Nobody wants to be fooled. Want to stand out and decide for yourself, not to be some manipulated sheep? Well, jump on board! Let’s begin a myth-busting journey through the bizarre world of human thinking and perception. Trust me, you can’t even guess how often the world around screws with you. I’m here to unscrew you.
“23 other people looking now”… My finger twitches nervously, I am almost unthinkingly ready to book a room in a hotel. “What if I won’t be in time and miss such a lucrative offer?” whisper my customer instincts. The brain — or, at least, it’s eager part — commands to click the mouse: now, immediately!
You know that feeling, right?
It happens not only on Booking.com. And by “it” I mean these weird brain decisions, eerily irrational. Airlines use it. Retailers use it. Social networks use it. Frankly speaking, being UX Consultant, I use it. To screw with you, I use your irrationality, your ignorance.
Alternatively, this feeling of time running out. Our fear of missing out. Half-consciously we crave for more profit (however imaginary), for quick and easy happiness, and ultimately for simple decisions.
Some may argue that it is in our nature. Indeed it is; but not nature, it is our brain, playing tricks with us. Quick question: what color is C3PO from Star Wars? You may answer at once: golden, of course. Actually, one of his legs is silver. That is Mandela effect: we are so sure about several things that are not true. And Star Wars again: it was “No, I am your father”, not “Luke, I am your father.”
We are constantly tricked by our brains and by our perceived knowledge. And by those aware of these biases. Not only do they work on the personal level but can also be applied to so-called “common knowledge.” Are you still sure that Napoleon was a shorty? Do you take vitamin C when got cold? Do you rely on that creativity resides in the right brain hemisphere? You are fooled — none of these makes sense.
Well, if our brains can trick us — we can trick it too.
Do you want to dive deeper into cognitive biases? Oh, there are dozens of those. Some have funny names too. Ever got a feeling that something you just learned now seems to appear everywhere? It is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. Read horoscopes or pass these Facebook tests like “What is your spirit animal?” It is the Barnum effect showing its grin. Push a traffic light button in NY so that it would work faster? Here you are, the illusion of control. Just imagine how many times engineers have played you.
Let’s get back to the first example, to what I call “Booking.com fallacy.” They like to show you popping up badges like “Just booked” or “The lowest price you’ve seen.” To miss it would be a shame, so why not enter your credit card number right now?
They are not lying to you: if you hover over a “Just booked” one it shows something like “5 hours ago.” It is not actually “just,” is it? And if it is the first option you open, then it is in fact “the lowest price you’ve seen”. Just because there’s nothing to compare with! Alas, no one reads footnotes, no one hovers over a badge: the brain pushes us to get quick satisfaction.
Here is another example: waiting, that is killing us. Maybe not an elevator, maybe a loading web application. When we feel we have no control over it, we get irritated. It is a struggle for UX designers too — nobody wants an unhappy user. So they satisfy the brain’s cravings by giving it an illusion of control.
You know, like these progress bars that slowly fill up. We believe they really show us “progress.” In fact, they rarely do — they often simulate it just to comfort us. Some do like Adobe — have you seen these quickly changing “status updates” as Photoshop is loading? We stay calm, thinking we understand what is happening. Meanwhile, the loading window shows something like “Reading brushes.” Really, reading brushes?
So, these are just a few of many possible ways to mess with you. Just give it a thought, are you comfortable with it? Think about it, what are your feelings about it?
How to start employing mind tricks?
Step 1. Start studying psychology and behavioral economics. This will allow to find manipulations and use them by your own.
Experienced UX designers are well aware of such tricks. With experience comes the decision: you either help users to overcome potential “mind distortions”… or join the Dark side. You won’t get a shiny red lightsaber though. However, in this case, you will employ user’s unawareness of such manipulations to your — and your only — advantage.
Like Facebook shows us what it thinks we’ll like to make us scroll further and further. Do you know that Facebook doesn’t compete with other apps on your phone? Instead, it competes with your sleeping time?
Amazon makes a Prime-subscription button big and shiny, while the decline action is almost hidden. In the same way, “Unsubscribe” or “Turn off notifications” options are usually hard to find. Okay, that is given, everyone uses that. But where is the line between a trick and persuasive technique?
And you can find more examples in the “Hall of shame” for such techniques. They all are the perfect blend of psychology, economics and user experience findings.
Step 2. Don’t be lazy and use laziness as main driver of the progress.
Designing something new, one should always remember that a user’s brain (well, a human brain in general) is lazy and likes to cut corners. To exploit it or to help it — a choice to make. However, several tricks can create a good first impression, increase sales or time spent on a website or an application.
Laziness is really great thing to play with. Imagine if people weren’t lazy and were happy doing same routine tasks for the whole life. For such world, creativity and ideas aren’t needed. Robots and programs are ok doing the same for the eternity. But we are humans, we want to be productive and we are very creative in this field. We constantly overcome laziness, automate routines, increase productivity. Honestly, we all want to spend less time working, and we all help other people to work less, and to think less.
Now, the responsibility comes into play. Would you bring value by helping people buy your product? Would it be better for them to use your app instead of competitors one?
Step 3. Invest in trust.
We are in the 21st century, where you want people to win people’s trust. To make them feel safe and being in charge. To understand and be understood. And good old honesty is still hip.
So, either you are a designer or a user, bear these tricks in mind. Whenever your primeval instincts are pushing you to do something immediately, you’d better stop, breathe out and turn on thinking. Why do I want this? What is the reason to subscribe/buy/push the button? What stands behind this urge?
In the UX design, the same rules apply. Make user experience consistent and understandable. Show clear distinction between usual and promoted content. Give users real control, don’t discourage them with overcomplicated texts when you can use tooltips. Do not hide important options, even if you do not want users to click on them. Speak in simple and clear language. Even the best design will fail if texts are shitty.
Or, if you’d rather be on the Dark side, just reverse this tips.
Do you want to protect yourself from manipulations? Do you want to understand hidden business rules that shape our world? Do you want to level up your critical thinking?
If so, follow me. There is more to come on.