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A user or potential customer must feel in control, most of the time, to enjoy or continue an experience… whether it’s a virtual experience (using YouTube), a social experience (bowling or shopping) or a software experience (managing finances.)

In a comment on my “recommendations engines” post, Professor James Bradford of Georgia Southern University suggested my irritation with unsolicited (and often inaccurate) recommendations might be due to the “locus of control” factor, and I think he’s right.

The feeling of being out of control (not understanding something) can diminish the user experience to the degree where people just give up. Notice that I said “feeling”, as in perception – they don’t have to actually be in control, and may in fact be involved in quite a process of trial and error, but their comprehension allows them eventual mastery.

That process of being “in the zone” is something a user experience specialist is striving to create with users. If someone is in the zone, it means they are picking up on what they’re doing to the degree that they continue and move into increasingly advanced levels. It’s easy to depict that happening with a gamer, for example… they master the easy levels and then keep trying to master the harder levels of a game. But it happens with web sites, ecommerce sites and software of all kinds as well. The longer you can keep a user in a zone of trying, learning, and succeeding – the better chance you have of keeping the person engaged with your brand, product or service and company.

I found some great articles that specifically address usability and the locus of control. Some of them are older, but still have excellent points and I’d especially recommend user experience students read these and keep researching the topic. Thanks for the great food for thought, James!

 Can Personality Be Used to Predict How We Use the Internet?

Locus of control (LOC), a personality dimension based on principles from social learning theory is a generalized expectancy about the degree to which individuals control their outcomes (Rotter, 1966). At one end of the continuum are those who believe their actions and abilities determine their successes or failures (Internals); whereas, those who believe fate, luck, chance, or powerful others determine their outcomes are at the opposite end (Externals). Since increased personal control over outcomes has been cited as one of the major differences consumers experience in a CME, use of the locus of control construct seems especially relevant when analyzing online behaviors.

 Control is Everything

Scott Adams got me thinking. In his blog entry for August 17, he mentions that one of our strongest needs it to feel like we’re in control. He used an old example: A genie offers you two choices. In the first choice, “You can eat at the finest restaurants in the world for free, twice a week. The only catch is that the genie picks the day, when you are not already booked, and he picks the specific restaurant.” In the second choice, “You can eat at “good” restaurants, again for free, twice a week. But this time you can schedule it whenever you want, up to two places per week, and pick whatever “good” restaurant you want.”

 Usability of Interactive Products

The principle of supporting the user’s internal locus of control is related to the user’s subjective feeling of first person participation and engagement with the interaction, and also to the design principle which aims at this – direct manipulation. The proposition is that interaction is more rewarding if the users feel they can themselves directly influence the objects, instead of merely giving the system instructions to act.

 30 Usability Issues To Be Aware Of

You are the advocate of your visitors’ interests and needs; you have to protect your understanding of good user experience and make sure the visitors will find their way through (possibly) complex site architecture. And this means that you need to be able to protect your position and communicate your ideas effectively — in discussions with your clients and colleagues. In fact, it’s your job to compromise wrong ideas and misleading concepts instead of following them blindly. Furthermore, it’s always useful to have some precise terms ready to hand once you might need them as an argument in your discussions.

 Universal Usability

The goal of universal access to information and communications services is compelling. Enthusiastic networking innovators, business leaders, and government policymakers see opportunities and benefits from widespread usage. How can information and communications services be made usable for every citizen? Designing for experienced frequent users is difficult enough, but designing for a broad audience of unskilled users is a far greater challenge. Scaling up from a listserv for 100 software engineers to 100,000 schoolteachers to 100,000,000 registered voters will require both inspiration and perspiration… if countries are to meet the goal of universal usability, then researchers will have to aggressively address usability issues.

 Culture and Usability Feature: Culture as a Design Heuristic

In a rich discussion of how cultural issues affect HCI and interaction design, “Culture: Predictive or Heuristic?” Emilie W Gould of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute outlined some opposition to using culture as a basis for evaluating HCI. Criticisms of cultural models were based on discomfort with stereotypes, the wide range of individual differences (‘We all know people who don’t fit the cultural mean’), that cultures “drift”, while people adopt – and adapt – technology on a personal level to their own needs and culture may be embedded in technology but technologies also change culture. In all, culture is more explanatory than predictive. Culture may be more useful as a design heuristic than as a user demographic, she argued.

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