June 8, 2008

Cognitive Styles and Enterprise Architecture

We are all familiar with personalizing websites like Yahoo.com to make them more appealing, functional, and easy to navigate.

Now, according to MIT Technology Review, 9 June 2008, websites are being personalized not by the person, but rather by systems “that detect a user’s cognitive style” and changes the website accordingly

What is cognitive style?

Cognitive style is how a person thinks. Some people are more simplistic, others more detail-oriented, some like charts and graphs, and some like to be able to see and get to peer advice.

Why is cognitive style important?

Well, if we can figure out a person’s way of thinking and what appeals to them, then we can tailor websites to them and make them more useful, useable, and more effective at selling to them.

“Initial studies show that morphing a website to suit different types of visitors could increase the site’s sales by about 20 percent.”

So what’s new about this, haven’t sites like Amazon been tailoring their offering to users for quite some time?

Amazon and other sites “offer personalized features…drawing from user profiles, stored cookies, or long questionnaires.” The new method is based instead on system adaptation “within the first few clicks on the website by analyzing each user’s patterns of clicks.”

With cognitive style adaptation, “suddenly, you’re finding the website is easy to navigate, more comfortable, and it gives you the information you need.” Yet, the user may not even realize the website has been personalized to him.

“In addition to guessing each user’s cognitive style by analyzing that person’s pattern of clicks, the system would track data over time to see which versions of the website work most effectively for which cognitive style.” So there is learning going on by the system and the system gets better at matching sites to user types over time!

If we overlay the psychological dimension such as personality types and cognitive styles to web design and web adaptation, then we can individuate and improve websites for the end-user and for the site owner who is trying to get information or services out there.

Using cognitive styles to enhance website effectiveness is right in line with User-centric Enterprise Architecture that seeks to provide useful and usable EA products and services. Moreover, EA must learn to appreciate and recognize different cognitive styles of its users, and adapt its information presentation accordingly. This is done, for example, in providing three levels of EA detail for different types of end-users, such as profiles for executives, models for mid-level managers, and inventories for analysts. This concept could be further developed to actually modify EA products for the specific end-user cognitive styles. While this could be considerable work and must be balanced against the expected return, it really comes down to tailoring your product to your audience and that is nothing new.


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