Full narrative of talk given at IA Summit 2011, Denver

Slide 1

After having enjoyed the privilege of giving this talk at
IA Summit (and Euro IA), I tossed the slides on SlideShare.

Quickly, though, peers who couldn't attend pointed out that, without the sound, it all doesn't make much sense :-)

Agreed, the slides were not meant to be self-explanatory...

So, for those who weren't there: behold, here, the full narrative, written out + more background info.

Koen AT Claes

UPDATE: I wrote a UX Mag article about all this too.
UX Magazine Contributor





Scroll, or use the spacebar or arrow keys.

Slide 2

Leuven (Belgium), ~ 2007

In Leuven, an old, charming university town, close to Brussels, a rumor went round.

Perhaps it still does to this day. But at least it did when I studied there, until ~ 2007 :-)

The rumor went that: when going out, you'd better not drink both Baileys and Schweppes the same night.

Slide 3

Why not? Because you could DIE! Srsly!

Because... When combined, these liquids would kickstart a chemical reaction, which would cause the mix to harden.

Supposedly turning into a rock, the size of your fist.

Inside your stomach...

Of course, it is easy so check if this is so.

It is not.

Slide 4

There is a small reaction, though.

Because Baileys is a cream based liqueur, it includes caseine, which reacts when it comes into contact with acids.

And Schweppes includes carbonic acid, causing the mixture to split. But it won't become hard. Only a bit flaky.

Verdict: classic urban myth.

Slide 5

However, what remains fascinating, is the question why this myth (or any urban myth) spreads so easily so widely.

And specifically: what makes it so memorable?

Because, for it to spread, viva voce, it must be memorable.

That is basically what this talk is about:

MEMORABILITY, and its impact on UX (design).

Slide 6

The short, obligatory self introduction:

My name is Koen AT Claes.

I am a UX designer myself -- contrary to what the title of this presentation may suggest :-)

And I am particularly interested in how our memory works.
View Koen Claes' profile on LinkedIn

Slide 7

I gave this presentation first at Euro IA 2010, in Paris.

Slide 8

Then, some time later, I was invited to do it over again, in Denver, at the 2011 IA Summit...

Slide 9

...to the apparent delight of some great fellow former
Euro IA speakers, like Jeff Gothelf.

Which was nice.

Slide 10

This talk is split into 3 main parts:

Part 1: The (un)importance of UX...

Part 2: How we remember...

Part 3: How to make something memorable...

Slide 11

So, to start: what is UX?

Specifically, what do we mean by the X of "eXperience"?

You could see it as something volatile; something that overcomes you, and fades away quickly.

Like feeling cold, or warm.

Slide 12

Or, you could see it as something you mention on your CV.

A set of skills, learned over time, slowly...

Something persistent; stored in your long-term memory, explicitly or implicitly.

When we, in our field of UX design, speak of "X", I guess we refer to an event that leaves some kind of impression.

(I will come back to this later.)

Slide 13

First, enter Prof. Daniel Kahneman.

One of the founding fathers of behavioral economics.

And also the first non-economist (he is a psychologist) ever to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economics.

When we, in our field of UX design, speak of "X", I guess we refer to an event that leaves some kind of impression.

Though, most attention seems to be paid to the event(s): designing them to be smooth, pleasurable, free of mishaps.

I find -- still (update 2012) -- surprisingly little attention is paid to the concrete impressions we desire to imprint.

Enter Prof. Daniel Kahneman...

Slide 14

During research he did into happiness and mental well-being, he uncovered something remarkable.

To me, something with direct implications on UX design.

He explains it all in a TED talk. (Highly recommended!)

Slide 15

To summarize:

One of his experiments involves 2 patients, each undergoing a painful colonoscopy.

During the procedure, they are asked, in 1-minute intervals, to report the intensity of their pain, on a scale (1 to 10).

Patient B's ordeal, however, did last longer than Patient A's.

Thus, Patient B experienced more pain, in total.

Seems obvious.

Slide 16

However, when asked, some time later, how they felt about it, their answers where entirely contradictory.

Patient A reported the experience as having been much worse than Patient B seemed to remember it.

Key, here, was how the event ended (peak-end rule).

For patient A, the end was intensely painful. While for B, the peak was relatively low. Even though, cumulatively, B experienced more pain in total!

So, for our memories, endings seem very important. While time spans seem irrelevant.

Slide 17

In fact, only an extremely small portion of what we experience in our daily lives gets encoded into our memory.

