Design for UX – 5 ways to use cognitive bias

Design for UX – 5 ways to use cognitive bias

The world has come a long way since the time when people could only buy products from a few brick and mortar stores in the vicinity. Even during times when competition was negligible shop owners believed in greeting customers warmly and keeping them happy.

A good rapport with customers guaranteed loyalty. Some shoppers who were a bit more vigilant and intelligent about catching more footfall. They would implement tactics like smartly placing products in high demand on the front counter.

Or say, if a tea hawker was also selling cookies at his stall, he’d see a few more people than the other hawker who was only selling tea. Smart cross-selling worked even back then. People were surely happy about munching some cookies along with tea during office breaks. Felt just like home!

The importance of user experience in the modern, digital-first world

Customer gratification and experience was important in the bygone days and is manifold important today. Owing to ease of access, variety in choice, and thus burgeoning competition, customers today have become extremely impatient and demanding. If they want something, they want it at a lightning-fast pace, with minimum effort.

If your website doesn’t load in second your user will feel the frustration. If you don’t provide cash on delivery you will definitely lose a lot of sales. Ignoring mobile-friendliness and responsiveness could be suicidal.

Today, speed matters and people are wired to think fast, act fast, and react faster – It is a bad user experience if your webpage fails to load in less than three seconds (average)!

Retention has become far more difficult than ever before. People aren’t loyal to a single brand anymore and buy from the next best buyer if you fail to meet their desired service and experience level.

In fact 55% of mobile app users will abandon an app one month after downloading it!

Why should they have it dumped on their mobile screens when it is not a worthwhile experience? On the other hand, if you convert your app into a progressive web app, you could easily reduce this churn out, apart from increasing user engagement and conversion rate impressively.

Take a look at the following benefits that some companies reaped by switching to the better user experience promise that PWAs offer. These are screenshots of case studies compiled by PWA stats.

It all boils down to the amount of effort you put into optimizing for UX. Thankfully, the human brain is a factory full of cues to help you unravel what exceptional experience means. These cues can be culled right up from the biases in human thought processes. Let’s read through how and where you can begin.

Cognitive biases – A treasure trove for designers and marketers

Look closely at what technology and digital evolution have been reinforcing – human cognitive biases such as availability heuristics, self-service bias, optimism bias, and so on. These biases drive decision making in marketing, product management, and even in design. Some of the best experience and product designs have built on, gained from, and delivered exceptionally utilizing cognitive biases.

Let’s dig into how these cognitive biases have been used by businesses to craft experiences that sell and convert.

Streetlight effect

If you are a design and visualization pro, you would know that people only searching for something that they are looking for where it is the easiest to look.

An observational bias, the streetlight effect is also popularly known as the Drunkard’s effect, and the story behind this name is quite interesting in itself. As told by Wikipedia, the story goes something like this:

A policeman sees a drunk man searching for something under a streetlight and asks what the drunk has lost. He says he lost his keys, and they both look under the streetlight together. After a few minutes, the policeman asks if he is sure he lost them here, and the drunk replies, no, and that he lost them in the park. The policeman asks why he is searching here, and the drunk replies, ‘This is where the light is’.”

UX people view this ‘bias’ towards searching at the easiest places intentionally to design search-friendly user experiences. That’s probably why we opt for a direct search on eCommerce website using the search bar. Because that’s the best and easiest possible way to look for what we want. That’s also probably why live chat windows have overshadowed the good old way of looking up answers on the FAQ pages.

Nobody wants to look up hundreds of questions to seek an answer to one. No one, nowadays, has the patience to email customer support only to receive an automated answer by a bot. People don’t care to call the helpdesk anymore because they feel as if they are just a number on the ticket waiting to be resolved and pushed down the support pipeline.

Even then, if you want a FAQ page on your website, take some observational biases into account to make things simple for your visitors. For example, you could include a search bar on your FAQ page. Or, you could cluster queries under categories. Remember, people will always look for things where they are the easiest to find. Not necessarily, where they will actually get them. As a UX designer, it is your job to guide them exactly where they need to look. That’s basic, right?

