This is the second part of a 3 part series about the latest research in cyberpsychology - and how UX designers can utilise it to build better experiences.

Part 1 explores the motivations behind research cyberpsychology and discusses how we can create motivated users who are willing to engage with our products by using self determination theory to inform our designs.

Part 2 (this article) deals with the user's psychology of self - understanding how users of a product or service see themselves. It discusses how we can translate that self perception into customer experiences that are both delightful and in keeping with our user's own self image - thus reducing any cognitive dissonance (that sense of "odd") that might be hampering the adoption of your designs.

Part 3 covers cognitive load and discussed when and how information should be presented to your users in order to maximise the quality of their experience when learning about your solution.

The self that engages with your product

When dealing with users, a large part of their motivation to engage with your brand will come from their own self-perception, combined with how well your brand aligns with those self perceptions. For example, if a user's self-perception is that of a risk taker, early adopter or thought leader, they will be more likely to engage with your product earlier. Conversely, if your users are more conservative in their choices when adopting of new products and new ideas, added validation will be needed before that user becomes actively involved in your product (hence the value of user testimonials, recommendations and social proof of adoption of your product etc).

Diffusion of innovation

Applying the self to digital communication

How users express themselves in the digital world relates to how they wish to be perceived and depends strongly on which of three different aspects of their psyche they ascribe the most value to. The three "selves" are the private, the public and the ideal self.

While each user possesses all of the below traits to some degree, each person's primary, secondary and tertiary prioritisation of their inner self leads to displaying a different balance in online environments.

The private self: Displays authenticity

The private self paints a limited but honest picture of who they really are online.

The private self is the part of you that the rest of the (online) world doesn't see. It's the things you don't tell people, that you keep inside, but yet which paints your identity and how you react to the world.

A user who prioritises the private self will value authenticity, uniqueness, honesty, trustworthiness and transparency in their dealings with your brand. These users will pay a premium for authentic, unique, different and individualised experiences.

Users who value the private self can seem closed off, less likely to share inner thoughts and feelings and interact with brands that are overly ostentatious and extraverted.

The ideal self: Displays aspiration

The ideal self paints a picture of what they aspire to be online.

The Ideal Self is an idealized version of yourself created out of what you have learned from your life experiences, the demands of society, and what you admire in your role models. (source)

A user who prioritises the ideal self will associate more positively with brands that champion aspiration, self-improvement, beauty, strength. They reflect their desired future self, capable and able, successful and competent. Their online identity reflects the type of person they want to be in the future and not necessarily the person they may already be.

The public self: Seeks adulation

The public self is the picture of the user as they desire to be seen by others. It paints a picture of how amazing the person is online - even if it is not necessarily true.

The public self is the picture of oneself drawn from public information, public action and interaction with others. The public self generally depends on others for definition, but is also an individual's view of how he or she fits in and actions taken while in public.

The public self is motivated by interactions, connections, upvotes, plaudits and reactions. The worst fear of users who prioritise the public self is silence - no responses, no reactions, no ego boosting self esteem moment.

Those who value the public self highly demand constant attention, and will post and repost content that paints them in a positive light. At the extreme end of this curve lies narcissistic personality disorder.

Cognitive dissonance

Long before a user engages directly with your product, they will have built up a mental model of your product from reviews, recommendations, branding, messaging and other life experiences.

If they start by believing that your product exhibits certain traits and it repeatedly fails to match those expectations, their cognitive dissonance will be fed and they will alter their belief about your product.

Cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviours to reduce the discomfort and restore balance etc (source).

If you cross the threshold where the dissonance becomes to great, it becomes possible to crack the user's self image, and they will abandon your product with a passion.

Luckily, the opposite also applies. Assuming you have built a positive brand experience, small frailties in your experience will tend to be overlooked, frailties which would in other products be considered worthy of a proper online gripe.

Overall, the likelihood of a user championing your brand relates directly to how much the experience they have matches with their internal self, and how little cognitive dissonance you create during that experience.

Six takeaways for UX designers

Ultimately, you need to blow people away with the quality of your product. No bonus points for that suggestion, move along quickly. What's important is the subtle nuance of detail that we must consider when delivering that quality:

  1. Building an experience (brand and product combined) that matches your user's self image will contribute to customer onboarding and stickiness. They will feel like your product is "just right" for them.

  2. A good design should reward the different parts of your user's self image. Private, ideal and public are all aspects of our personalities that affect what rewards we desire from the products we use.

  3. People's behaviour in the cyber world does not necessarily match their behaviour in the real world. Emotions tend to run higher, everything is more intense and emotions tend to be more freely expressed (see also our article on facts about UX from cyberpsychology).

  4. The same self image a user has in the real world can be expressed differently in the cyber world, where the risk/reward behaviour associated with different activities appears to be different.

  5. Users will seek to rebalance their self image when it becomes unbalanced by eliminating cognitive dissonance.

  6. The feedback you get when researching will be provided through the lense of your user's own self image and will contain the balance of public, private and ideal self that is unique to that user. Other users may therefore provide different feedback based on the exact same experience.

Surely you've time for one (or two) more?

We've only just begun :)

Continue with part 3, where we talk about balancing information, learning and cognitive load to build experiences that balance learning curves with the necessary presentation of information to better onboard and retain your users, or start with part 1, where we talk about what causes users to be motivated to take the actions you want in your product. Both are an excellent choice too :)