Faces of UMSI: Carol Moser

At UMSI, PhD student Carol Moser explores a question she began asking during her time as an industry professional: How do design interventions influence consumer behavior?

As a communications undergraduate at U-M, Carol focused on marketing and advertising studies. After graduation, she worked in sales and marketing, including at boutique graphic design company Lydon & Associates, where she was a project manager. 

At Lydon, she says, “I was always very intrigued about why certain design features worked and why others didn’t.” In search of a forum where she could explore these questions in depth, she came to UMSI.

Here, “I look at web design and other sociotechnical factors and how those things influence human behavior,” she explains. Professor Paul Resnick and assistant professor Sarita Schoenebeck co-advise her.

For her precandidacy paper, Carol created a fake online chocolate store to look at how the number of options displayed on an e-commerce platform influences people’s satisfaction with the choices they make. Some people saw 12 options, while others saw 72, she explains. “At the end, we asked how satisfied they were with their choices.”

Previous literature suggested that people become overwhelmed when given too many options, but she did not find that in this experiment. While the study didn’t explore in detail why this might have been, “it may be that e-commerce platforms are different: that people are used to having a lot of options” online, she says.

While Carol prepares to submit that paper for publication, she’s getting ready to present another project at CHI ’16. The CHI paper, which looks at how people feel about mobile phone use during mealtimes, was a collaboration with Schoenebeck and University of Washington assistant professor Katharina Reinecke

“Meals are a particularly important time culturally,” Carol says. “We wanted to understand this pretty common occurrence now of using technology during meals with others.” They discovered that people find some activities, like answering a call, to be more acceptable during a shared meal than others, like thumbing through social media feeds.

Understanding what people think is appropriate can help in mobile design, she adds. “Designers can consider ways to incorporate features into mobile technology that allow people to share awareness of what they’re doing on their phone.”

While this will be Carol’s first time to present a paper at a conference, her first research experience came several years before entering the PhD program. Time as a researcher at the University of Otago in New Zealand gave her a glimpse of academia and research. Working on her honors thesis on imagery in print advertising and its connections to viewers’ self-image was even more influential, she says: “I loved being able to design an experiment that directly addressed a question I had about how people react to print advertising.”

Her next project will look at online communities related to consumption, such as Facebook groups where people can buy and sell things amongst each other. “What motivates someone to transact business through social media rather than through established peer-to-peer platforms like Craigslist?” she asks.

Like her other work on consumer behavior, this project is motivated by her belief that people’s choices about where to spend money and with whom to transact are important. “Everyone chooses to spend their resources somehow,” she says. “Spending decisions are one of the biggest decisions that people make on a daily basis, so understanding how we can help support and improve that experience is important.”