One Saturday afternoon I fell into a rabbit hole on the internet, ultimately finding myself reading about neuro architecture and how the spaces we inhabit influence us.

Buildings or structures can invoke an emotional response. We have all come across spaces where we feel suffocated or claustrophobic, places where we feel overwhelmed or places where we feel bored.

Architects have time and again found that people dislike places where they don’t feel that they are in control or feel lost and disoriented. A case in point would be the Seattle public library. Visitors have often complained of having difficulty navigating the place. Ironically, the library design has won several design awards, named as an Outstanding Building.

Seattle Public Library, Source – Wikipedia
Seattle Public Library, Source – Wikipedia

City planning is another example where human behavior is influenced by the design of the surroundings. Known as the “Broken Window” theory, it essentially says that proof of crime incites more crime or, alternatively, order imparts a sense of order. Take, for example, graffiti in the New York subways in the late 70’s & 80’s. No matter how bad the graffiti was or how badly the subway car was vandalized it was made sure that they were cleaned and restored before running again. There are several theories about why and how NYC subways eventually became graffiti-free but one of them is that seeing clean subways affected graffiti artists’ behavior by telling them subtly that someone is in charge and the subways are being looked after. Here, ensuring cleanliness and punctuality were important parameters of the process designed to discourage public vandalism.

What is true for physical spaces we operate in appears to be true for digital spaces. The design of digital spaces often influences people and their decisions. Consider the following example: A leading retirement service provider (Voya), experimented with the digital design of the online enrollment interfaces and studied the effects of digital design on the initial contribution decisions of employees in their retirement plans (401(k)). The goal was to get employees to consider a deferral rate higher than the standard rate. This is because the standard rate is often not enough for future financial security. Good sample size was insured by picking eight thousand plus employees randomly. They were directed to one of two versions of the enrollment interface including the original design or a tweaked version with three seemingly minor changes.


Result? The tweaked design saw an increase in the rate of personalized enrollment and of course deferral rates higher than the default!

In another example, subscribers of were asked to distribute their retirement savings between eight different funds. One group was directed to a website with four blank lines indicating four funds and a highlighted link to select additional funds. Another group was shown eight available lines. It was observed that only 10% of subscribers presented with four lines selected more than four funds, whereas 40% of subscribers presented with eight lines selected more than four funds.

In both cases seemingly small design changes appear to have affected the user’s financial decisions. My point being that the importance of thoughtful, user-centric design cannot be underestimated. At Persistent, our design teams are a central part of our engagements. In our opinion, no digital strategy is complete without them.