Behavioural Economics Tips for UX Design

You would be familiar with user experience design, if you work in the tech industry, or you have a product which has an interface. In case you are unfamiliar with UX design, here is a quick explanation: a user experience design creates a meaningful and relevant digital experience for users.

In other words, it is creating a product that will not be frustrating for users. UX design is essential for digital product design which includes: websites, mobile apps, dashboards, email marketing templates, and many more applications. What do all these things have in common? Human-interaction, behavioural economics, and understanding human decision-making. So, I have decided to cover five fundamental principles from behavioural economics that can be applied to almost all UX design projects.

User experience design and behavioural economics are a perfect match. Behavioural economics explains how people make irrational decisions and justifications through cognitive biases and heuristics. Behavioural economics can contribute to UX design and help understand the human decision-making process in order to create products that will not be difficult to use.

The following are the five behavioural economics principles which can be applied to user experience design.

1. Uncertainty Aversion

Our brains are uncomfortable with uncertain conditions, a feature which has remained consistent during our evolution for thousands of years. We have learned one thing very clearly, if we are unsure of an action it is likely that we believe it will not end well. For instance, thousands of years ago when humans lived in tribes, we did not have any technological tools and lived among wildlife. To demonstrate our dislike of uncertainty, making an uncertain decision when being chased by a lion may have had serious consequences. In those times, uncertainty did not mean missing a meeting. It was far more severe than that. Although, our world has now changed, and we are not chased by animals during our daily lives. However, our brains did not change at the same pace.

Whenever we face uncertainty, we do not feel comfortable and try to find a solution as quickly as possible. This uncertainty usually occurs when a user needs to make a reservation or purchase shoes and clothes online. Their decisions may involve questions of the following nature: “will this reserve button charge me money?”, “is size 37 the correct size for me?”, “how large is a size Large?”. These questions come to mind during our digital experience. It is not possible to find a solution to all of these issues.

2. Priming Effect

To begin, when we see the reserve button, our brains experience a priming effect, subconsciously recalling information based on the stimulus of “reserve”. It is likely that the following assumptions will occur: I need to pay money to reserve this, but I don’t want to pay now, and it is better to leave the website. Our autopilot brain decides to depart from the situation to reduce potential risk and uncertainty. In this instance, adding a small notice stating “reserving this product will not charge you any money” can result in notable changes. Now, we will not be experiencing uncertainty and are ready to reserve.

3. Social Proofing

We can also reduce uncertainty by applying small nudges and frame the uncertainty as social-proofed certainty. Social proofing would work correctly when considering online shopping for shoes and clothes. When trying to purchase clothes online and trust that it will be a perfect fit, we need to trust the opinions of other people. This can be achieved by adding nudges such as “86% of our customers preferred it” or “92% of people finished reading this article”. These small nudges can create a significant impact and save a lot of time. In some cases, it is nearly impossible to shrink the content or the visuals. I have experienced this, and you need to use all this content for mobile.

The most prominent concern is how we can make people read or view the content. By using social proofing, you can easily change the perception of users and motivate them to view the complete content.

4. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias usually occurs during the UX research stage. The actions of people are not always aligned with what they say. Thus, the data collection and results from the users may not always reflect their real intentions. The results will draw a picture and create the impression that you know the users inside-out so that you can start to create the design based on these facts. However, when the design is implemented, you will witness the reality of the results.

The UX research results and the results after the implementation are fundamentally different. Users do not behave as they express to behave. When people seek out or evaluate information in a way that fits with their existing thinking and preconceptions, it is called confirmation bias. We try to believe preconception and ignore the other facts. For example, before the iPhone, users wanted a full-set keyboard on a smartphone, depicting this inconsistency.

5. Choice Overload

Offering too many options to users may sound like the right decision. However, our brains are uncomfortable with this. When we experience too many choices, and we have to make a decision, things do not go as planned. Our brains experience decision fatigue and select the default option or leave. Imagine for example, being on public transport and all of the seats are empty. Where would you wish to sit? It is tough for us to make a decision. If there were only three seats available, we would be able to make a better decision.

In UX design, we face this type of choice overload, and we do not have the chance to remove the options or products. The solution is to reduce the choice overload by moving items into categories. The ideal number of items in a group is seven. Psychologist George Miller explained in 1956 that our short-term memory is capable of handling seven or more items, which is known as Miller’s Law.

When faced with too much content, or too many products and options, grouping them into seven items will aid users in making better decisions. It is certainly a better approach to remove unnecessary items and avoid overloading, however we may not be able to control this.

The world of user experience design and behavioural economics is endless. It is impossible to find the perfect design or biases. However, we would be seeking perfection by optimising and improving the design by gaining a better understanding of human behaviour.