How to design a better product using the 6 minds of experience

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Photo by Glen Carrie on Unsplash

One of the many things you will need to understand when designing a product or feature to provide a good experience for the user is that every individual will have a unique experience. This is not a direct result of your design work, but it simply a representation of a person’s experience being multidimensional. We are never directly designing an experience, we are designing something that a person will have their own experience with.

One of the ways we can better understand how to design something to create a better experience for our users is to use the 6 minds of experience from Dr John Whalen’s book “Design for How People Think”.


Perhaps the most obvious of the six, designers working on digital products will understand the impact their visual design can have on a user. The visual aspect of the design allows the designer to create a visual interface that draws the attention of the user to their next task, creates a consistent visual flow between screens and features of the product, and helps them to find their way to their next task and guides them to complete it.

From a more ethical standpoint, the use of visual cues to direct the focus of the user must be done in such a way as to help them to complete their tasks, and not seen as an opportunity to force someone down a route they do not wish to go by using dark patterns.

The power of grabbing the user’s attention with the purely visual aspect of an interface is a double-edged sword that should be wielded in a way to protect and guide the user, figuratively holding their hand through a journey within your product.


Although this sounds similar to one of the points I made under vision and attention in helping the user onto their next task, wayfinding is far deeper than just a visual element that a user can interact with to make their way to the thing they want to do next.

Essentially it is about helping the user get from where they are to where they want to be in the digital space, and it relies heavily on information architecture and the content within your product.

You will need to think about how you are telling the user where they are at any given moment, how they expect to navigate their way around and the interactions that are required to do that, and if the structure of the information they are moving through makes sense to them.


Any user will come to use your product with their own experiences behind them, which shapes their expectations of how they will use your product. This is not just limited to how someone would navigate your product, but their expected interactions and flows through journeys.

Picture in your mind the product detail page on a retail website. Most likely you will imagine a prominent image of the product, and perhaps multiple images which you can scroll through with some kind of carousel function. This is an expectation you have developed due to the common implementation of such a pattern across the majority of retail websites you have used in the past. But what if your ability to view the product image was somehow changed? What is it used an unfamiliar pattern to you which required you to learn a whole new kind of interaction for you to be able to see what you would be buying?

People’s past experiences help to define what to expect and how things should work in a given context. If you ignore the mental models that most users have created and avoided familiar patterns that people are now used to, you will be actively harming the experience people will have with your product.


The language used in the content of your product is key to a user being able to understand what you’re trying to tell them, and also reflects the brand in the tone of voice.

If you were looking to book your car in for a service at a mechanics, and your knowledge of cars and their inner workings were limited, you wouldn’t want to be overwhelmed with complex terminology of the work they would carry out, and neither would you want something oversimplified. Although the former may display expertise it can make the customer feel inferior, whilst the latter could generate feelings of contempt, with both not making for an enjoyable or comforting experience.

The guide to writing for GOV.UK advises that everything for a Government Digital Service should be written for a 9-year-old reading age. This boils down to using the ‘common words’ vocabulary which consists of a primary set of 5,000 words, and a secondary set of around 10,000 words, which enables them to communicate more effectively with their users.

You need to know your users to communicate effectively with them.


Much in the same way people bring their learned behaviours with them, they also bring their emotions. Some people may be worried of making mistakes in a technical environment for the fear of what may go wrong, may have frustrations when things don’t work as they’re expected to, or hesitate when unsure of the result of their actions.

You will need to be mindful of the automatic triggers being fired in your users as they engage with your product. What are their goals and desires? What are their fears and what do they stand to lose? Does your product provide the user with satisfaction when a task is completed?

Again, only by understanding your users through research will you be able to cater to their emotions, and generate a better experience for them as a result.

Decision Making

How do you get people to commit to a decision? How do you help them to make the decision that they’re ready to commit to an action, whether that’s signing up to a newsletter, clicking the buy button, or clicking an ad?

Consider the factors that people base their decision upon in the context of your product, and fulfil those needs by providing the information required, generating trust, and giving them an easy journey through to completion.

All of the previous minds of experience come together to support the user in their decision making, and this is the point at which you need the user to be confident in what they understand, the path they have taken to get here, and will be confident about what will happen after they make this decision.

Creating an emergent user experience

The 6 minds of experience come together to form the multidimensional experience that emerges as a result of all of these factors. This emergent experience is what we see as a singular entity from a distance, but understanding the complexities within gives us greater insight to develop a product that will cater to the needs of each of these minds, and generate a better overall experience for our users.

When you’re next thinking about the experience you’re designing as part of your product, think about these 6 minds, and how you can create a better experience by using them as a guide.

Originally published at on September 15, 2020.

UX Designer with over 20 years experience, specialising in interaction design and prototyping.

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