Breaking Codes

My favorite “meaning of life” answer was given by Curly in “City Slickers” when he held up his index finger and Billy Crystal said, “Your finger?”

It would be convenient if everything packaged up nicely to explain the meaning of things. It is, after all human nature. There are more answers, however, in studying the complex and messy details of everyday life. Right now there is a growing interest in the marketing industry to get to that “one thing”, the essence of what will motivate to users to buy. The answers are in the details of life.

For user experience professionals, like myself, to understand users can help predict the human behaviors in almost anything. We study users to understand their emotion, context and meaning of their motivations because motivations shape behaviors. Motivations can lead to the triggers that lead to desirable user behaviors which help drive what is really important.

Recently, I was told about a researcher, Dr. Rapaille who has brought science to the business world through his work in archetypes. He has been profiled in many national media outlets, including 60 Minutes II and on the front page of the New York Times Sunday Styles section and works for fifty Fortune 100 companies.

An Archetype can be thought of as a path that is imprinted in our unconscious and guides our actions. The emotional energy created during your first experience with a given product/concept determines the pattern of behavior to be used throughout your entire life in relation to this product/concept. These experiences, which are the essence of all our behaviors, vary from culture to culture. The permanent underlying structure of these experiences, deeply rooted in our unconscious, is the key to understanding fully what people do and why. This structure is the Archetype.

Dr. Rapaille began as a child a former child psychologist specializing in Autism. Imprinting is a rapid learning process that takes place early in life and establishes unconscious behavior during a critical time of life after it is next to impossible to imprint.

He believes individuals with common cultural backgrounds will share reasonably convergent mental models, ideologies and institutions. People with different learning experiences will have different theories to interpret their environment.

He moved science into the business market by breaking “codes” like that of culture, luxury, leadership, globalization, etc. His work has proven successful into providing guidance into meeting the unanticipated needs of users; this is a powerful way to differentiate products. These codes reveal which elements can be used successfully by companies to trigger a “premium” perception in consumers’ minds in the case of luxury.

For me, this research is fascinating and can be applied across disciplines. In user experience, archetypes, or personas, are also models of behavior which are strongly rooted in cultural codes. If there is a shift in these mental models, it is “Curly’s index finger to the meaning of life” response. Cultural forces are powerful and are a strong platform for identifying change, improvement, new product design and innovation.

The logic of emotion derived from Dr. Rapaille’s “Cultural Code” Study breaks down the following cultural descriptions that drive consumer choices:

  • Chinese: Symbol – womb, verb: Entitlement
  • French: Ideas
  • British: Class Structure
  • American: Autonomy, verb: Just do it!

From a user experience perspective, using these codes will enable us to deal with strong uncertainty at the individual level and will help to us to understand user motivations and behaviors on an even deeper level.

About carried@biggerideas.com

Creating a great user experience empowers users, giving them the ability and confidence to quickly succeed in completing technology-related tasks. Bigger Ideas does this by studying users to uncover their emotions and context which, in turn, help to explain the motivations that shape behaviors with a product. Insights from research create actionable steps in the process which lead to successful problem solving in design and implementation. Bigger Ideas also provides custom training to promote deeper understanding of task and product adoption.