Let’s go back to the story about the drunkard looking for his wallet under the streetlight.

What if someone was intelligent enough to leave a signboard right under that streetlight pointing the drunkard in the direction of the wallet. Voila! That’s good user experience.

Isolation effect

How confusing it can be when you are faced with too many choices of the same product. It can be tough to choose something as simple as a shirt when it is available in more than five colors. There is an interesting and quite a popular study as per which more isn’t always better.

In this simple experiment on jams, a local market stall displayed 24 varieties of jam on a regular day. On some days the table had only 6 options. Interestingly, when it came to making a purchase, table had only six jam options it fetched more sales!

Too much choice can be paralyzing for anyone. A kid won’t know which ice cream he wants if he has too many options to pick from. Grown-ups won’t know which car to buy if presented with too many models of the same vehicle.

Coming back to the isolation effect, UX practitioners are well-versed with the impact that choice can have on decision making. That’s why they use the cognitive principle called isolation effect to negate the negatives of choice.

Let’s explain this with a simple example.

If you are shown a menu card with seven pizzas, you will take a lot of time deciding which one you want. Or, you’d rather not buy pizza at all because it’s tough to choose. Now, what if one or two of the pizzas on the menu are shown on the page next to the other five options? What if those two ‘isolated’ pizzas are shown bigger? It’s highly likely to help you choose faster and quicker from those two pizzas. This is known as the Von Restorff effect, as per which, people value those things differently that are placed in isolation, and placed next to alternatives.

Designers use this principle all the time. When they are, for example, creating a SaaS B2B pricing page. Or, when they have to work their magic to create a high converting CTA. Consider the following pricing page example in the image.

Below is a screenshot of Revtap’s pricing page. Clearly, the second option that they’ve isolated by increasing the size, is the one that they want most people to pick. Because it stands out, probably, more people can easily identify that this is the option that they must pick.

Not only does this make it simpler for buyers to make a choice (Easing their pain and bettering the buying experience), but also helps marketers achieve their conversion goal.

eCommerce businesses, too, make use of the Von Restorff effect to highlight and bring to notice exactly the options that a user might be interested in or looking for.

NET-A-POTER’s eCommerce store highlights its ‘SALE’ category in such a way that it shows in isolation (to stand out) from others.

Similarly, in the following screenshot, the image on the right-hand side is a smarter improvisation over the first one. It makes what people might be interested in clearly stand out, guaranteeing easy searchability of items on sale, and thus quicker conversions also.

Perceived value bias

There are a number of emotional reasons why people believe and trust in certain products or services more than others. This perceived value bias might be because people have personally been a part of creating that particular product.

That’s why customized and personalized Converse shoes have a higher perceived value than the regular ones. Because we enjoy and get a thrill out of playing our own design expert, and are more emotionally connected with the outcome, we perceive it to be better than the rest.

Another factor that affects perceived value (in the online world) is the look and feel of a website. Cluttered websites are perceived as spammy and non-user-friendly They reflect badly on the entire business and lower a brand’s overall appeal. On the other hand, a neat interface is perceived as a sign of a business that pays attention to detail and is customer-centric.

Let’s consider a real-life example.

Twitter wanted to come out with something speedier that gives an absolutely smooth on-the-go experience to its users. They knew that mobile apps occupy space and data; and, can fail to load in under seconds. That’s why they launched Twitter Lite – a PWA that when loads faster, runs smoother and is free of scrolling glitches. This makes for an attempt that ups the perceived value of the product.

As a result, this little change impacts the whole perception about Twitter as a very speed-focused and mobile-friendly channel.

Having understood the basics of perceived value bias let’s get a little mathematical to get to the roots of what perceived value really is. It’s no rocket science.

In the online world, the effort of obtaining information from each page or each app is the interaction cost. So, people derive the expected value or perceived value of browsing a website by weighing how much effort it demands to look up what they are searching for. That’s why, other than the look and feel of the website, things like load speed, smooth navigation, easy checkout, count as the overall experience.

