Forget Behavioural Economics, now it’s Ergopsychonomics.

The ‘4th element’, technology, has transformed the marketing industry. It has given us another dimension to play with. But, putting digital aside (as that’s now old news) technology is now the key element we need to understand in 2012.

The buzz word of the moment is ‘ergopsychonomics’ – a mash up of ergonomics (how people interact with objects) with psychology, because much of what makes technology a hit or miss is more about how it interacts and engages our minds than anything else, the psychology of consumerism.

The one person who got ergopsychonomics more than anyone else was Steve Jobs. He could see the human potential in technology and knew how to pitch it. He spotted the mouse was a great way to interact with a screen (Apple didn’t invent the mouse by the way). Whereas, the problem with pointy head technophiles is they don’t understand basic human psychology, they think we all think like them and like it complicated.

To quote Innocent drinks, “if you can’t explain it to your gran, it’s too complicated.”

One survey claims that a third of all people are actually technophobes – defined by the fact that interacting with technology causes anxiety. Less than 10% are technophiles and the rest of us make do.

There’s no doubt that a lot of technology creates anxiety – we all hate the endless wait as the time wheel keeps turning, followed by the crash symbol! Or when you have a deadline technology lets you down – is their a law name for that like ‘Murphy’s Law’? Personally I think computer designers have installed a bug that detects rapid fingerboard actions, thus identifying the user has a deadline and then activates a random selection of technology failures, just for fun.

We all hate the fact technology steals our time, many of my friends are coming off Facebook and Twitter because of how addictive it is but delivers little real value. “Think how much smarter you’d be if you read a book for one hour every night instead of spending an hour on Facebook or reading mindless Tweets?” was a comment I overheard in a Starbucks recently as a young woman chastised her boyfriend.

Did you know book reading is increasing, in India the average 30 year old female office worker is more likely to read a book in the evening than turn on a computer, you can’t blame them, if you’ve sat behind one all day why sit behind one at home as we’ll?

We all hate the fact that technology has made our lives actually more difficult – how many of us can actually claim we know how to use all the features on our phones? Or our washing machines? Or can set the digital recorder on the TV box to record a programme next week? Nowadays you need a degree to be able to operate some items. My microwave was so complicated I took it back and asked for one with a knob on. I then discovered I wasn’t along, that’s why they sell so many with knobs on (half of Argos’ range have knobs). Bring back turny knob technology I say.

PC World & Curry’s are bang on the money with they brilliant ‘KnowHow’ team. My own experience was great and from now on I’ll be either buying from them or John Lewis, knowing what I really want is technology that works for me, which means someone starting by showing me how to turn it on.

What we all want is “simples”, as a meerkat would say, because a key element of success is easy and convenience – hardly rocket science but how many webs sites, apps or bits of technology have you abandoned because they were difficult to use? Loads I expect. I probably delete 50% of all apps I download.

Easy and convenience is a major competitive advantage. Staples have adopted it as their main proposition because they know that businesses want it easy.

Apps are certainly the hot stuff of 2012, and once you get into apps websites seen medieval. They are far more focused on functionality for a start, unlike websites that are like directories or Facebook sites that are so crap because they are written by interns straight off media studies or PR courses. Apps are usually created around a human need – that’s ergopsychonomics in action.

And as our platforms of engagement moves on – mobility is everything – so does the way we engage. Apple’s iPad is a great example of user ease and convenience, it works because like everything Apple make, it has been designed at a human level.

But the challenge of 2012 is for brands to find the right technology that connects with the right people in the right way, not just technology for the sake of it. Or worse, doing it to keep up with the Jones in other marketing departments – we’ve seen where that got us in the digital space.

Of course clients won’t have a problem getting advice, because we’ll suddenly see all those so called ‘social media experts’ who jumped on that bandwagon reinvent themselves as ‘Ergopsychonomic experts’, advising clients on how to spend their budget on technology to engage consumers.

But the key advice, and this comes without a £20k bill, is start with the consumer, not the technology. As Tucker Viemeister,  leader of the LAB project at the Rockwell Group (and founder of the word Psychonomics) says, “Psychology has shown that people’s inner emotions affect behavior, that thinking applies to people’s interaction with things. Most importantly for me, it can clarify the fuzzy area between art and science. “


Discuss: why not Twitter you comments and thoughts. Add #ergopsychonomics to your Tweet.

  • Leigh Caldwell

    A minor correction: Tucker Viemeister is unlikely to have “founded” the word Psychonomics, as it is the name of a scientific society established in 1959 when he was 11 years old. The word goes back to at least 1902 (see Appendix C of this paper: )

    More to the point: how is this any different from human-computer interface design (itself over 20 years old) or indeed plain old product design? …and in what conceivable way is it a replacement for behavioural economics? (apart from as buzzword-of-the-week)

    Anyway, I don’t want to spoil your new buzzword; please forgive the rantings of a grouch at the end of a long working day. There is a place for a more nuanced integration of psychology with product and UX design. The standard design textbooks do discuss Maslow and focus clearly on simplicity, but more recent psychological (and indeed behavioural economic) discoveries could no doubt be incorporated. Let’s hope your ergopsychonomic crusade can help that to happen.

    • Chris Arnold

      Thanks for the update Leigh – good research.