Our psychological present -- the world as we now experience it -- is extremely short; only a few seconds.

If, within that time span, something does not get encoded into our long-term memory, it is lost forever...

Slide 18

After much research an many experiments, Kahneman's conclusion was that WE ALL HAVE 2 SELVES:


• And a REMEMBERING self.

And they are very different.

Our experiencing self lives in the now, but when it comes to decisions, it "has no vote whatsoever."

In an almost dictatorial way, all our decisions are made by our remembering self.

Slide 19

According to Prof. Kahneman, our 2 selves are different and "are made happy by different things."

In our world of UX then, when a user decides to return to either 1 of 2 websites, will uneventful, unremarkable, convention-based usefulness be the main/only criterium?

Slide 20

Or as Andrew Maier nicely put it: "Just because an application is easy to use doesn't mean that your users won't grow tired of it."

Or another thought-provoking example from Kahneman:

Imagine you're on a 2-week holiday. The first week you do a lot of crazy, new, exciting things. But the second week you basically do the same thing every day.

In memory, then, it will only seem a 1-week holiday, i.e. all cumulated memories of the 1st week.

Because, the 2nd week, nearly no new memories were added, and we don't encode time spans just because.

Slide 21

A final point I still wanted to add to the example of the user choosing between 2 similar websites.

Creating the greatest experience in memory is not only important for getting returning visits.

As illustrated in the very first urban myth example, it is also important to make an idea (a website) spread.

You'd want a user not just to return, but also to spread your idea to her friends, family, co-workers, neighbours, etc.

Thus, also generating new visits...

Slide 22

Part 1: The (un)importance of UX...

Part 2: How we remember...

Part 3: How to make something memorable...

Slide 23

Understanding how exactly our memory works is hard.

(I'm into it, but still have a lot to learn myself :-)

There are many different ways it gets conceptualized:

long-term vs working memory,

implicit vs explicit memory,

episodic vs semantic, etc.

The most relevant for UX design seems the distinction between long-term and working memory.

Slide 24

You use LT memory, for example, when you think back about a birthday (making it also explicit and episodic).

Working memory is very different and much more fragile and, as mentioned, only lasts a few seconds.

A lot of its workings are unconscious, like the effects of many memory biases.

The peak-end rule (also mentioned earlier) is such a memory bias. Some other well-known examples: recency effect, priming, etc.

Slide 25

Biases like priming or recency are so subtle because they effect us without us being consciously aware of them.

Some happen so fast (subliminally) we can't be aware of them even if we wanted to.

Slide 26

Learn more...

Google "exposure effect fluency familiarity"

Slide 27

Let's do a few tests. A simple one to start.

Solve this riddle as fast as possible.

(Speed is essential, so blurt out your first thought.)

If you said € 1,- think again...

€ 1 would make the total cost € 12. The answer is € 0,5.

This test aims to illustrate that our brains are satisficing machines, highly influenced by our intuition.

It suggests something that seems plausible, which will do.

Slide 28

This second test is about memory itself.

Try to memorize (in 1 go) as many words as possible.

Then write down as many words you can remember.

The catch: chances are high you wrote down "sleep", even though it never appeared in the original list...

Illustrated here are 2 things:

1) That we can have false memories (confabulations).

2) That our memories are stored in webs of related concepts. That the computer memory metaphor is wrong.

Slide 29

Learn more...

Google "deese roediger mcdermott paradigm"

Slide 30

False memories can get pretty extreme.

For example, there was a reported case of a man whose legs became paralyzed because he was run over by a truck.

Only, the accident never happened. It was a false memory, but so vidid he actually became unable to move his legs.

(Nowadays, this is diagnosed as conversion disorder, but faking or exaggeration of symptoms, in general, is actually a pretty big problem in the medical world.)

More worrisome, though, is how easily propaganda can also implant false ideas in our collective memories.

Slide 31

Another memory bias is cryptomnesia, or unconscious plagiarism: you remember an idea as yours, while it's not.

This frequently happens after brainstorming sessions. It can happen to the best of us.

Even Mark Twain fell victim to it, as he retold in a dinner speech, where his 'victim' was guest of honor:


I would have travelled a much greater distance than I have come to witness the paying of honors to Doctor Holmes; for my feeling toward him has always been one of peculiar warmth. When one receives a letter from a great man for the first time in his life, it is a large event to him, as all of you know by your own experience. You never can receive letters enough from famous men afterward to obliterate that one, or dim the memory of the pleasant surprise it was, and the gratification it gave you. Lapse of time cannot make it commonplace or cheap.

