Behavioural ScienceCat Rebak

Should we really be focusing on user experience? The case for UM over UX design

The term 'user experience' has become a buzzword in recent years. Companies have realised that the critical moments when their users interact with their products and services are key to success. And they're right thinking that experiences are important. But behavioural science suggests that it's memory - not experience - that really counts.

Should we really be focusing on user experience?

In  Kahneman's famous TED talk, he tells the anecdote of a friend who listens to a symphony for 20 minutes, completely immersed in its beauty. As the music comes to an end, there's a terrible screeching sound which 'ruined the whole experience'. But, as Kahneman points out, it hadn't - 'what it had done is ruin the memory of the experience'.

What this tells us is that we have two selves - the 'experiencing self' and 'the remembering self'. The experiencing self is the part of us that lives in the now -the seer, hearer, and doer- and the 'remembering self' is the storyteller, which takes stock of experiences for future reference.

And there's a big difference between experience, and the memories that experience leaves behind. When it comes to converting experience into memory, two moments carry more weight than others - the peak sensation and the ending. The rest of an experience, including its duration, tends to be forgotten. Our memories are, therefore, not a reflection of the overall goodness or badness of an event; they are collection of snapshots.

"We actually don't choose between experiences" says Kahneman, "We choose between memories of experiences". It's our 'remembering self' that writes the stories we tell ourselves, and forms the basis for our decisions.

So what does this mean?

When it comes to buying a product, or using a service, you're not just buying the experience, you're buying the memory the experience creates. The self that remembers is the self that decides, so this is the self we should be trying to engage if we want to encourage repeat purchase.

While we can't directly design memories (yet…!), we can design for memory. In doing so, we're still attempting to imprint fond memories through the experience we design, but with the knowledge that memories aren't the sum of experience, with a focus on the memories we think will stick.


Cat Rebak

Behavioural Science Specialist

2CV London