Could a Mentalist Improve Your Website for the Better?

Paul Boag

This week on the Boagworld Show we are joined by Mentalist Jonathan Pritchard to discuss how UX design and magic have a lot in common.

This week’s show is sponsored by The Digital Project Manager School and Resource Guru.


Paul Boag: This week on the Boagworld Show, we’re joined by mentalist, Jonathan Pritchardritchard, to discuss how UX design and magic actually have a lot in common. This week’s show is sponsored by Resource Guru and The Digital Project Manager School.
Hello and welcome to the Boagworld Show, the podcast about all aspects of digital design, development and strategy. My name is Paul Boag. Joining me on this week’s show is obviously Marcus Lillington. Hello Marcus.
Marcus Lillington : Hello Paul. How are you? Haven’t spoken to you for you a couple of weeks.
Paul Boag: I know, and I know things about you. I know that you’ve been looking at new Headscape offices, which is all very exciting.
Marcus Lillington : How do you know that?
Paul Boag: Well …
Marcus Lillington : I was there tonight.
Paul Boag: Maybe that ties in with the topic of this week’s show, which is that we’ll be enjoying by Jonathan Pritchard. Hello Jonathan.
Jonathan Pritchard: Hello. Hello. Glad to be here guys.
Paul Boag: Jonathan is a mentalist. He does magic. If you’re British, think Darren Brown is always the good starting point.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. Yeah.
Paul Boag: Yeah. Perhaps that’s how I know Marcus.
Marcus Lillington : I told you without realizing, is that what it is? You forced it out of me.
Paul Boag: I had a chat with Brian Green yesterday who is the guy that you’re going to be sharing an office with, correct?
Marcus Lillington : Correct. Yes, it’s going to be Brian’s new offices and we’re going to sublet from him. How dull is that, but yes.
Paul Boag: Exactly.
Marcus Lillington : Nice place. I went down there today.
Paul Boag: Oh, good. It’s right in the middle of Winchester as well. This is so boring. [crosstalk 00:01:49]. Let’s talk about Jonathan, instead?
Marcus Lillington : [crosstalk 00:01:51] some more interesting things.
Jonathan Pritchard: Maybe more interesting.
Paul Boag: Yeah, we’ll see how it goes.
Marcus Lillington : This is going to be the best show we’ve ever done.
Paul Boag: Yeah. No pressure.
Jonathan Pritchard: There you go. Hype it up.
Paul Boag: Yeah. I mean this was a total curve ball for me. I get probably, I don’t know, about a dozen emails a week I reckon saying, “Hey, I’d love to come on your show. Have me as a guest.” I cannot remember another occasion where I’ve gone, “Yes, let’s do it.” I got this email out of the blue from Jonathan that was just like basically he says, “My education is in fine art and design and my personal experience of traveling the world as a mentalist, I think it would provide some unique insights for experience designers and the web.”
I sat there for a minute going, “Why on earth does a mentalist want to be on the show?” It took me about 30 seconds, and then I was like, “This is perfect. Let’s get Jonathan on.” I’ve got a question for you Jonathan, which is how did you end up finding us?
Jonathan Pritchard: I love design. To me, it is fascinating. It’s one of the most interesting things you could think about. I just like being in the design world. Every once in a while, I’ll get back in and see what’s hot on Twitter or whatever and always looking for podcasts to listen to while I’m on tour, while I’m on the road. You popped up and I was like, “This is perfect. I have to talk to these guys.”
There’s a very short window between me having an idea and then doing something with it. I don’t believe in doing things perfectly. I just get them done. I heard it and went, “Yeah, I want to be on this.” Then there was about a one second lag for me to find your email and then email you. Yeah, it wasn’t a grand marketing campaign strategy or anything. It was just a, “Yeah, I want to talk with these guys.”
Paul Boag: Let’s do it.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah.
Paul Boag: Well, to be honest, my response was almost identical to that. I saw the email and I thought, “Let’s do this.” Then I had started over the following kind of however long it’s been forgotten [inaudible 00:04:34]. “Is this going to work? Have I made a horrible mistake?”
Actually, I’m convinced it is, because there were so much overlap here in terms of psychology, in terms of marketing, in terms of dealing with other people and interacting with other people that I actually think this is going to be absolutely fascinating. I cannot wait to get going, which is good. Before we do, he says, “Joking.”
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Thank you Resource Guru for supporting the show, but let’s talk with Jonathan. People are getting excited in the chat room about hearing what Jonathan is going to say. Before we talk about the link between mind reading and design thinking, first of all, tell us a little bit about yourself Jonathan. What is it that you actually do? How do you make a living?
Jonathan Pritchard: There’s basically two arms to what I do. One is the entertainment and engagement where I get in front of audience of all sizes. Make them laugh, wow them for an hour, help them forget their problems. Then the other half is taking people behind the mental curtain of how the techniques and principles of applied psychology are used on-stage, teach them how those work and how to apply them in negotiations, sales process, presentation skills.
