The difference between comprehension and motivation

Let’s examine the difference between comprehension and motivation, as they relate to web design.

IT-consultants are fond of flaunting a term called usability. This is essentially a method for testing and evaluating human-computer interaction, where it is assessed whether the user is being given the right tools and the right information to adequately assimilate content.

This method often takes center stage when IT consultants are left in charge. And while it is certainly useful to guide design and development and evaluate a user’s comprehension, structuring a website so that the user merely understands how to use it is simply not sufficient. If the user does not want to use a website, the empirical knowledge of how to use it is largely inconsequential. Therefore, the content must also be packaged in a way that the user is emotionally motivated to partake of it.

A survey conducted by Carleton University in Ottawa determined that users form their impressions of a website and its visual appeal/clarity/usability within the first 20th of a second of visiting it. Even more surprisingly, these first impressions colored the entire experience of the site, whether or not the whole site actually turned out to match that initial perception. The conclusion of the survey was that this first impression was ”unlikely to involve cognition” – meaning it is largely an emotional response.

Comprehension without motivation usually provides unsatisfactory results. The reverse situation, however, is not necessarily equally flawed. There are plenty of examples in human-computer interaction where the user’s cognitive understanding is initially very low, but where he or she is emotionally motivated to explore, discover and eventually attain insight. I am talking of course of computer games, a salient example of how interactivity actually works.

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