Jordan Moore

The Big Five Personality Traits, sometimes referred to as the five factor model (FFM), is a model commonly used by psychologists to describe individual personalities. The original model was constructed by Ernest Tupes and Raymond Christal in 19611 but it didn’t reach mainstream academic audiences until the 1980s and early 90s.

Multiple sets of independent researchers on human personality arrived at the same conclusion in naming the five factors that generally predict and explain behaviour which indicates the factors are valid as far as we know today.

Each of the five factors (O,C,E,A,N) are scored between 1-100 according to the individual ranked against average scores after completing a series of questions (try it out for yourself).

The five factors are:

  • Openness - this trait describes someone’s appreciation for art, adventure, inventiveness, creativity, sensitivity to beauty, likely to hold unconventional beliefs - things of an abstract nature. I personally sit on the 95th percentile for openness which seems abnormally high, but most people in the design industry tend to rank quite highly in this factor
  • Conscientiousness - a sense of self-discipline, desire for achievement, tendency to defy measures impeding the route to success, orderly, attention to detail
  • Extraversion - mostly describes what kind of social animal you are, the ability to start conversations, talking to a variety of people at a party, ability to assert themselves, extraverts rather than introverts
  • Agreeableness - sensitivity towards others, empathy for the emotions of others, interested in people and the desire to make people feel at ease, giving up time for others, kind, generous, trusting, optimistic about the intentions of others
  • Neuroticism - negative emotions such as anger, anxiety, depression, easily stressed and irritated, worrying, prone to mood swings

Every person maps differently to each of the OCEAN personality traits, and having an understanding of how others around you correlate is beneficial to your interactions with them. Not everybody is comfortable being open about the specific scores on each of the factors, particularly as some indicate socially negative traits such as anxiety and depression. Before co-founding our product design studio, each of the directors took the Big Five Personality test as a means to a) see how aligned/unaligned we were in our own individual personalities and b) as a means of empathising with each other in recognising our strengths and supporting our weaknesses. I understand that not everybody would be comfortable sharing something that is so personal to the individual, but we found this exercise has eradicated any talk of “I don’t understand [person]’s point of view” and “I don’t get where [person] coming from”.

The Persona Conundrum

For me, the tools and methodologies within the field of user experience are flawed in that they do not address concerns beneath a user group level. A truly meaningful experience would speak to the individual rather than taking a one-size-fits-all blanket approach.

We are great at understanding the needs and desires of groups of people, but even personas - the UX tool designed to help empathise with specific users - always bring us back into solutions that scale up to cater for groups based on the assumed needs of a single user. Designing an experience for Sarah, a junior shop assistant who likes long walks, often leads that the majority of users become Sarah and her intended experience is their experience. Job Stories are a relatively new entry into this space where they fix the problem of personas splitting audiences, getting in the way of shared goals. Job Stories are a good means of orienting towards tasks and for that reason remain compatible with an OCEAN approach to UX where Job Stories address universal functional requirements. It leaves room for a presentational layer and certain functional elements catered for individuals.

Practical Applications

Applications could adapt their interfaces to individuals. Let’s imagine a fitness app with a audio guided run feature. Users in the upper percentiles of conscientiousness may benefit from the orderly, disciplined commands of a drill sergeant and from an app that stretches their goals slightly beyond their comfort zone pushing the user to compete at their best. For people on the other end of the conscientiousness scale, a softer approach would be necessary along with positive reinforcement to help them be the best that they can be without pushing them into territory that alienates them or makes them feel inadequate.

The same could apply for language and labels used within interfaces. Perhaps some colours appeal to certain personalities? Maybe there are images that intimidate people that inspire other sets of people?

Looking at the differences between individuals along OCEAN factors studies have shown that individuals high in agreeableness (people who give up time for others, make people feel at ease) are less likely to negotiate salary increases within their company. Perhaps we can create applications that help people move towards desired outcomes in adjusting elements in their personality that may be impeding on particular life goals.

Potential dangers and opportunities

One of the biggest challenges in pursuing this untapped area of UX is gathering the data required to determine a person’s scores along the Big Five Personality Traits. It’s not exactly ideal to have users answer a full personality test under the promise of a better user experience on the other side of this unique onboarding experience, and it’s certainly not ideal to gather this data in any way that negatively affects a user’s privacy. Maybe it’s something that happens over time where certain actions can produce a score against the OCEAN factors, or games, puzzles and quizzes may unlock this type of information. There is work to be done and design problems to figure out here.