Well, the first great man who ever wrote me a letter was our guest -- Oliver Wendell Holmes. He was also the first great literary man I ever stole anything from -- and that is how I came to write to him and he to me. When my first book was new, a friend of mine said to me, "The dedication is very neat." Yes, I said, I thought it was. My friend said, "I always admired it, even before I saw it in The Innocents Abroad." I naturally said: "What do you mean? Where did you ever see it before?" "Well, I saw it first some years ago as Doctor Holmes's dedication to his Songs in Many Keys." Of course, my first impulse was to prepare this man's remains for burial, but upon reflection I said I would reprieve him for a moment or two and give him a chance to prove his assertion if he could: We stepped into a book-store, and he did prove it. I had really stolen that dedication, almost word for word. I could not imagine how this curious thing had happened; for I knew one thing--that a certain amount of pride always goes along with a teaspoonful of brains, and that this pride protects a man from deliberately stealing other people's ideas. That is what a teaspoonful of brains will do for a man--and admirers had often told me I had nearly a basketful--though they were rather reserved as to the size of the basket.

However, I thought the thing out, and solved the mystery. Two years before, I had been laid up a couple of weeks in the Sandwich Islands, and had read and re-read Doctor Holmes's poems till my mental reservoir was filled up with them to the brim. The dedication lay on the top, and handy, so, by-and-by, I unconsciously stole it. Perhaps I unconsciously stole the rest of the volume, too, for many people have told me that my book was pretty poetical, in one way or another. Well, of course, I wrote Doctor Holmes and told him I hadn't meant to steal, and he wrote back and said in the kindest way that it was all right and no harm done; and added that he believed we all unconsciously worked over ideas gathered in reading and hearing, imagining they were original with ourselves. He stated a truth, and did it in such a pleasant way, and salved over my sore spot so gently and so healingly, that I was rather glad I had committed the crime, far the sake of the letter. I afterward called on him and told him to make perfectly free with any ideas of mine that struck him as being good protoplasm for poetry. He could see by that that there wasn't anything mean about me; so we got along right from the start. I have not met Doctor Holmes many times since; and lately he said--However, I am wandering wildly away from the one thing which I got on my feet to do; that is, to make my compliments to you, my fellow- teachers of the great public, and likewise to say that I am right glad to see that Doctor Holmes is still in his prime and full of generous life; and as age is not determined by years, but by trouble and infirmities of mind and body, I hope it may be a very long time yet before any one can truthfully say, "He is growing old."

Slide 32

Essential also in understanding how our memory works is the context. Text and context are always intertwined.

When a new memory gets encoded, some of the context is taken along. (~ "I was in ___ when 9/11 happened.")

And inversely: a context can help a memory to get more easily encoded, or recalled.

Slide 33

Try, for example, to memorize these 2 rows of letters.

Chunking them into smaller groups will already help.

Yet, you'll notice it to be much easier still with the second row; because there is much more context that can help.

The more context, the easier a memory can get a grip.

Then also: the more one (already) knows, the easier it is to remember new things. So when explaining/communicating something, use language/visual metaphors your audience is familiar with, to increase the odds of it being remembered.

Slide 34

The context simply being different can also play a role in encoding and/or recall.

In terms of encoding: lots of memories can be linked to the place (context) you were at when they got encoded.

But only so many memories can be linked to 1 specific place before that link becomes meaningless (saturation).

Slide 35

So, thinking UX design then: perhaps not every page should be based on the same template (context).

Because if it's always the same, it can't help the content to be more memorable.

Therefore, have the context change as well now and then, and be relevant to the content.

Slide 36

A great starting point to learn more about our memory is this book, which includes a chapter on Remembering.

Slide 37

Part 1: The (un)importance of UX...

Part 2: How we remember...

Part 3: How to make something memorable...

Slide 38

Learning how, concretely, to make something memorable is hard also, because obviously you first need to understand how our memory works.

(And I'm still learning new things about that every day :-)

A great starting point, though, is this book, by brothers Chip and Dan Heath.

They investigate what exactly makes some ideas "stick" and others not, and came up with these criteria.

I've tried to find some concrete UX design-ish examples for each angle:

Slide 39


Seems an obvious one, but -- as any UX designer with some experience knows -- is tremendously hard to execute.

Slide 40

Or as Leo Burnett said:

"Make it simple. Make it memorable. Make it inviting to look at. Make it fun to read."

