We all reach the point when that print we hung on the wall loses its luster, or that new car suddenly feels like an old one.
New research led by University of Kansas researcher Noelle Nelson gives us even more insight as to why. Her team discovered that the better someone’s memory, the faster he or she becomes “satiated” (or bored) by experiences. That’s right, ignorance is bliss. But designers, marketers, and anyone else selling a product should take note.
Published in the Journal of Consumer Research, the study first tested the memory of its subjects through number recall or the game Simon, which makes you repeat light/sound sequences by tapping buttons. Then, the subjects looked at the same piece of art or listened to the same piece of music. What researchers found was that memory capacity was a predictor of how quickly the subject became bored by the art. As Noelle explained it, “People perceive that they’ve experienced things more times [when] they remember those experiences better.” The quicker we make memories, the quicker we’ll get bored.
In this sense, the research makes a strong case for the iterative design we see in products ranging from iPhones to our Facebook feed. Academics may argue that there’s one perfect design for a phone or user interface, but people crave change–and the better our memories, the more we crave it.
Noelle suggests that strategies like introducing new products and editing ads frequently could help keep users engaged. Of course, this may be a case where the market is already ahead of the science. Consider that Apple remakes the iPhone every year–and drastically redesigns it every two. Meanwhile, Facebook seems to re-edit your feed every single time you load the app.
But now, in a world where design has the weight of being not just irresistible, but ethical and sustainable, too, perhaps the question should not be, “how can you update a product to sell the same customer another one?” but “how can you update a product to stay enticing without forcing someone to buy a whole new replacement?”
As for that Facebook feed that we’re prone to spend an average of 50 minutes on a day? Maybe our analog lives would be better served if it more often looked the same rather than different.