Basically, it all centers around influence with integrity. It’s kind of entertainment and education and the slider bar between those where do you want to deliver a message or do you just want to have fun. It’s two sides at the same coin, which is engaging people.
Paul Boag: Yeah. I like that information with integrity bit or influence with integrity to say. I really like that principle. It’s really interesting, because we did the last season where we looked at conversion rate optimization. How do you basically encourage people to complete a call to action on our website, whether it be whatever, buying something, et cetera? Really interesting. Since then and only the last week, one of the things we did when we were on that season is I had a bit of a go at a hotel website, so terrible for manipulating people and they use scarcity to make you panic and buy and that kind of stuff.
Jonathan Pritchard: Two minutes until the price goes up.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Marcus Lillington : 14 other people are looking at … Or 15 available slots.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. Yeah.
Paul Boag: Yeah. Only this week on the BBC website, and I’ll put a link on the show notes, they reported about how the British government are really laying in to these people and making them … Approach it in a different way. Actually, that whole nastiness, that dark … They call it dark patterns in our industry. All those dark patterns have really made me obsessed with this idea of, “You can persuade people without manipulating them, keeping your integrity,” so it was nice to hear you say that.
Jonathan Pritchard: I have mental map of that territory, because that’s kind of one of the big objections that people have when they found out what I do is they go, “Oh, so you manipulate people. I don’t want to do that.” Or they think, “Oh, sales is manipulation and I’m better than that, so I don’t need sales.”
Well, you don’t need to manipulate people, so here’s how I kind of think about it. If you want to make yourself better or richer at the expense of other people, if you want this interaction to solely benefit you at the detriment of the other person, that’s bad. Then if you want the interaction to benefit everybody involved, that’s good. That mythological win-win situation.
Who is it that you’re trying to benefit, just you at the expense of them or everybody involved? Then on the vertical axis is what are you trying to change, their behavior or their beliefs? That’s kind of the four quadrants. If you’re trying to benefit yourself by changing somebody’s beliefs, that’s manipulation where you’re trying to use lying and deceit to present a false appearance of reality to get them to believe something that’s not true that will benefit you.
If you try to change their behavior, you don’t care about what they think, that’s coercion. That’s exactly the same as holding a gun to their head and saying, “Do this thing.” I don’t care how they feel about it. I don’t care what their beliefs are. I just want them to do that thing and I’m basically robbing them. That’s coercion.
If you’re trying to help somebody understand, this will solve your problem long-term. This will be exactly what it is you need and they go, “You know what? I believe that, that’s exactly what I need.” That is persuasion.
If you’re trying to change their actions … Say you’re with a group of friends and you’re trying to go, “All right. We’re trying to figure out where to go to dinner.” You don’t need them to believe that the restaurant you want to go to is the best thing. You just want them to go because then they’ll understand that, “Oh, this was the best option.”
You’re trying to influence their decision. You’re trying to influence their behavior. Those are the four quadrants of mind control. You got coercion, manipulation, you got persuasion and influence. Those are the two sides of the same coin, which is affecting people’s perception of reality. Anybody who says, “Well, I’m not involved in that who doesn’t understand how they navigate reality.” Because you’re constantly …
Marcus Lillington : They’re not alive.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. Exactly. It’s a process that everybody is engaged in. If you don’t use violence to get what you want, you are involved in persuasion and influence every single time you talk to other people because you’re trying to persuade them to see your way of approaching reality. You’re trying to influence them to do what … Right? Communication is influence and persuasion on the ethical spectrum and manipulation and coercion on the unethical spectrum.
Paul Boag: You say it with the website. Whenever we design a website, whatever wording you use is going to influence people one way or another. Whatever choice of imagery you use is going to influence them one way or another.
Jonathan Pritchard: You can’t not do it. It’s kind of like, “Oh, I don’t want to do that.” You’re like, “Well, you’re just doing it, but poorly. You’re doing it without intention.” To me, that’s unethical. Live a mindful intentional existence. Do your work with a mind for its impact and now you can be more effective.
Paul Boag: I can imagine, you must spend a lot of time doing things like business conferences and speaking up at marketing conferences and that kind of stuff. Is that fair to say?
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. I do some keynote speaking. I emcee conferences.
Paul Boag: Yeah, I could imagine.
Jonathan Pritchard: Because I can bring a lot of the mind reading demonstrations and actually … See, that’s what kind of gets under my skin about a lot of speakers is they say, “I’m an interactive speaker,” and their idea of interaction is, “High five the person next to you. High five the person next to you. Hey, look, it’s interactive.”
Then they all say … They just tell stories about these principles. My demonstrations actually demonstrate them in realtime in a way that people can’t forget. When you see somebody tell somebody what street they grew up on, that’s amazing. If it’s you that it’s happening to, you can’t forget it.
It’s on a level that people literally can’t forget for years. I’m like, “Hey, guys, I can do this better than 90% of everybody you’ve ever seen in your life. Like, “Oh, okay. That sounds good.” Yeah, it’s a huge hurdle of, “But we don’t want a mind reader.” That’s why I build myself as a business consultant leveraging a lifetime’s worth of international performance and public speaking.
