Innovation Sighting: Web Site Morphing with Attribute Dependency

Academic Focus: University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
August 11, 2009
The LAB: Innovating Health Care with S.I.T. (August 2009)
August 24, 2009

Innovation Sighting: Web Site Morphing with Attribute Dependency

Imagine a Web site that detects a visitor's "thinking" style and "morphs" its look and feel to suit that visitor's style? Professor Glen Urban and his colleagues at M.I.T. describe an approach in the Sloan Management Review article, "Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales." They collaborated with BT Group, the UK-based telecom company to create a website that learns whether a person prefers a more analytical style versus a holistic style, and whether the person is a more visual versus verbal in how they process information. Once the Web site learns this (based on a few preliminary clicks on the site), it adapts itself to present information in an optimal way:

Imagine a Web site that detects a visitor’s “thinking” style and “morphs” its look and feel to suit that visitor’s style.  Professor Glen Urban and his colleagues at M.I.T. describe an approach in the Sloan Management Review article, “Morph the Web To Build Empathy, Trust and Sales.”  They collaborated with BT Group, a UK telecom company, to create a Web site that learns whether a person is more analytical versus holistic, and whether the person is more visual versus verbal in how they process information.  Once the Web site learns this (based on a few preliminary clicks on the site), it adapts itself to present information in an optimal way:

Urban-s3

This is an excellent example of the Attribute Dependency Template, one of five templates in the Systematic Inventive Thinking method of innovation.  Attribute Dependency takes internal and external attributes of a product or service and combines them to create new dependencies (or break existing dependencies).  With Web site morphing, for example, the two attributes that have been linked are:

  • Web site appearance (an internal attribute)
  • Visitor’s Cognitive Style (an external attribute)

Dependencies can be passive, active, or adaptive.  Passive dependencies are static – they don’t change once they have been established.  Active dependencies are dynamic – an attribute changes only when another one changes.  Adaptive dependencies change the way they change.  In other words, they learn as they go.  Attribute Dependency is a great tool for creating “smart” products – those that know and adapt to user preferences or environmental conditions.

Does Web site morphing work?  The MIT researchers report that Web-originated purchase intentions for BT’s broadband service could increase 20% after morphing the site to match individual cognitive styles.