Category Archives: new termonology


Threshold Mapping

Word: Threshold mapping

Definition: The mapping of default or normal states of a user to better understand what happens when a person leaves her normal state and crosses the line into an alternative condition. When a person crosses this metaphorical line, or threshold to be exact, she tends to think and act differently.

Reference: I first learned about the concept of threshold mapping in the book Hidden in Plain Sight by Jan Chipchase. Chipchase is the founder of Studio D Radiodurans, a research, design and innovation consultancy, and SDR Traveller. In his book, he uses taking a shower as an example to illustrate a threshold map. Many people feel clean for about a day and therefore do not have the urge to shower more than every 24 hours. In this case, a day would be the threshold. If this person, with a threshold of a day, goes three days without showering, she has crossed her cleanliness threshold and will most likely think and act differently until she gets back into her normal state by taking a shower.

Thoughts: So what does this have to do with user experience design? Good question! Understanding user thresholds provide a significant window into user decision-making. When a user researcher understands why and how someone performs an action, she can create better experiences based on those decision patterns.

Chipchase explains the effects on design research in Hidden in Plain Sight:

“For designers to understand what lies within the boundaries of acceptable use and what lies outside those boundaries, they need to understand the contexts in which things will be used, and the range of likely conditions that will change that context in some way… design research helps us understand the boundaries of normal behaviors.”


Anticipatory Design

Word: Anticipatory Design

Definition: When decisions are made and executed on behalf of the user, thus eliminating the need for choice.

Thoughts: The goal of this type of design, as stated by Aaron Shapiro in a recent Fast Co. article, is to essentially relieve the user of any decision making because the choices are instead made for her. The elimination of decision, reduces steps, and thus reduces task time. The key here is automation through machine learning.

Anticipatory design is based on previous knowledge of user behaviors. Think about the future of buying airline tickets. The idea being that you will no longer need to fill out long forms and enter in personal information. Instead, the application will see on your calendar that you are attending an out of town wedding and book your tickets for you based on previous purchasing habits like preferred airlines and travel times.

Question: How much of user experience is based on the notion of user decision-making? How does automated choices change our mental model as UX designers?


Hook Model

Word: Hook Model

Definition: The cycle a successful product follows in order to reach the goal of unprompted user engagement, where in users return to the product consistently and often.

Reference: The Hook Model comes from Nir Eyal’s book Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.

Thoughts: In Eyal’s book, he describes the Hook Model process as a cycle, consisting of a trigger (external and/or internal), an action, a variable reward, and then an investment. Rinse and repeat.

Let’s break down each step a bit for a better understanding: The trigger is the actuator of the behavior, like an alert or notification. The action comes next, which is essentially, the behavior a user performs in anticipation of a reward. The next step is the variable reward, which is the Hook Model’s way of creating user craving by initiating intrigue. Finally,  investment is when the user takes the step to input some work into the product or service. By investing time and energy, the odds increase dramatically that a user will pass through the Hook cycle again.

The Hook Model is an important tool to not only understand as a designer, but to build habit-forming products as well.


Query Effect

Word: Query Effect

Definition: The notion that people can and will make up an opinion about anything, and will do so if asked, regardless of how much thought they’ve given the answer.

Reference: I first came upon this term in a discussion about user interviews by Nielsen Norman Group. NNG warns UX practitioners to beware of this effect during interviews because it may result in disingenuous information regardless of user intent.

NNG writes:

“It’s dangerous to make big design changes because “users didn’t like this” or “users asked for that.” If you ask leading questions or press respondents for answers, they might make up opinions that don’t reflect their real preferences in the slightest.”

Thoughts: User interviews provide extremely rich information but it is important to ask about a user’s experiences instead of seeking opinions. Make sure to tread cautiously here. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Keep that in mind!


Pogo Sticking

Word: Pogo Sticking

Definition: A user navigates to a page deeper in a site’s hierarchy, only to immediately navigate back to the page in which she came from — typically happening multiple times in a row.

Thoughts: Pogo sticking tends to occur because of usability problems like misleading links or omitted information. This increased interaction, providing no value to the user, can be extremely costly to a site and can result in decreased engagement over time.  This is different from a “bounce rate” because it happens within the site itself. This behavior pattern likely demonstrates that users are having difficulty finding the content they are looking for.