Paul Boag: That reminds me very much of Jared Spool, Marcus. Jared Spool is a usability expert, but he’s really into his magic as well.
Jonathan Pritchard: Oh, that’s cool.
Paul Boag: He almost always brings that into his talks. It makes him so much more memorable as a result. Bringing it back to what you do, one of the best things that I give a talk about conversion rate optimization, and the bit the people really remember out of that is not what I say about the theory, but I show a vide of the invisible gorilla experiment, which I’m sure you’re familiar with. About the impact of cognitive load.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yes. Oh, I love that. Yes.
Paul Boag: You could talk about cognitive load all you want, but get people to do the invisible gorilla or experiment and they remember it. If you haven’t seen that, then I probably ruined it by saying what it’s called, but anyway, we’ll check it out.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah, I saw that for the first time at a science conference in Las Vegas that I helped run for 13 years. Professor Richard Wiseman is there and he shared it, and it just blew my mind. I was already a professional mentalist. I had already toured the world. Seeing that for the first time, I was like, “All right, that’s good. That’s really good. I like that.”
Paul Boag: Yeah. It’s a good little demonstration, that one, I’ll put a link in the show notes to it. The question is how. How do you end up doing what you do? How did you get from doing an arts degree to doing this?
Jonathan Pritchard: Long story short, I was a kid watching the Johnny Carson show, The Tonight Show, way back in the day. Saw a magician on there and the magic was great. The lovely assistants were even better. I was like, “Oh, if I’m that guy, I get to work with awesome people, okay, I’m in.” I’ve always known that, that’s what I want to do for a living.
I loved comic books growing up and I loved the art more than the stories or the adventure. It was just the look of it. I knew, “Oh, I want to go to college for visual communication.” I always loved drawing. I’m a very visual thinker. It took me forever to translate my ideas into words, but if I could draw it, boom, instantly, there you go.
We use our words mostly, so I took debate in high school to learn to communicate as a human being instead of drawing everything. That’s where I started being in front of audiences and getting comfortable with public speaking, but I was always practicing magic tricks. When I was 13, I learned how to juggle fire, hammer nails up my nose, eat fire, that kind of stuff.
Marcus Lillington : Like you do.
Jonathan Pritchard: Like you do. I had a mentor. I was learning from a retired professional street performer. I had a mentorship-mentee dynamic. About that time, I discovered that the mind reading tricks always freaked people out more than finding their playing card. The magic tricks are fun, but the mind reading tricks are terrifying. “Okay, let’s do that.”
I was really interested in that. In college, I met my mentor, James Randi, who had a million dollars as a challenge to anybody who claimed to be genuinely psychic. He goes, “Oh, if you can demonstrate this under scientific conditions, I’ll give you a million dollars.”
In college, I asked for the job. He came to my school to do a lecture. We hit it off. I just was like, “Hey, can I work with you?” He was like, “Yeah, sure. You’re hired. Come live at the foundation every summer.” I was like, “All right.”
Working with him was basically my master’s degree in understanding why people believe what they believe, how they interact with reality, because Randi is old school magician, escape artist and dedicated the whole second half of his life to helping people understand reality and think critically about unbelievable claims.
As I handled applications for the challenge and designed testing protocol for it, I saw every way people tried to scam their way to the million dollars. I’m like, “I can do these scams better than they can.” Then that’s where the show started.
Traveling the world. Doing mind reading shows. People were talking to me afterwards going, “Man, I can’t even imagine doing what you do.” They meant that in, “I can’t imagine being a mind reader, but also I can’t imagine not having an office job where you go to a cubicle all day and slowly suck your life out of your soul.” Right?
I started talking to him. I’m like, “Well, I grew up in a single wide trailer on a dirt road in North Carolina and now I travel the world.” My dad worked in a factory until he retired. My mom is a secretary. I didn’t come from money. This isn’t something I was born into.
I realized, “Holy crap. Okay. All these principles of psychology I use on stage are actually applicable and I’ve been using them my whole life. Oh, okay.” Then those were kind of my de facto coaching clients because I started getting emails back going, “Thank you for taking to me. It made all the difference. Here’s what I’m doing now and it’s amazing.”
Then I was like, “All right. Crap. Now, I have to share this stuff.” I crammed it all into a book and now people pay me money to come speak about what’s in the book. That’s kind of the development from being a performer to an author and a speaker where as an entertainer, I help people forget their problems for an hour and then they go back home to them. As a speaker and a trainer, I help people solve those problems long-term.
To me, that’s the most valuable way that I could spend my time is to help companies and employees become more effective at what they do by being better communicators so that everybody that they help, they help more effectively. That way, my time is spent helping the most people possible and that’s what makes me more money, it makes them more successful. That’s the win, win, win, I win, my client wins and all of their customers and clients win.
To me, that’s the most valuable way that I could spend my time is helping people think better about the world. That’s it [crosstalk 00:22:01] in the podcast.
