Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?

The job of a UX designer is often concerned with making unclear information clear and unknown information known.

“Why does this website need my e-mail?” is an example of unknown information that is answered through the common “We need your mail to confirm your order, but we won’t send you spam.”  Creating a more clear hierarchy by making buttons or calls to action larger is a way of making unclear information clear.

Having recently watched PBS NOVA’s “Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?” I have begun to consider how avoiding clearly stated information can actually help improve user experience and perhaps even ROI.  Who killed Charles Lindbergh’s baby?  NOVA suggests that there were accomplices to the crime including perhaps even Charles Lindbergh himself!  …in the end though (much to my girlfriend’s dismay) they do not directly name anyone as being conclusively an accomplice to the kidnapping and killing of the baby.  By beginning with a question and leading users through the documentary in a carrot-and-stick style, we were both mesmerized by the mystery.  NOVA’s documentaries are masterful examples of how curiosity can drive a user flow.  Viewers continue to watch the one-hour documentary to find out the answers and they are gradually led through the narrative.  In a similar way, users are willing to scroll down or click on a website or application in order to find answers.  Jarrod Drysdale’s article about placing your company’s logo below the fold doesn’t directly say it, but perhaps users scroll in order to find the logo.  Thus their curiosity drives them to scroll.

This isn’t a new idea, Stephen P. Anderson has written on this topic for years, but it is still unique in that it turns user experience design around.  The idea that designing curiosity and asking questions to lead users through a narrative or user flow (even if you never actually provide the answers!) goes against the standard party line of clarity and straight-forwardness.


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