — it is necessary to let in on the thought process behind the changes and the benefits they will experience as users. Set clear expectations for them and be transparent about how the changes will impact their user experience. It is crucial to communicate the changes as value additions in advance and not after they’ve been implemented — this way the users will be open to trying them out rather than seeing them as being forced upon. Regardless of how you choose to communicate it, ensure that a provision for feedback is a part of it.

It is no surprise that the contemporary SaaS tools now bear capabilities as complex as legacy products but function as smoothly as consumer-grade products on cloud architecture and the works. And, this has only been possible thanks to periodic upgrades. While humans will continue to remain creatures of habit, there are several ways to help them get acquainted with newer habits and guide them to seamlessly use systems or products.


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