Marcus Lillington : I’ve got a question, Paul.
Paul Boag: Yeah, go for it.
Jonathan Pritchard: Go for it.
Marcus Lillington : We’ve worked with companies in the past that help their sales teams and marketing teams and go in and reorganize people. Basically, business consultants. None of those people were mentalists. I’m just wondering how different or similar are you to somebody else who would be employed by one of these companies that goes out and mentor sales teams. What’s different about you? Why isn’t the world full of people like you I guess?
Jonathan Pritchard: In a way, I’m very similar, but in that, we’re talking about the same topics, but I’m totally different because … We got to scale back. To answer that question, we have to go 10,000 years into our history before recorded written history, shamans.
The first human beings to figure out abstract thought and symbolic logic and magical thinking. It is phenomenal that we human beings can use symbols. It is so magical and powerful and people don’t understand just how terrifying that is. Now, think about you’re literally in caveman times and you can draw a bison. You’re going to be the weirdest person in your tribe, because you’ve just described the future. You’ve discovered a whole universe that doesn’t actually exist. You can’t point to it, but your mind can go there. That is phenomenal.
These cave paintings weren’t a representation of reality. They were a magical ritual to call the effect of a successful hunt. By manipulating the symbol, you’re now using the power of magic to call that result into reality. Those cave paintings were some of the first magic effects. It was one of the most powerful positions in that society.
Oracles of Delphi. They would commune with the gods. You would write down your question, roll it up, put it in the rock wall. The oracle would consult with a god. Just speak in gibberish and then the priest would interpret it. That was the message from the gods. Go all the way through history, that’s been the role of the shaman and the magician is to connect people to the power of their imagination really is what it is.
Now, in today’s society, magicians make tigers show up in cages and everybody goes, “Oh, wow, that’s neat.” Or their children’s entertainer. The kind of the power, the respect has fallen by the wayside, but the process is still there.
The reason I have to go through all of that is to point to this point, which is I don’t care where you grew up. I don’t care where you are in the world. When that tiger shows up, it’s amazing. It’s operating on a level that is pre-cultural. I don’t care where you are, what culture you grew up in, magic works because it leverages fundamental psychological principles that are applicable to everybody on the planet, right?
Here’s where it’s different. Most of the business speakers and people talking about the psychology of X are relying on psychology research that’s less than 100 years old. Most of it has replication crisis. People are just like, “You know what? These bedrock studies that we’ve based all of our research on, let’s just do it again just for kicks. Let’s just do it just to see what happens.” Then they’re not getting the same result.
That would be like gravity not working somewhere and you go, “Okay. Something is not right here.” Most of the people who claim to be experts in the psychology of X are basing their authority on experiments that you can’t replicate the results.
Most of their authority is based on what? Stuff they can’t replicate. Stuff that is contextually relevant to only this domain. It doesn’t have broad applicability, but magicians, shamans, they’ve been doing this for tens of thousands of years and they can get the same result.
Once you understand not only how this trick works, but why these tricks work. What is wrong in our wiring that makes this thing called magic even possible? Once you unlock that, suddenly everything is possible. It’s just like decoding the Matrix. That’s why I say it’s super important to know this stuff so that you can do what other people say is impossible, but to you, it’s just another day at the office.
That’s why when people go, “Oh, I don’t need a mentalist. This magic stuff is for kids.” I work really hard to help them understand that, “No, these are universal principles that are applicable anywhere that your business interacts with the human being.” This helps in email campaigns, website development, app development, communications, presentations, your romantic relationships.
I don’t care. It helps because once you understand people, you understand yourself and then you can become a better communicator. That’s it. In a way, me and the business consultants are all talking about the same thing, but I’m coming from a very, very long line of them that are really good at what they do. Whereas these guys are always talking about stories and studies that maybe work, maybe not. That’s why, in a way, it’s like I’m going to eat their lunch.
Marcus Lillington : The difference I’m trying to summarize is that it’s kind of like to you, the way you do it is through a kind of innate skill, an innate ability rather than someone else who’s read about it.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. It’s kind of like, “Well, he can talk about it …”
Paul Boag: Theory versus practice.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. Exactly. That’s why it unlocks everything and they’re like, “Oh my God, I had no … What?” I was like, “I’ve been trying to tell you.”
Paul Boag: Okay. Let’s then apply it, some of this, to the world in which we operate. Whether it is creating a compelling email campaign or a landing page or something like that. What are the areas that we need to be learning from you over?
Jonathan Pritchard: Defining your outcome is step one. Most people don’t even take five minutes to define what it is that they want to happen. Think of it like a magician. What effect do you want to demonstrate to your audience? Do you want something to levitate? Do you want something to disappear? What is it you want to do? You have to clearly define the effect you want to have, then you figure out how to make that happen.
