Why is PET important to the creative process?

I first heard about the concept of designing for PET around three years ago and like most agencies, PET sits within the UX department here. Whilst most designers would see PET as a more detailed form of UX, I saw it as a way of thinking that actually complements the designer. It helps us engage with the viewer/customer on an emotional level and delves into human behaviours and decision making. My inner artist/designer decided to learn more.

If you think about it, everything that a creative is tasked with incorporates a PET requirement; for example, a charity campaign to engage users to take action will fail without emotionally connecting to the viewer and understanding what stops said user from participating with charity causes.

As designers, we all strive to create work that will be consumed by people in a way the client desires or the commercial brief dictates. Problems can arise, however, if the consumer perceives your work differently, or if the designer perceives the consumer differently; this is where PET can help, as using the principles of persuasion, emotion and trust can help you to make appropriate design decisions and rationalise your work.

As such, it's important to embed the philosophy into every stage of the creative process, from client brief right through to performance testing.

1. Client brief phase

The overall requirement of a brief may to rebranded a website, but business objectives will also come into play.

'Increase users requesting a call back for a product or service', or'increase product sales of X' are both tangible PET objectives that can be used to form the basis of the PET research.

2. Planning and strategy phase, with PET research

At the beginning of a project, I'd always expect the Planning and Strategy team to provide me with a brief, some market research personas and some form of insight to enable me to start the ideation phase.

PET research, which can give us an extra layer of consumer understanding, becomes important at this point. Broadly speaking, market research can fall into two categories: qualitative or quantitative. However, traditional research methods often only skim the surface when it comes to identifying true user motivation.

Qualitative research attempts to answer questions about consumer attitudes and reactions, resulting in statements like 'John is loyal to brand X and would feel anxious in changing to new brand product Y'.

It's a good starting point, but PET research goes deeper. For example, it may uncover that John is anxious because he had a bad experience when purchasing an unfamiliar product and that it cost him time and effort to rectify. So we have now discovered John is loyal because he does not want to have to take time to return faulty goods, and not because of the brand or product itself. This gives us a great leverage over other brands, and might lead us to decide to really push a company's easy returns system on the homepage to help persuade shoppers to choose their product.

Quantitative research gives us numerical results derived from asking very specific questions, so you might get results like '70% of males don't give regularly to charity'. If the PET objective is to increase one-off donations to sick children on a charity campaign page, we now know who we need to be targeting males better, but we don't actually know why 70% of males don't give to charity.

PET research can help us to identify that maybe person X doesn't have children, and so does not get the same feelings of sympathy as a parent. That means we need to incorporate a design trigger to persuade that person or audience to act.

3. Wireframing your PET strategy

PET research forms the basis of your PET strategy, where you decide which of the PET tools to use when applying your learning to the digital world. (I personally frequently use what are called 'Mental Notes' cards, which can be purchased online.)

I'm not going to list all 50 techniques, but let me give you an example; the technique of 'Proximity'. This is based on the principle that things that are close together are perceived to be more related or relevant to each other than things spaced further apart. A classic example of using 'Proximity' in your design work would be to group similar products together on a page. This technique can also be used to persuade consumers of the quality of a product by placing it next to an established branded product, as it can allow lesser products to 'borrow' the attributes of an established brand.

It is useful at this stage for the designer to work closely with the UX Architect/Designer to collaborate and discuss how these PET techniques can best be applied.

By the end of this stage, you should have a considered PET strategy in place, detailing which PET techniques you are going to embed into your wireframes or user journey throughout the website design.

4. Rationalisation and pitching your creations

This is where I have found adopting PET to be especially very fruitful. As well as the usual creative rationale, we can now add a layer of human behavioural psychology to our explanations. PET tools like 'Mental Notes' cards give you the ability to take the concept, apply it to the design, and explain what you have done and why.

5. On-going performance testing

As with anything you do, the first release of the website is never the end. We should always be aiming to fine tune and tweak websites to ensure they are performing to the desired goals. So, if at first your PET techniques do not succeeded, try and try again...

Final thoughts

The fact is that PET research philosophy can help us get into the mind of the consumer or audience in a very tangible way, helping to add real fuel to the creative fire.

That being said, it's vital that PET tools are applied holistically to find the best solution for each individual project, so I believe it's important for designers to really absorb themselves in the different PET methodologies so they can make truly informed decisions.

When it's done right, designing with PET in mind makes it easier to create, rationalise and pitch our work both internally and to the client, which is why I'd thoroughly recommend it to all my fellow designers.

Further reading and resources



Playing with 'robots'