Then there’s the question of how you store this information and what exactly you do with it. I don’t believe it is necessary to store this data on servers or let any company see a user’s scores. That is for the individual to know and for the product experience to react to it. It is potentially dangerous territory, but then again, so is everything we do:

If ethics is about the question of how to act, and designers help to shape how technologies mediate action, designing should be considered ‘ethics by other means.’ Every technological artefact that is used will mediate human actions, and every act of design, therefore, helps to constitute moral practices.

P. P. Verbeek, What Things Do 2

In other words, every design decision you make is loaded with your intent and bias. We’re already knee deep in the danger game whether you have realised this sobering fact already or not. Another one of the major challenges is engineering objectivity into this process, and whether this field is explored further or not, we should look to engineer objectivity into our work regardless.

What next?

I’m at the mystery stage of the knowledge funnel as described by Roger Martin in his 2009 book The Design of Business3. I have identified that this is an area with great potential and the next steps are to build heuristics to see if we can mine the mystery for insights with the eventual hope of turning the research into a reliable, replicable algorithm give us the capability to create and resonate with the people who use the things we make.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Five_personality_traits 

  2. P. P. Verbeek, What Things Do, 2009 (Page 69) 

  3. R. Martin, The Design of Business, 2009 

Managing Daily Tasks

Writing my to-do list for the day is a key part of my morning routine and essential to state setting and priming. Before I have a chance to get distracted by emails and other notifications vying for my attention I sit down with my morning coffee and write down the tasks I want to complete for the day.

I use elements from Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal to list out today’s tasks. Each task starts with a bullet point followed by a short description of the task. When completed the bullet point is crossed out so it changes from “•” to “×”. If I didn’t finish a task and I still consider it to be a valuable thing to do I move it to tomorrow’s list by replacing the bullet point with “>” indicating that the task has been deferred.

If the task is delegated or can be deleted from the list before starting, then it gets a nice, satisfying line through it. Using this system means that when reviewing my list at the end of the day I get a quick visual reference ensuring every bulleted task has been in some way and nothing slips through the net.

You can go deeper with Bullet Journalling using tools like the Ryder’s Future Log for planning goals for the month, but I found that in practice navigating between pages became more frustrating than helpful. I found the most value in the daily task management part of the system so I have no qualms about utilising only that part of the Bullet Journal methodology.

So why not software?

One of biggest advantages is where it falls short for me in managing daily tasks. Software is faster than pen and paper. It’s easy to create a new task and add it to your list, which makes it easy to fill your list with things to do without a chance to properly think through the value of each task. I have been through countless task manager and to-do list tools to find one that sticks but in the end, I have always come back to pen and paper.

Unlike a physical book, has to compete for your attention amongst other open apps, windows and browser tabs. I remember using a popular app based on the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology and thinking it was working for me as I logged numerous tasks rapidly and proceeded to get to work. However, the problem started as soon as I started working on the tasks I had just set myself. The app would be hidden under multiple windows and sometimes I would go for days before realising it was still open with old, irrelevant tasks (and some forgotten items).

Such apps allow you to set due dates and notifications, but I find they take me out of my current flow and I end up working the app rather than the app working for me. You don’t want to end up in a situation where you have to bend to fit the opinions of an app - what happens if you decide to change your to-do writing style or system? The software probably wants you to do it a certain way.

Why pen and paper?

The great thing about pen and paper is its inefficiency. It takes time to write the list, and that’s the beauty of it! Editing is clunky and it gets annoying when you have to rewrite tasks that you need to move from day to day. For that reason, it encourages taking time to write better, more realistic goals. is too forgiving in that regard, pen and paper hold you more accountable and it promotes thinking through big tasks and breaking them down into achievable subtasks that can be done today.

Using a good old fashioned notebook has the additional advantage of taking your eyes off the screen. That pause enforces a small step back and seeing the bigger picture. It’s therapeutic.

Released: Wipe Screen

Wipe Screen screenshot

Wipe Screen attempts to solve the following problems:

  • Cleaning a dirty display
  • Keeping the device switched on without having to log out and log back in again
  • Keeping you in flow

It’s a fullscreen black screen app designed to show up dirt. Grab a screen wipe and wipe your laptop screen or your touch device.