Paul Boag: That’s so funny. Sorry to interrupt you. I literally have just been writing a chapter for my next book on that subject. The book is about conversion rate optimization and the chapter is defining what a conversion is, what success looks like, so totally great.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. Most people are just like, “Hey, look, we have a whole bunch of methods. We have a whole bunch of techniques, so what can we do with them?” That’s fundamentally back roots from how it should be. Figure out what you want to happen, then figure out the best way to make that happen, then get good at it.
It’s effect-first thinking, not method-first thinking. In the magic world, it’s kind of like falling in love with a particular slight of hand technique, because it feels neat or it’s really difficult to do and you want to be known as somebody who’s good at doing difficult things, but the method doesn’t really do anything fun. To the spectators, this is boring, but you keep doing it because you’re in love with the method, but it doesn’t have any impact, whereas if you …
Paul Boag: You see that all the time in design as well that people design things.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly.
Paul Boag: The trendy way. Even technology. People buy technology because it does all these cool things without actually considering whether they need those cool things or not.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly.
Marcus Lillington : Content as well. People just [crosstalk 00:31:47] …
Paul Boag: Content. Yup.
Marcus Lillington : … everything on webpages. Think about webpages. They end up being far too busy because, “Oh, we need this. Oh, we need this. Oh, we need this.” Because people haven’t considered what the actual purpose of the thing is.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. You’re starting to see just how scary, broad the applications are. To help put this into context, I want to tell you the secret to every magic trick you’ve ever seen, every mentalism demonstration, everything. Here it is.
The magician or the mentalist, the agent of action, the magician creates a context for their audience to make logical assumptions that are later shown to not be true. Okay, that’s it. That’s everything.
The context normally, it’s a life performance. The presenium of the theater is the compositional space, and the audience is the right people. It’s not for the public. Their advertising is properly targeted to get exactly the right person in those seats and the advertising is in alignment with the type of experience that the audience is expecting to see, so the branding is unified.
That’s why I love Google material design. I just love it. What terrified me was they were talking about animations. Having something enter the compositional space at speed already. Easing in and easing out, you don’t want it to ease into the compositional space and speed up and then ease out, right?
Paul Boag: Right.
Jonathan Pritchard: You want it to be at speed and then ease out.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Jonathan Pritchard: Here’s what blew my mind. You have to do that as a public speaker and a performer.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Marcus Lillington : You’re right.
Jonathan Pritchard: Imagine you’re standing just out of sight at the edge of the presenium, which is the compositional space for your audience. If you’re standing right by the edge and they introduce you and then you step out and your first step is into view, you’re not up to speed. You step out, you get up to speed and then get to the podium or your mark and it’s not right, but if you back up 10 feet, then they introduce you, then you start walking, now you’re at full clip and you enter their view at full speed like, “Wow, he has energy. I don’t know what it is.” The audience is never consciously aware of it, but it is a detail that if you manage it properly, will help them feel secure and trusting your skills.
Marcus Lillington : Okay, that’s enough. [crosstalk 00:34:50] to know.
Paul Boag: You just freaked me out a little bit with that, because I have almost run on to stage when I speak, right? I always have [crosstalk 00:35:02].
Jonathan Pritchard: It feels right. You don’t know why it’s right but it feels right. That’s why.
Paul Boag: With this whole idea of context and set in the correct context, you’re talking in psychological terms about a degree of priming, I presume. Setting expectations. That is a huge area. I remember doing some usability testing on a university website once. We were testing with international students.
We were just asking a very simple question. We’re hitting the homepage. We were asking the question, “Is this university for you?” Gut reaction. Every single person said no. I knew damn well why they were saying no because the big banner on that homepage was a load of middle aged white guy professors all standing post.
Everyone looked to that and go, “That’s not me. My skin color is that. Not that. I’m not that age, therefore this isn’t suited to me.” That’s, I guess, an example of priming and the context that you’re presenting in.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. Two things is everybody designs for themselves and not their audience and then that’s where the problems come in. You have to be a mind reader and understand your audience’s mind how they’re seeing the world. You have put yourself into their mode of interacting with reality, design for that and then you’ll be successful.
Paul Boag: How do you do that is the question. How do you get yourself into the mindset of your audience?
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly what you did, which is look at what they’re doing, not what they’re saying, because self-reporting is horrible. It’s kind of like saying, “Okay, potential users, here’s the situation. What would you do?” Then the person, it’s metacognition. They’re thinking about what they would be thinking about. Most people are horrible at understanding how their mind works. They don’t have an accurate perception of what they would actually do. They have an idea about what they think they would do.
Marcus Lillington : Or would want to do.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. You’re like two levels away from what they would actually be doing. If you design in response or in relationship to what they say they would do, you’re still going to be wrong. You can only design in terms of what they actually do.
Paul Boag: This is where I have a problem with things like focus groups which marketers are using on, because focus group is exactly self-reporting. If you’ve turn around to somebody and say, “Do you want this nice shiny thing?” They’re going to say yes. When they have to put down real money in a real situation, they’re not.
I even have that problem a little bit with usability testing as well, because with usability testing, you’re paying someone to use the website. They are putting their full concentration in. The context is normal going back to your terminology and so they’re behaving …
Marcus Lillington : And we’re leading them, Paul.