Slide 41

Great example: Umbrella Today

Slide 42


Briefly touched upon earlier, unexpectedness or originality, just for the sake of being unexpected or original, is not silly.

The surprise and extra involvement and processing that comes with it will cause it to be more memorable.

Slide 43

As Hideki Nakajima said:

"Content comes first, yet excellent design can catch people's eyes and impress the contents on their memories."

Slide 44

Great example: Virtual Wallet

For a banking application, this completely breaks the mold.

Slide 45

You can also go for shock value.

Like Suit Supply does did.

Slide 46

Or, of course, Benetton.

Slide 47

Or you can also play on the other end of the spectrum: extremely subtle or hidden easter eggs.

Like the arrow in the FedEx logo.


An additional effect you can get by doing this is that the ones who are in the know, will get the feeling they are part of an exclusive group who have uncovered something.

Then, they may want to share that secret...

Slide 48

Or the bear in the Toblerone logo.

Or that the mountain is the depiction of an actual mountain.

Slide 49

Or the C in the negative space of Carrefour's logo.

Slide 50


This is mainly related to the issue of context: making something more easily comprehensible by pointing out similarities with concepts we are already familiar with.

A great health related infographic example.

And more.

Slide 51

As Einstein brilliantly put it:

"If I can't picture it, I can't understand it."

Slide 52

Other example: Global Rich List

Slide 53

Important also are our different thinking modalities.

For example, by picturing something with icons or visuals, you involve our visual way of thinking as well.

Slide 54

Great example of the inclusion of movement.

Slide 55

Greatest example of all: the RSAnimate lectures play into visual ✔, sound ✔, abstract ✔ and movement ✔

Slide 56

In this sense, the effectiveness of comics as a communication-medium is still greatly undervalued.

Scott McCloud's classic Understanding Comics explains in a great way the entire theory behind.

Slide 57

Learn more...

Google "fleming vark learning"

Slide 58


Seems an obvious one...

Slide 59

...and nothing new for Web designers actually.

The guys as 37 Signals are particularly good at this.

Slide 60

Learn more...

Google "bj fogg credibility stanford"

Slide 61


Slide 62

As Donald Norman said:

"Emotions color the experience and, more importanltly, how the experience will be remembered."

Tip: In a recent talk at dConstruct, Don picks up the subject.

Slide 63

Great example from Virgin Atlantic.

The classic (boring) safety instructions are presented in a new (unexpected) way, using humour and sympathy.

Slide 64

Often ignored also is that we are hardwired to see a human face in things, which greatly influences our emotions.

(I deliberately use emoticons in these annotations ;-)

There's a great BBC documentary, "The Human Face" on the subject available on YouTube.

Slide 65

But because we are so sensitive to facial expressions, use them in communication to add an emotional touch!

(And forget the "unprofessional" counterargument.)

Credits to Crusty for taking this photo :-)

Slide 66

Learn more...

Google "paul ekman expressions silvan tomkins"

Slide 67


Slide 68

Great presentation by expert Stephen Anderson on the subject: The Stories We Construct

Slide 69

The stories-angle is probably the most important part, because our memories are stories themselves.

Our remembering self is a storyteller.

Slide 70

So let's help our remembering self by offering it stories, which are easier to encode.

Behind Toms, for example, there's a great story.

Slide 71

The peak-end rule has been mentioned before; stressing the importance of endings to memories of experiences.

But in fact, 3 key points are important in any storyline:

• changes,

• significant moments,

• and endings.

So if we screw up the UX on one of these moments, this will create particularly bad memories.

Slide 72

A special example of the creation of great endings are so-called after movies.

A few days after the event is over, Tomorrowland, for example, releases this professionally produced video.

What it does is crystalize the best memories, and as it is the remembering self that will decide to return next year...

Slide 73

Part 1: The (un)importance of UX...

Part 2: How we remember...

Part 3: How to make something memorable...

EXTRA: Making things forgettable too?

Of course, when one understands how to make something memorable, one can also try to do the opposite...

Slide 74

When you think about it, it really is remarkable how Terms & Conditions types of documents are (still) presented to us.

We are assumed to have read them before clicking "Accept".

But, if that were truly the case, then there is simply no excuse for the content not being more attractive.

If I were ever asked forced to camouflage information, I think I'd simply do it like that :-)

Slide 75

The deceptive bits aside, there may also be benign reasons to want to make something forgettable.

Like in most e-commerce areas, where forms are inevitable.

