Designing our interfaces based on hunger

In 2011 there was a study by Jonathan Levav of Columbia Business School looking at parole hearings for inmates of four Israeli prisons, made by eight judges over a ten-month period.

The results were very interesting – after a refreshment break, a prisoner’s chances of gaining parole were far higher then towards the end of a morning or afternoon session.

“The work shows the consequences of mental fatigue on really important decisions even among excellent decision-makers,”

Whilst no definite link between hunger, and the explanation of the decisions was stated, it is easy to suggest that there may be one. Speaking from a purely anecdotal perspective, I know I for one find it extremely difficult to concentrate on much else if i’m feeling hungry.

We know that our interfaces should always enable users to make a decision easily and quickly using all those good things such as information scent, clear signposting and all the other tools we have in our UX toolbox. But is there a case to be made for adapting or biasing our interfaces based on the time of day, when users are most likely to be hungry, or fatigued – such as just before lunchtime or towards the end of the working day?

There may be gains in conversion to be made by removing (or reducing prominence) of some secondary information at certain points in the day – based on analytics – making it even easier for users to achieve their goals without distractions. When users bellies are full they may be more likely  to engage with value added secondary content without detriment to a conversion activity as opposed to when they are hungry and just want it to be as easy as possible.

The argument would be that your interfaces should always aid easy decision making whatever the time of day, and I agree. But what I am talking about is taking this to the next level, removing any content that does not directly relate to the key conversion activity. This can include things such as newsletter promotions, CSR information and so on – obviously giving the user the option to view this if they desire.

Of course this is all theoretical, but insights could be gained by performing usability tests with the same user at different points in the day, or before and after lunch. And of course if you were to try this approach – selecting a one hour window directly before lunchtime or the end of the day where an alternate design was presented, it would be possible to compare the conversion stats and see if an impact was made.

We already are starting to see this type of technology on the mobile with products such as Google Now on Android – I don’t see any reason why we can’t start to take this context and user aware approach with e-commerce regardless of the device it is used on.

* Image courtesy Rob Pearce