Paul Boag: Yeah, and you’re leading them. Actually, you’re skewing the results the whole time. It’s a tricky one to actually … You want to observe people without almost them knowing they’re being observed.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. It’s the quantum uncertainty principle. The observer affects the interaction. It’s kind of like I could do what I do outside the context of a performance and it terrifies people. It’s literally life-shattering because if I lied to them and said, “Oh yeah, this is the real mojo,” it would totally shatter everything they knew about reality.
I’m honest liar, to use the term from Randi. I’m an honest liar. I’m going to tell you I’m going to lie to you, but all design is lying. This screen is flat. Those aren’t real things. It’s virtual. It’s all a lie, which is why I hate skeuomorphism, because it’s not what it used … Okay.
Yeah, it’s really difficult to do that, but here’s … When we’re talking about that context, these principles are universal but how they manifest are contextually relevant. Everybody has assumptions all day long, every day about everything really. Your brain runs off of the same amount of energy as your refrigerator like. That’s it.
You’ve got to get real good at bringing every bit of usability out of this thing called brain. It uses a lot of shortcuts. People think that our sense are there to absorb information, but we actually filter out way more information than we actually let through. What is let through is determined by our previous experience and our beliefs about how the world works so then you only allow in those things that reinforce your preexisting beliefs.
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Jonathan Pritchard: You believe that the ground is solid, because for the past 20 years, every day all day it has been. That heuristic, that mental model of how reality works holds up until it doesn’t and you walk through wet cement and you ruin your shoes.
We constantly always have a mental model of external reality running in our minds. Our minds are virtual reality machines. We are constantly making micro-adjustments to this model of reality until there’s a big blip that doesn’t line up and you go, “Whoa, what is that?” It’s kind of like walking upstairs and you think there’s an extra stair but there isn’t. You believe your foot is about to hit solid ground and it goes straight through the step, right? Because it’s not there.
Paul Boag: The one that always freaks me out is how come escalators feel weird when they’re not moving.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly.
Paul Boag: Because you’re used to the moving. They should just feel like normal stairs, but they don’t.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. Exactly. That’s a perfect example of you’re not even aware of the assumptions you’re making, but it’s a process that is constantly going because you can’t not do it. As a designer, you have to understand what assumptions your visitor is bringing to the table to your design, to your website, to your whatever.
I believe you made a post recently about making huge changes to your website. It will only upset the long-time users, so you have to do it incrementally. That’s exactly right, because you look at their traditions and the standards that most people are used to and play with it. Use it when it’s useful so that way, you don’t have to make your visitor think much.
The perfect design makes the user feel like they’re in control, and that is what is pleasing design. None of it is up to the user. We make it. We create it. Every single moment of my shows, of my talks, of my presentations I’ve crafted. Everything that looks like it’s just off, I’ve done it 3000 times, because I’ve been in this talk 3000 times.
This is the first time this volunteer has been on stage, so they’re thinking of something for the first time, but that’s the 583rd time I’ve heard that joke. Then they go, “Wow, he’s so witty.” I’m not witty, I’ve had 583 times to come up with something funny. If I don’t have something funny by then, I’m bad at my job, so that’s why …
Paul Boag: Sorry to interrupt you.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah, no.
Paul Boag: Another really good example of this mental model, the way people look at things is information architecture on websites. I’m fighting with this right now with a client that wants their product names as the information architecture. Those product names are meaningless to a normal human being.
Marcus Lillington : No. No. No. Surely you can [crosstalk 00:44:16].
Paul Boag: Yeah, all right. Yeah, it’s not a problem. Actually, one of the examples I use is I say, “I’ve used this for the client.” I said to them, “Okay. If I say Jill is going to the bank, where is Jill going?” Everybody instantly says, “Oh, to get out money or to …”
Marcus Lillington : Paying a check.
Paul Boag: Rob it or something like that. Then if you say, “Well, this person, imagine then that Jill is a keen kayaker or a sailor or a fisherman. Where is she going now? Oh, will it might be the river bank?” That kind of shows, for me, demonstrates how mental models can be affected by our background and our experiences.
Information architecture is a great example of that. The terminology that makes perfect sense to us working in a company isn’t going to be the same terminology that necessarily makes sense to audiences, partly for the same reason that you were talking about with your presentations because we live and breathe this stuff every single day. We know all the terminology. We know all the shorthands. We know all of the stuff, but other people don’t. They’re coming to it for the first time.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah.
Marcus Lillington : Sorry. I’ll repeat something I said last week. I’m about to do some more testing on the same site tomorrow. As a bit of an aside or a bit of a tangent, I think one of the best reasons to do usability testing is to remind us that people don’t use our products, our websites and the way we think.
Just this three different testers said, “Oh, I didn’t know I could click on the logo to get back to the homepage,” which has been assumption that we don’t need a home link or a home icon for five years, probably plus.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right. Site title always links back to the homepage.
