Embracing psychology for a better product experience.

In an age where software has become increasingly homogenous and references to reality are being peeled away every day, it's never been more vital to focus on how people feel. At ribot, we're very interested in people, and how they think. Because, if you can understand how someone thinks and subsequently design around those behaviours, you'll create a product that is empathic, sincere and human. It may even tap into peoples' subconscious, if done well enough.

I want to go through a few quirks that have been exposed about human thinking, called Cognitive Biases. Moreover, I want to show you how you should use these biases in your work, applying real examples to each. This design magic is powerful and, in the wrong hands, can certainly be used for bad, so I'll also be flagging what you shouldn't do.

Let's get started.

1. Social proof

When undecided, we tend to follow the patterns of others

Social Proof at lunchtime

Do: Put people at ease by removing the need to make an isolated choice.

Don't: Force a decision by imparting influence on the 'right' thing to do.

Social Proof. Oh the power of the like-minded.

In the example above, we're using social proof to suggest that this particular wine is a safe choice; that it's been validated by our peers, and is therefore good. Note that we're also using subtle suggestive language ("enjoy") to imply emotional connection, enhancing the bond between product and consumer.

2. Aesthetic-Usability effect

We perceive things that look nicer as easier to use

Aesthetic Usability

Do: Ensure that your product has a clean, simple and positive aesthetic will give your users greater confidence in their understanding of how it works, or that it can be easily learnt.

Don't: Place an over-reliance on the Aesthetic-Usability (AU) effect to persuade users of your product's ease, when you haven't *actually* designed a simple, understandable product. A beautiful hotel shower system quickly becomes cognitively butt-ugly when it's unclear how to turn it on and change the temperature.

Aesthetic Usability in action.

In the example above, we show two interfaces. On the left is one that doesn't have too much attention given to AU. Note how much more complicated it looks to use, how all the information comes across as competing noise, and how the elements are all shouting for your attention. On the right, we apply the AU effect, showing a much-simpler UI with less visual noise and simplified tone of voice. It's lighter, cleaner and looks simpler to use.

3. The Von Restorff effect

Objects that stand out against their peers are more memorable

The Von Restorff Effect

Do: Create meaningful contrast between objects to help offer complimentary products or, alternatively, a break from lots of the same type of product

Don't: Implement contrast in a way that dilutes its power. Not using the Von Restorff effect sparingly will devalue its presence, may lead to confusion and reduce any efforts made around Aesthetic Usability and Choice.

4. Surprise

We react well to new and unexpected surprises

Do: Include an element of surprise in your service. It's incredibly powerful in helping build a positive experience for customers, increasing medium and long-term loyalty. Ensure that your gift is meaningful, substantial and has few or no strings attached. Gift-giving is most powerful when random. Surprise need not explicitly mean a freebie, but may also be some unexpected, personalised extension of your customer service.

Don't: Forget that as an extension, the more frequent or consistent the 'surprise', the less of an effect it has. Moreover, it may become an expected part of your service. Similarly, if your competitors offer such a gift, it may be implied that you should too. This can become a dangerous game to play, from both a consumer relation and a business perspective, as surprising too frequently may cheapen your brand, dilute your USPs or confuse your customers.

Surprise, Von Restorff and Limited Availability, all working hand in hand...

In this example, we're combining both Von Restorff and Surprise to create a really pleasing experience. The customer, scrolling through a list of grocery products, stumbles randomly across an incredible offer created specially for them. Von Restorff is used to break the linearity of the list with something different, visually. We give the product more space and enhance its eye-catching nature with a contrasting colour. Surprise comes through because the customer doesn't know when the offer will come through, or what it will be, but when they see it, if significant and targeted well enough, they won't be able to refuse. Use these incredibly sparingly, but be generous when you do, to ensure that users hunt around for these 'eggs' again and again...

5. Peak-end rule

People remember experiences by their peaks (commonly, how they ended)

Do: Try to build in positive peaks into your experience. These needn't necessarily be during the latter few stages of an experience, but if you can tie in a positive experience into a task completion, such as successfully ordering your shopping, then you can reinforce already-positive feelings of base self-worth and satisfaction.

Don't: Frustrate people. If your service fails at the last hurdle, after a customer has invested time and emotion (a combination of Loss Aversion, Ownership Bias and Framing) in obtaining your product, then they may find it hard to trust in and use your service again. They will remember how it ended, and how they felt. Ensure that you don't let this happen.

Peak End Rule. Close the app. Relax. We're comfortable with our place in your life.

In this example, a customer has successfully completed their shopping. A repeat utility task such as this, once completed, has an inherent level of base satisfaction. This is a great point in the experience to build upon. Here, we're reassuring (letting the customer know that the transaction has been successfully made and that we're going to deliver it to them), empathising (that they've accomplished something meaningful) and, probably most powerful, rewarding (letting them know that they actually saved money - a sort of achievement that also acts to validate and strengthen the relationship with the service).

Moreover, actively telling users to close the app acts as a mild form of warm self-deprecation, playfully acknowledging the place of a grocery store in a customer's life. All these aspects, when combined, offer a positive and powerful peak end rule.

6. Scarcity

People see value in things that are limited in availability

Do: Use scarcity to infer value and uniqueness in a customer's purchase. If customers feel that a product is hard to obtain or only available to a few, perhaps for a set period (See also Limited Duration), they'll infer greater value in that product. It'll act as a mental shortcut to making a choice between competing products or allocation of finite resources. In the following simple example, we infer a sense of scarcity in a product promotion, implying that the offer is only available for a specified number of remaining individuals. By quantifying the remaining amount, we humanise the extent to which the offer is still available, accentuating the imminent need to act.

Don't: Induce short term stress through feeling manipulative with dishonesty. Some tactics, if done wrong, can lead to this outcome. Of course, while there's nothing to stop one creating a system that displays some notion of scarcity with a less-than-full degree of accuracy (i.e. offers remaining in your particular locality, or an algorithm built to abstract values and 'optimise' what's shown to garner a higher probability of purchase), be careful that this may come across as false information if done poorly, imbibing a sense of mistrust.

Scarcity. Get in quick!

In the example here, we show real, or at least partially real live info on the number of products left on offer. We visualise the amount too, illustrating how little of that offer is left. We may not wish to show such information when uptake on the offer is low, which would dilute the scarcity effect. Nevertheless, exposing such information is a powerful motivator to act, as the fear of losing out is always strong.

All in all, Maya Angelou hit the nail on the head with the following, rather emotive quote:

"People will forget what you said.
People will forget what you did.
But people will never forget how you made them feel."

Maya Angelou. Poet, Actress and Civil Rights Activist

A quote like this underlines the power of cognitive biases, such as the six mentioned above. But don't forget that Angelou doesn't imply only positive emotions. Use the biases wrong, and the magic they purport can quickly be seen as a dark art; a manipulating evil.

But the best thinkers out there will get the balance right. They'll design around biases to make users feel great, spend more, and come back again and again and again.

Lastly, check out the latest biases over at Cognitive Lode - our new site that brings you the latest behavioural research to help you build better products!


Jerome Ribot

Chief Design Officer

Jerome somehow manages to think inside, outside and around the box, seeking solutions to ancient problems using the latest technologies and techniques. Always on the go, never satisfied with "good enough", Jerome drives ribot's creative, design, development and direction.

Jerome Ribot

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