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5 examples on how UX design is all about psychology

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer
How do certain digital products make it big, while others don’t? Is it how these apps and platforms use their data? Is it the funding these companies get in their early rounds? Is it how visually appealing the screens are designed? These reasons all impact the future success of a digital product. But we cannot overlook the importance of psychology in UX.

A great UX is designed around how people think.

It sometimes just takes a simple, low-cost design modification to drastically boost conversion rates and recurring user ratios. The best UX designers are familiar with the hundreds of human thinking patterns that can be used to create better-performing products. Keep in mind that when designing a UX based on these psychological patterns, you hack people’s reasoning patterns without them being aware of it. Influencing people through these hacks thus should always happen ethically and responsibly. At Achilles, we’ve set up a special course on ethical design as well. If you want to learn more on how to apply ethical design to your own business to create more value for multiple stakeholders, click here. We’ll now share 5 examples on how UX is all about psychology and about nudging your user to show the desired behavior. Can you spot the least ethical example?
1. Limit the amount of options a user has
When you limit people’s freedom, they will react negatively (Zemack-Rugar et al., 2017). So you don’t want to offer too few choices to your user or to force him/her to act a certain way. But you also don’t want to maze users with too many choices either because this increases the time and effort a user needs to make her/his decision (Nikolov, 2017). Booking a hotel on Airbnb could be way more streamlined if Airbnb actually anticipated what you’re looking for. Instead of scrolling through all options, Airbnb could suggest a handful of options by knowing already what you would want to spend per night, by knowing you want a King size bed and a gym nearby, and that you want to live in a young and vibrant area. It is better to already personalize and provide a targeted selection proactively. Key takeaway; Don’t ask the user to make too many selections her/himself. Already anticipate what the user wants and display a selection of all options.
2. Don’t force users to do something, but suggest them instead
Let’s stay with the example of Airbnb here. The platform nailed this technique pretty well. Users are not forced to select any dates or the amount of guests, but they still get to see places to stay. Airbnb just suggests that it is better to select dates and the number of guests to see accurate prices per night. Getting an accurate price is a good reason for the user to enter the dates and the amount of guests, so the user will enter her/his preferences without feeling forced to do so.
3. Users copy the behavior of other users, so use social proof to steer behavior
When people don’t really know what to do or choose, they follow the behavior of others (Cialdini, 2006). For this unknowing user it is easy to think that the right thing to do or choose, is to just copy others. The more people have shown a certain behavior before, the more an individual thinks it is right to follow the others.
4. Users value something more if it is scarce
Scarcity is a trick to boost conversions (Cialdini, 2006) and it is often scarce on purpose, just to increase the perceived value. This technique is often used is a sneaky way to create more revenue. An example of this is an expensive limited edition bag that is as costly to manufacture as the generic edition that is reasonably priced. But scarcity can also be used to stimulate good user behavior by leveraging actual scarcity, instead of faking it. A great example of real scarcity to steer good user behavior is found in the UX of Uber Eats. Here, users can share the delivery costs with others if they order fast. The timing of deliveries really is scarce and this can be used ethically to convince users to order a dish. A user that orders right now, will get it delivered at a lower price because (s)he can share the delivery costs with another user. A win-win for both users, but also for Uber Eats because users are better convinced and deliveries can be more streamlined.
5. Users want to stay consistent with their past behavior
People think of new tasks as something negative. To lower that negative feeling and to convince people to perform the action, make sure their initial new task is very small. Once your user has performed that one small task, you can ask your user to do a slightly bigger task that is linked to the smaller one. Your user will want to stay consistent with his/her past behavior and will now be more likely to take the rest of the tasks (Cialdini, 2006).

Did you spot the least ethical UX? It was the one on social proof. This UX steers an uneducated user towards a purchase that might not be best for her/him, while the other examples reduce mental effort for the user in a less intrusive way. These are just a few examples to explain how knowledge of behavioral economics is key to UX design.

If you want to learn more on this topic, just reach out to us and together we'll explore opportunities to improve your own digital products.

Pieter De Vocht

Innovation & Service Designer


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