Marcus Lillington : There you go. Perfect example of that. We don’t understand what’s going on in the minds of our users.
Paul Boag: No, we don’t.
Jonathan Pritchard: I had a normal job for nine months at a social media marketing company and as a graphic designer. I got the job specifically just to see how awful office jobs are.
Marcus Lillington : Research.
Jonathan Pritchard: I was already a world traveling performer, a speaker, but I was like, “I have a lot of free time on my hands, let me get a normal job to see how much this sucks.” It does. I got hired as a graphic designer and pretty quickly, I took over the website. I took over their email campaigns. They had a database of 39,000 emails that they had bought that they had been hammering for months and getting no results. I designed an email campaign that organized and segmented their list and got them a couple $100,000 in business in two days.
They were like, “How did you do this?” I was like, “Well, I’m good at what I do.” I redesigned their website, but the CEO had let the engineer of the product have the keys to the website. I would come back to work and the website would just be trashed. I’m like, “What is going on here?” I always go, “All right. What’s the one thing we want our visitors to do? Make that the only option they have to do.” Seems obvious, but evidently, it’s not.
They wanted people to sign up to use their product. They had one of those, “Give us your credit card. You won’t be charged.” I was like, “Then why do we need that? Get rid of it, because that’s just going to be a barrier.” They’re like, “Well, we need it for …” I was like, “No. You’re not going to get users.”
I had to fight tooth and nail for them to get rid of that. The landing page was built to help people understand why they should and need this tool and try it out. Here’s the login page. Signing in would be the only option you would have. That’s the right way to do it.
A couple of days later, I came back and there was a little sidebar, “For more information, click here. Do this.” I counted it. There were five outbound links away from the deeper engagement that they were trying to do. Three of those links went back to the page that they just came from, but it didn’t educate them at all. It didn’t give them any new information. They said, “What are you doing?”
Paul Boag: Here we go. There will be a lot of people that are listening to this nodding along. “Yeah, we’ve all had those kinds of situations.” [crosstalk 00:49:23].
Marcus Lillington : Cath in the chatroom says, “I’m nodding so hard here, my headphones nearly fell off.”
Paul Boag: Obviously, they did it. Here’s the thing. You’re a mentalist. Why couldn’t you convince your stakeholders or the engineer to back off for that? Tell me, is there any advice that you can give to those of us that are struggling with stakeholders, with clients? How do we deal with them in such a way that they’re more open to our arguments and the way we present ourselves?
Jonathan Pritchard: Absolutely. The main problem was that I didn’t know that, that was a problem. I didn’t know he had the keys to the kingdom, all that jazz. What you have to do is you have … Here’s the three rules of motivation.
Paul Boag: Yeah, go for it.
Jonathan Pritchard: You can’t motivate anybody. Everybody is motivated. They are motivated for their own reasons. You have to figure out what is their reason for doing what it is that they’re doing, then help them understand that you are going to get them that, the most effective way possible.
Paul Boag: The reason I’m sitting here grinning from ear to ear is because … Do you remember? I mentioned Jared Spool earlier, the magician guy?
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah.
Paul Boag: He wrote a post of which was entitled, “Why I can’t convince an executive of anything and neither can you.” The premise of that post is you can’t influence people. You find out what they’re already interested in and you tie what it is that you want to do to that thing. Exactly the same.
Jonathan Pritchard: See, it works.
Paul Boag: It works. Yeah. Absolutely.
Jonathan Pritchard: I was like, “What is it you …” I had that to talk to him. I was like, “What is it you want people to be doing here?” “I want them to signup.” “Okay. Here’s how they sign up. Why would you include all of this?” “Oh, because they might need to know more and that kind of thing.” I go, “I get that. That’s why we already put it all on the page that you’re sending them back to.”
That’s a weird flow. This is information management. My whole mind reading show magic shows, all of that is just information management. I have to say the right thing at the right time, the right way and do the right stuff. If any of those are out of alignment, there’s no magic trick. There’s no effect.
If you present the information, if you present the right information in the wrong sequence, it’s awful. There’s a television show called Firefly that was super popular.
Paul Boag: Oh, I know.
Jonathan Pritchard: Right?
Paul Boag: Yeah.
Jonathan Pritchard: What was the problem?
Paul Boag: Wrong order.
Jonathan Pritchard: The episodes were aired in the wrong order. It was a story arch. Things that the characters were referencing hadn’t happened yet for the viewers at home, but it was only because it was out of order. Everybody was like, “What the hell is going on? This show is awful. It makes no sense.” It got canceled.
It’s the right information at the right time said in a way that the person hearing it will understand it. Most people think, “Oh, I’m a great communicator. I talk a lot.” That is not the sole qualification for being a good communicator. Communication isn’t what you say, it’s what the person hears.
Paul Boag: That’s a very good line. I like that.
Jonathan Pritchard: That’s the skill of thinking like a mind reader is understanding how people are hearing your message and then looking at the effect it has, if they’re not doing the right thing, you have to change what you’re saying.