Touch support is patchy for now as the fullscreen API isn’t reliable on smaller displays. Rotating your iOS device will have the same effect for the meantime.

Next steps:

  • Turn into a bookmarklet rather than a bookmark
  • Offer white alternative colour for stubborn stains

My Instapaper feed looks a lot like my Steam account. I have gathered many items with the good intention of making use of them on a rainy day, but they eventually gather dust on their virtual shelves.

Occasionally I’ll try and blast through a set of articles that I considered at one point to have potential value to me. When I’m strapped for time I’ll try Instapaper’s “speak” feature, which is effectively a shortcut to iOS’ dictation feature. I usually end up cancelling the dictation after it reads a few paragraphs. Perhaps I forget how bad it is or maybe I’m expecting some advances in the technology since I last used it that make it sound more natural and human-like.

With AI being applied to more and more tasks, fields and entire industries I notice how far it falls short of key human traits such as empathy and storytelling, and empathy within storytelling for that matter. We have thousands of years of experience on the robots when it comes to communicating oral wisdom from campfires and passing ideas down through generations.

AI narration is improving, however, services like Narro offer bots with various dialects that have fairly accurate speech patterns and rhythm. But ultimately the narration ends up having a passive effect as AI hasn’t managed to emulate the human capability of captivating an audience to deliver a message. Robots rely on punctuation like a musical score to inform the pace at which they communicate text, though we lack punctuation for instinctive human storytelling tools like drama and the pause to allow certain ideas to simmer in the minds of the listener. This is why uninteresting speakers often fail to communicate their idea — the audience becomes disengaged from the message.

On a relevant note, another key human trait in storytelling is context. With a contextual understanding of the topic, humans know when to employ the storytelling tools mentioned previously. Consider this example from a recent opinion piece in the New York Times about the dangers of relying on Google rather than investing in deep understanding:

Google is good at finding information, but the brain beats it in two essential ways. Champions of Google underestimate how much the meaning of words and sentences changes with context. Consider vocabulary. Every teacher knows that a sixth grader, armed with a thesaurus, will often submit a paper studded with words used in not-quite-correct ways, like the student who looked up “meticulous,” saw it meant “very careful,” and wrote “I was meticulous when I fell off the cliff.”

From You Still Need Your Brain by Daniel T. Willingham

A classic example of schoolchildren discovering a tool like a thesaurus and employing the technology incorrectly. With AI dictation we are cutting out the middleman leaving it open for potential missteps like this not necessarily with words, but the in the power of those words.


P.S If you are looking for a startup idea, please feel free to design a subscription service with great human storytellers willing to read my Instapaper feed for me, thanks!

Looking back over the vast majority of user testing sessions I have conducted, I noticed a pattern in where I felt I got the most value from each individual session.

I’m talking about the moment where the room is silent and there’s that awkward pause where the user is struggling and everything in your being is telling you to help them. It’s the moment in the session when they’ve been struck by genuine confusion that causes a gap in the person articulating thoughts back to you as they move through the prototype. If you cave and give into your inherent human desire to help then you risk losing highly valuable insights. You’ll know that moment is happening because you’ll feel it in your gut. You’ll see the obvious on screen where the person sees something else. You’ll see it in their eyes and you’ll want to help by telling them the answer or even ask them something like “What did you expect to happen here?”

Exercise restraint and give that moment time to breathe.

Wait for the silence to become uncomfortable and then keep waiting. If you speak first, you lose. Whatever they say first will be an insight. Even if it’s simply “I’m stuck…” or an “I don’t know what to do here…” that gives you a foundation upon which to build a line of questioning to dig deeper. Or they’ll tell you the answer and it will be gold.

Another thing that I’ve noticed is that after that moment in the session it’s generally the point at which the person loosens up a bit more and talks more candidly about their thought process and becomes more openly critical about your work. For me, this is what defines a useful user testing session versus a session resulting in a blank page with a lack of insights. Otherwise, we could end up going through the motions in a session where you both know the person isn’t being entirely honest because they don’t want to offend people and you end up receiving low-quality feedback, or some of the feedback simply isn’t communicated because that barrier hasn’t been removed.

I believe it’s still important to lay the groundwork in making them feel at ease, like reassuring them that you didn’t design this thing and that it was the team back in the office (even though you totally designed it), and the fact that you’re helping us make this thing better (which is true) — it’s in that moment of awkwardness where they struggle and you exercise restraint — that’s where the real value lies.