Fear of missing out (or as we know it, FOMO)

We all know how FOMO has been used to ace marketing campaigns that aim at increasing sales. How smartly (And smoothly) FOMO works in luring more purchases by showing a favorite product about to go out of stock in no time! We never wait and think twice when an item that we like is on a sale that’s about to end in 24 hours. We are automatically drawn towards ‘add to cart’.

FOMO has not only been nailed by marketed but by UX designers as well. In fact, digital marketing wouldn’t have made it big without UX experts. Consider this, if the goal of an onsite marketing campaign is to increase registrations you will need the right onsite design elements to nail your goal. To make FOMO work for you, you absolutely *need* to work on your UX strategy.

GAP’s website has dedicated sections for their ongoing sales and discounts. They understand why people need to know upfront about deals that they might benefit from. And, they don’t want you endlessly hunting coupon sites or competitor stores for the best price. Take a look at how smartly they highlight ‘48-hour flash sale’ and ‘Black Friday early access’ right on the top of their home page.

The above example focuses on the ‘urgency’ element of FOMO. If you bring to notice of your users the fact that some of the items are available on discount only for a limited time, they’ll buy faster.

Another element of FOMO is scarcity. When you bring to notice the fact that something that a user likes might be limited in stock, it’s going to propel them to buy quicker. UX people make things easier for the digital buyer to send out reminders/push notifications when a wishlisted item is about to go out of stock. shows ‘rooms remaining’ under every available booking. They also have elements like ‘Last available rooms’ and ‘Last minute price drops’ to nudge you to complete your bookings immediately.

The Bandwagon effect

For some (historic or prehistoric) reason, the human brain is wired in a way that it falls for certain systematic errors. For example, the ‘go with the herd’ attitude, which is also (in a more sophisticated lingo) called the bandwagon effect.

People will do what others around them are doing. So, if the goal is to lose weight, most people will try out what others in their immediate circle recommend and are trying out. If you see people around you who are on the GM diet lose weight, you will follow suit. Such is the power of social conformity.

Whether the GM works for you or not is another story.

Another real-life example that’s also been researched and proven is the effect of the bandwagon effect on election polls.

The Journal of Media Psychology quotes:

“Both polls and past election results influence participants’ expectations regarding which candidate will succeed. Moreover, higher competence was attributed to a candidate, if recipients believe that the majority of voters favor that candidate. Through this attribution of competence, both information about prior elections and current polls shaped voters’ electoral preferences.”

Coming back to how this cognitive bias can used by online businesses, take a look at the following example:

The above is a screenshot from Convertproof, a product that you can use to social proof your business easily.

Now, look at the online notifications in the image. They are there for a purpose, and the purpose is to reinforce trust as well as the bandwagon effect, that if so many people are signing up for their webinar you too should.

A number of eCommerce websites today make use of personalized notifications to nudge their visitors to buy quicker. They will show you notifications on the exact product page that you are looking at, showing the number of other people from around the world who bought that product before you.

To further push you towards making the purchase right then, they might also show you the ratings of that product as given by those previous buyers. These businesses are doing everything right to get more conversions, faster.

Statistics clearly point out the benefits of showcasing reviews and ratings on your website. Here are a few from Optinmonster:

So, there you see, how people can be influenced just by what they see and hear. It’s not tough to get them on your side if you have others vouching for you.

Concluding remarks

People aren’t really always rational. They aren’t even completely rational even during the times that they think they are being so. Something or the other is always going on in the back of their minds. These are the underlying cognitive biases of errors in our thinking patterns. Why do they exist? Well, because as humans, our evolution focused our brains on survival rather than the best to think right from wrong. That’s why we don’t always follow logic. There’s no way we can get rid of these in-built cognitive biases.

That said, a little favor that these biases do to marketers and designers is, help them figure out how to attract, convert, and retain buyers.

Hope you enjoyed reading about how pervasive influence works through design, in benefiting from cognitive biases.

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