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The Value of Meaning

People are are always willing to work hard for something they find important. Conversely, they will quickly give up, or slack off when their sense of meaning is shattered.

The Science

In order to fully demonstrate the role of meaning in our daily tasks, let's look at two experiments: In the first, participants were handed a piece of paper full of letters, and asked to find pairs. for every correctly completed task, they would receive a small amount of money (55 cents). Then they could choose a second piece of paper to complete, for a little less money (decreasing by 5 cents for every paper completed).

The participants were divided into 3 groups. In the first, their work was reviewed by the researcher and put aside. In the second, it was put aside without being reviewed. And in the third, it was shredded before their very eyes, without as much as a glance.

As you might expect, participants whose tasks were shredded and ignored were far more likely to quite the tasks early, compared with those receiving acknowledgment.

In the second experiment, Participants were asked to build a Lego figurine. they too were given a little money for each figurine built, and a little less for the one they built next.

Here as well, there were two groups: In one, the examiner placed each model on his desk until the participants finished their task. In the other group, participants would see the figurine they had just completed broken apart with in front of them, and then handed back to do again. Just as in the previous case, those participants who had their work broken apart quit faster than those who had not.

The Practice

Many products require their users to complete tasks. A task is any action that might feel tedious or hard to do. Actions such as: Filling out a payment form, signing up to a newsletter, registering for a flight, running a mission in a game, and so on.

No matter what the task, nor who your users are, they must feel as though the task you gave them has helped to move them forward, and is appreciated.

Take, for example, an e-commerce website. If your site is well designed and your products awesome, your visitors should click on that buy button. Once they do, they have to deal with the 'evil payment screen of death'.

The payments screen (which will get its own post in the future), is a hard form to fill in. It takes time, concentration, and requires the user to go find their wallet. Once the payment is complete, and the gauntlet is done, what will your users see?

Sending them directly back to the shop, will make them feel as though their work (and money) was not appreciated. A thank you card is in order.

Another place where online visitors may get the feeling their work is unappreciated, is the 404 screen.

A 404 screen is what shows up when a user clicks on a broken link (a link that leads to a place with no page. Nothing can quite hit that feeling of having the world drop from under you, than following a complicated set of links, only to find yourself out of the website.

This too is a time to acknowledge the user's problem, and give them a positive experience instead.

People need to feel acknowledged. If they do, they will stick around and shop. play, work, or anything else you might have planned for them. If they do not, you might find they leave before they really get to enjoy what you built for them.

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