You mostly want to get that hassle over with the smoothest, most unremarkable, unmemorable(*) way possible.

Basically, that's where pure usability plays a big role.

(*) Note I left out "fastest", as speed is not always relevant.

Slide 76

Before wrapping up, a quick thought on testing.

Many types of user tests exist; from lo-fi prototype testing to hi-fi eye-tracking, etc.

But can we also test for memorability?

Slide 77

I'm convinced we can.

Mainly because in 'classic' market research, different types of memory-related tests have been in use for some time.

Brand recognition, brand recall, TOMA, etc.

But in UX design, memory tests are (still) extremely rare...

Clue, by the way, is a great tool that is precisely made to test what users remember after a first visit.

Slide 78

Whenever doing surveys (~ "How did you like ___?") or asking for feedback, it is important to keep in mind it is not possible to inquire how someone experienced something.

The answers will always come from the remembering self, never the experiencing self (by definition).

And the answers will always be skewed because of the inevitable focusing illusion: simply by the act of stopping to think about something, you exaggerate its real-life importance.

Slide 79

That's not to say that surveys are entirely useless.

Because, remember: it's our remembering self (not our experiencing self) that makes all decisions anyway.

Like: "I liked ___, so I will return to that website!"

Just be sure to keep in mind who(*) you're designing for.

(*) The remembering self!

Slide 80

Subjects recap: Baileys, Experience as knowledge, Kahneman, Experiencing vs. remembering selves, Time spans, Psychological present, Cool = quality?, Returning visits, Priming, Conscious awareness, False memories, Unconscious plagiarism, Encoding context, Hacks, Simple, Unexpected, Shock value, Gems in design, Concrete, Thinking modalities, Credibility, Emotional, Facial expression, Endings, Annoyances, Testing.

Slide 81

A few days before delivering his keynote at Euro IA, Oliver Reichenstein asked a good question:

Can experience be designed?

I agree with his own response.

And I'd answer similarly to: "Can memories be designed?"

"People's perceptions of user interfaces are too different to be pre-cogitated by a single person. Yes, I designed this site. But no, I don't know exactly how you experience will remember it (but I do have sort of an idea)."

Slide 82

So, to conclude.

I guess what I'm trying to say is:

• UX is important

• But UX is not the goal

• UX is just a tool

• Our memory is the goal


Slide 83

Interested in learning why & how we remember stuff?

I don't have all the answers myself, but here are some tips:

watch Daniel Kahneman's full TED talk,

read brothers Chip & Dan Heath's Made To Stick,

read Tom Stafford and Matt Webb's Mind Hacks.

Slide 84

Great :-)

Slide 85

Another reading tip: if you want books to be more memorable, try listening to them instead.

Audio books are great because you can 'read' them while on the move, which means that your context keeps changing.

Which means, it's hard for your context to get saturated.

It is easier for text to attach itself to fresh context.

Made To Stick is actually available as audio book...

Slide 86

A final test.

Close your eyes and listen to this short audio fragment.

(Don't look at the next slide yet.)

Does it remind you of something? :-)

Slide 87

If it does, was it the 2008 ad launching the Macbook Air?

Sound can be an incredibly powerful memory cue, often retrieving memories you didn't even consciously encode.

It's so powerful because sound can be perfectly reproduced.

The sound/song you hear at recall can be 100% identical to the one you heard when the memory was encoded.

Slide 88

Examples of deliberately fabricated connections are easy to find: nearly every ad or movie soundtrack.

Ctrl + Click the links and try to guess the brand/movie ;-)

But connections can of course also be highly personal.

Everyone has songs that trigger lively memories...

Slide 89

Another so-called ambient memory cue is odor.

Like sound, it is also considered transferable: even if the entire recall context changes, that part can feel familiar.

(Less practical in UX design, though; except perhaps for coffee shops or something like that...)

Slide 90

To repeat the conclusion:

• UX is important

• But UX is not the goal

• UX is just a tool

• Our memory is the goal


Slide 91

To boil down my point even further:

f(experience) = memory

UX design is important, but experience design should stand in function of the memories is creates.

Slide 92

So, to come full circle:

To make something spread, first learn how we remember stuff!

Slide 93

Special thanks to Eric Reiss, for the opportunity!

View Koen Claes' profile on LinkedIn

Slide 94
Slide 95

Jeff Gothelf, @jboogie

Slide 96

Peter Boersma, @pboersma

Slide 97

Martin Belam, @currybet

Slide 98

Oliver Reichenstein, @iA

Slide 99

The End.