Question: Can you think of a time that it may be useful to have users bounce back and forth from page to page or should such patterns simply be avoided?




Adaptive Hierarchy

Word: Adaptive hierarchy

Definition: The flexible design model in which product layouts change, affording priority for elements based on a user’s action at a given time within a given context

Reference: I first heard of adaptive hierarchy from an ustwo blog post in which they reimagine a car interior dashboard that provides a user with different options and views depending on context (car is on, car is in motion, roadway conditions, etc).

In adaptive hierarchy, context is key because it is context that can support more empathetic and appropriate options to the user based on the user’s actions in a particular moment.

Question: Does adaptive hierarchy build on the “slippy ux” model? Is there a point where automation goes too far and we lose user empowerment altogether?




Word: Mobile-centrism

Definition: Dependance on and around mobile devices in a way that goes beyond sheer usage and into lifestyle and activity penetration.

Thoughts: This word was first brought to my attention in the Smashing Magazine article about mobile use in China. In China, as of June 2014, more people accessed the internet via mobile than via PC. This growth has led designers to move beyond “mobile-first” and into the mindset of “mobile-only”, bypassing desktop and relegating it to an afterthought.

In China, the mobile-centrism is so strong that a user’s cell phone number can be equated to the value of a US social security number with people using their mobile numbers for everything from digital wallets, to proof of ID, to login-in credentials.

While China is leading the way in mobile access and centrism, the US has seen its own uptick in lifestyle infiltration, particularly when it comes to e-commerce. Mobile payments and mobile wallets are likely to only get stronger and more widespread in the coming years.

As UX designers we know the power and prevalence of mobile and it’s exciting to think about how this saturation will further penetrate lifestyle.

Question: Can you foresee the rest of world catching up with China’s current mobile practices in the near future? If not, what might happen if the rest of the world does not follow suit?



Word:  Gamification

Definition: The use of game elements and design features in a non-gaming context in order to solve problems, like in a business for example.

Thought:  Three strong components of gamification that have spread rapidly through the digital design industry are validation, completion, and prizes.

Validation is like retweets, up-votes, and likes. Validation drives engagement and strengthens the sense of community.

Completion, just like working your way through a game level, can be seen applied to anything from your Linkedin profile percentage to hitting a step-count on a fitness tracker.

Prizes are used as incentives to focus the user and help her see a task through to completion. A great example is earning badges and avatars on the language learning application Duolingo.

Question: While these are just three examples, it is easy to see how gamification has infiltrated our digital lives. Now that gamification is all around us, will this diminish its powerful effect? Have we already over-used this technique to a point-of-no-return?


Mobile-First Design

Word:  Mobile-First

Definition: The practice of designing for the smallest screen first  and then expanding the design out to larger platforms later.

Reference: The term is most often associated with mobile designer Luke Wroblewski. (He even wrote a book on the topic.) The now widely accepted tactic not only helps the designer understand the constraints of her content on a smaller screen but it also helps “trim the fat” in order to focus on the most important elements. Think about it… do you really want 10 navigation items down your entire phone screen or can you live with 5 or 6 instead? It’s great to think about these things as early in the process as possible. As a bonus, the more “fat-trimming” you do for the mobile experience, the more precise and lean your tablet and web experiences will be!

Thoughts/Questions: How will wearables affect mobile-first design thinking? Will there ever be a day when we design “wearable-first”?



Word:  Appticipation

Definition: Proactive experiences based on location. Quite literally, the ability for a mobile application to anticipate the needs of its user, to think ahead, and to know what the user is about to do before she does it.

Reference: The term was created by Mike Schneider. The goal is to create more meaningful and engaging experiences between the user and the app. It is data that helps inform user experience and creates a new form of communication that is both  personalized and proactive.

Example time! A personal favorite app of mine is the Ballpark app, which recognizes when I, the user, have entered a stadium and goes on to provide me with coupons, discounts, concession maps, and seat upgrade offers. Sometimes a little too enthusiastically, but I appreciate the anticipation of my needs in the moment nonetheless.

Thoughts/Questions: While this particular term is fairly new, the concept has been around for a while now. However, at what point does appticipation become invasive? How do we balance the benefits with concerns of overzealous advertising?