Applying the MAYA principle to Website Optimisation

According to industrial designer Raymond Loewy, who coined the MAYA (‘most advanced, yet acceptable’) principle, the key to successful design is in balancing futurism with your users’ present.

When Loewy applied this to his work, he created some of the most iconic designs of modern culture, including the S1 steam locomotive (pictured above),  the1950s re-design of the Coca-Cola glass bottle, the 1946 Lincoln Continental,  Le Creuset coquelle,  the SPAR logo and many more.

This principle may be old however, the theory behind it is still relevant.  Loewy believed our tastes are not ready for logical solutions if the design is too advanced and unfamiliar.

Familiarity is a huge deal. Think of the most popular songs you know, cool apps that you use and websites you love. Why do you like them?  Songs, for instance, are believed to require four fundamental traits to make them catchy, as discovered by musicologists at the University of London. Adults are so conditioned into accepting and being comfortable with the norm, that they will rarely accept a new design solution if it’s too advanced.

Loewy explained how “there seems to be for each individual product a critical area at which the consumer’s desire for novelty reaches what I might call the shock-zone. At that point, the urge to buy reaches a plateau, and sometimes evolves into a resistance to buying.” (Loewy, R. 1951. Never Leave Well Enough Alone. 227).

This theory goes some way to explaining why ideas, products and designs have both failed and succeeded. Google Glass is a well-known example of design failure due, in part, to it failing to adhere to Loewy’s MAYA principle.


Ignore the MAYA principle at your peril

From a website optimisation or human-centred design approach, the MAYA principle is still relevant nearly 60 years on. Think about all the times that  websites and web pages have been designed to look and feel more modern, but perform badly.

In 2014, M&S famously launched a redesign and build of its website. It failed miserably, and the new site was blamed for the subsequent 8% drop in sales and loss of shares.

The core problem with the M&S site, was its combination of usability issues and a lack of consideration for its customer base.

For its loyal customers who had grown accustomed to the old website, such a dramatic design change meant that they had to relearn how to navigate and use the new site. Their previously stored details were also now invalid, because M&S’s new site had started from scratch, abandoning its 6 million user database during the transition, causing them to have to re-register. Annoying. Very, very annoying.

Those who do it right

Larger companies such as Amazon or Shop Direct are always updating their websites, but in a more controlled approach. Usability testing helps them to identify issues with their website, and areas their audience is struggling with.

Once they have identified a problem, they work to resolve it, which can result in an entire website redesign or just a small adjustment to a page using A/B testing to find which solution works best for their customer base.

By making adjustments and keeping in mind their audience, they can constantly test and challenge designs but, ultimately, the audience will always favour the design that is ‘most acceptable’.

Keeping to the MAYA principle, the designs need to deliver an experience that is both aesthetic and modern, but comfortable and usable for the individual. Website designs need to be the perfect blend of modernisation and familiarity to have mass appeal.

How do you make things ‘acceptable’?

So, how do we make things ‘acceptable’? Is it a case of being more sympathetic in the design process? Based on what we know, we need to put things in the context of what people already accept. If you can identify the right way an organisation goes about problem-solving, then you can use that context to frame design.

A website can be very task-oriented. We all go online across numerous websites to conduct the same actions for different organisations and businesses – make a purchase, request information, get in contact, conduct research.

It is important within the design that this functionality is familiar and easy to use, to avoid frustrating your users; you won’t get a second chance to impress them. Innovation and design should be introduced gradually, and thoroughly tested to ensure new users can learn to use the site quickly so that they come back to use it again.

Marketplace websites such as Not on the High Street or eBay are excellent examples of getting the right balance of innovation and acceptance. These sites often sell unfamiliar products and brands, so users typically spend more time researching and have less confidence in the products. To counteract this, the sites ensure the user always feels in control by offering multiple ways to browse and view the products. Then they instill confidence with social proofing techniques.

Ultimately. the key to the success of these sites is that they understand their audiences and behaviours. The key to Loewy’s theory is to always keep the audience in mind; challenge design to make it contemporary and exciting, whilst keeping it comfortable and familiar enough that they accept it.

So, if you’re embarking on site improvements, always include your users as early as possible within the design stage, and consistently throughout the project to ensure you’re hitting the mark.

Contact our CRO team today to find out how we can apply the MAYA principle to your site

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