Psychographics: The Key to Effective UX Design

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Marketing has long been a space dominated by conversations about demographics. Ask someone in the field to describe their target audience, and the most consistent elements will be rather general and ubiquitous delineations we apply to people: gender, age, income, career, and the like. This information is, undoubtedly, important, if only because data on such groups and their behavior is far more readily available. And at the end of the day, some customization is better than none.

But when it comes to design, demographics can fall woefully short in terms of generating meaningful insights. Not every 30-something woman making a healthy living as an accountant feels and thinks the same way, and while design is most certainly an element of a platform or application’s function, it’s also a form of psychological influence via the aesthetic. Demographics, unfortunately, don’t tell us much about psychology — not reliably, at least.

The psychology of a 30 year old female accountant with six kids, a strict Catholic upbringing, recent losses in the family, and an underwater mortgage is going to be different than that of a 30 year old female accountant who has never married, owns her condo outright, subscribes to pluralism, and is a proponent of marijuana legalization. On paper, they’re part of the same group. In life, they have very, very, very different motivations, preferences, pain points, and perceptions of reward.

In theory, one could get intensely granular on demographics and try to come up with a rudimentary psychological profile for the buyer. But in order for that to occur in most cases, one would have to focus in myopic fashion on a sliver of an audience, which isn’t very useful when you need to design something for use by your entire audience.

No, if you want your design to really resonate with your audience, ditch the demographics in favor of psychographics.

While demographics looks at relatively static and quantifiable characteristics, psychographics pay attention to the behaviors, interests, attitudes, and lifestyles of the individuals in question. The goal is not to determine who someone is, but how they are. And given that a user experience is, at the end of the day, how someone interacts with your brand via a specific medium, understanding how they typically behave and make decisions is of much greater value than what buckets they might fall into on a census.

There is, however, a reason that psychographics are not widely utilized in marketing, at least not in a systematic fashion: the data is notoriously difficult to collect. Site usage data reflects what happened, but not why. Questionnaires and surveys can be a challenge to construct in a way that provides answers you need, especially since you might not know what you need until it’s staring you in the face. And when you try to decipher this information, your own assumptions can taint the interpretation, leading to faulty conclusions.

The only way leveraging psychographics in your UX design attempts works is if you commit to making UX design a process instead of a destination. That idea might be off-putting to some at first, but those who have been in the game long enough know that this framework is the one most likely to yield a consistently positive user experience anyway. Products change, services morph, trends swell and ebb. If your approach to UX design is “one and done”, your results won’t be durable anyway.

So how can you start using psychographics in your UX planning and design?

1. Start at the source: your customers. Though it will likely take time and research, craft a survey that gets to the emotional and environmental triggers behind their decisions. Ask questions about what their biggest concerns are, what they like best about what you have to offer, what they think could be improved, under what circumstances they find themselves in need of what you have to offer. Ask questions that aren’t obvious, like what they like to do for fun, what sort of music they listen to, what their favorite TV show is. Learn about them as people instead of just as customers, and you’ll be in a better position to cater to their needs and wants.

2. Take it a step further and get in touch directly. Ask your most loyal customers if you can get on the phone with them for a while, offering a discount or a gift in return for their time. Not only is this a fantastic segueway to securing a testimonial for your brand, but it gives you a chance to get to know the people who love you most on a personal level. But don’t build yourself an echo chamber. Consider reaching out to people who were not happy with your brand but otherwise fit your target demos. Sometimes their feedback can be the most valuable.

3. Layer this feedback with data on site usage to get clarity on the “why” behind the “what.” For instance, let’s say you’re a SaaS company, and you have a five page registration process. Registration tends to drop off after the third page. Your assumption might be that the registration process is too long or contains too many clicks. But if you receive feedback during your outreach indicating discomfort with disclosing specific bits of information, you know how to truncate it in order to yield better results while still collecting valuable data from the registrants. Context matters, particularly when you’re trying to use data to guide UX design for websites and applications.

4. Keep that feedback loop going. Every single customer should receive a request for feedback once money has exchanged hands. That feedback should be consistently reviewed relative to site usage statistics to identify shifts in audience preferences and opportunities for improvement. Targeted outreach should continue on a regularly scheduled basis. Keep striving to learn, and you’ll keep on growing.

5. Look for insight outside of your bubble. There are literally dozens of academic journals publishing research regarding consumer behavior and perceptions relative to marketing activities. While this research might not provide a road map in terms of what to do next, it can help you look at things from a new angle, possibly uncovering solutions you hadn’t yet considered.

6. Test, test, test, test, test, and then test some more. Data can be and often is incomplete or inadequate in terms of drawing firm conclusions about user desires and choices. Before putting all your eggs in one basket, test variations intended to adapt to inferences drawn from available data. This can help you make changes without putting your brand at extreme risk.

You can do better than standard demographics. Supercharge your design approach today by integrating psychographics in a meaningful, enduring manner.