In the show context, see, a lot of people love improv comedy because, “Oh, it’s so difficult and impressive. They’re taking suggestions from the audience and then doing something with it on the fly. Isn’t that amazing?” Yes, but imagine not just taking suggestions from the audience but actually inviting the audience on stage with you and making them look like the star of the show while doing things that are secret and unknown to them and the audience at large. Now, tell me that’s not more difficult. Oh, you just described magic.
Audience management is a phenomenal skill and it’s phenomenally difficult. When you’re designing an effect, you’re creating this routine. You go, “I want this to happen. Here’s a good context for that to happen, and this will be a fun routine and fun experiences I can design for these people.” Okay, cool. You invite the person up on stage and you give them instructions. Take the cards out of the box and shuffle them up. Then the person takes the cards out of the box and throws them in the air. It’s like, “They’re shuffled.” You can’t blame the audience member …
Paul Boag: For not doing it right.
Jonathan Pritchard: … for your mistake of instructions. The only way that you can do that is by beta testing the routine. Putting it out there, seeing what happens and then being totally mind-blown. All the ways that your volunteer screw up the simplest instructions.
Paul Boag: Back to usability testing, isn’t it? Basically.
Jonathan Pritchard: Exactly. Then over time, you’ve learned how to accommodate. Well, I have to change literally one word in the script and suddenly that problem disappears. It’s really those level of details that could make all the difference in the world. Writing copy for your website. Literally changing one word could make all the difference in your conversion rate.
You’re only going to find out by paying attention to what actually happens, not what you think you’re communicating, but what your users are actually doing and then mocking around with that to make the right thing happen.
Paul Boag: Wow.
Marcus Lillington : Fabulous.
Paul Boag: I could just go on forever with this conversation, because you’re right.
Marcus Lillington : We have a part two.
Paul Boag: Even if you want the original email … Right. Yeah, I think we might have to do a part two next season. We’ll get you on for some reason.
Jonathan Pritchard: Deal.
Paul Boag: For now, I do want to just talk about our sponsor and then we’ll wrap up the show very quickly. I want to talk about digital project manager school, because we’ve been talking about stakeholder engagement, client engagement, all that kind of stuff, which sucks. We all hate doing it. We hate having to manage clients and client expectations and all the rest of it.
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There’s loads of stuff they give you to get you going like templates. They even give you a money back guarantee if you don’t find it useful. Check them out at to find out when the next course is so that you can signup to it. Jonathan, thank you so much for chatting.
Marcus Lillington : Fabulous.
Paul Boag: Like we said, we want to go on forever, but in the meantime, where can people find out more about you?
Jonathan Pritchard: Well, if you want to know about my professional work, go to If you want to read the book, that’s at I love arcane hidden knowledge, that kind of fun stuff, so I have the That’s my community where I teach people the secrets of mentalism, kung fu. You could see my wooden dummy back there. It’s kind of like the mentalism is the mind, the kung fu is the body coming together to pull your life into alignment with the principles that govern reality. Yeah. Find me on twitter, the_pritchard. Basically, you find me anywhere you could find everything.
Paul Boag: Seriously, if you just type in Jonathan Pritchardritchard, mentalist, you get a load of stuff up, so you won’t have a problem finding it.
Jonathan Pritchard: Yeah, you have to include the mentalist because there’s a Jonathan K. Pritchard that’s a professor who’s got a lot of links to his site. Not Jonathan K Pritchard, but Jonathan Pritchardritchard, mentalist, you got it.
Paul Boag: Yeah. Excellent. All right. Thank you so much, Marcus. Jonathan, we end our show with a joke every time. They’re always terrible, but we were talking about how people like familiarity. They like the same thing that they’ve got used to. Out of the 400 plus episodes, they expect it, we’ve got no choice. Marcus, over to you.
Marcus Lillington : Paul, we’re 500 plus now, but this is a joke from Jared Spool, so there you go.
Paul Boag: Oh, there you go. It keeps coming up.
Marcus Lillington : I had a few to pick one, and I thought, “Oh, I’ll use that one.” I can’t believe it’s the year of the pig already. I’m still writing rat on all my checks.
Jonathan Pritchard: You set the expectations that it would be awful, and it was.
Marcus Lillington : It was, yeah.
Jonathan Pritchard: Expectation fulfilled, so that was delightful.
Paul Boag: Yeah. Managing expectations, managing the audience, it’s all about that. Next week, we’re being joined by Jeremy Keith, co-founder of Clearleft, who’s a speaker, a developer, author. You know Jeremy, he’s been on the show a lot in the past and we’re going to get him back next week. I could guarantee, another really enjoyable show. Jeremy is a great guy to chat to and I’m very glad to [inaudible 00:59:45]. For now, Jonathan, thank you so much for your time. Absolute pleasure to talk to you.
Jonathan Pritchard: Hey, thank you so much for letting me share my thoughts. I really appreciate it.
Paul Boag: It’s been a great show and until next time, goodbye.
Jonathan Pritchard: Bye-bye.

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