Top 10 Psychological Principles Applied to Product Design (Part #2)

Enjoyed reading the first 5 of Top 10 Psychological Principles Applied to Product Design (Part #1)? Here’s Part #2

#6: Sequencing & Cognitive Load

Installation Wizards have been helping us install software the right way since forever. Their step-by-step methodology might look archaic, but it is based on two things: cognitive load and sequencing. We also encounter this a lot when using new products. The first time you open certain applications such as Figma, a tip pops up describing one function of the software, or a task you can accomplish and then you can press next to see the next essential tip. This is much easier for the users rather than slamming a documentation bible on their desks and expecting them to read it all to be able to use the program. Sequencing cuts down information into chunks, and a job into smaller tasks and this reduces the cognitive load on the user; in other words, the user does not get a headache from the effort he needs to put in when using your product. We also see these in action when filling long forms and in e-commerce checkout processes.

#7: Anchoring & Adjustment

Every Apple product is introduced with a bang, even on their website, and their loyal users seem to spare no dime when it comes to buying their products. Among other tactics, Apple base their marketing strategy very strongly on Anchoring and Adjustment: users rely a lot on the initial information and impression they get (Anchor), and this affects the subsequent decisions that they might take, including adjusting their budget to fit their anchor. In fact, a few hundred extra euros for a bigger SSD really does not look like much on their website, given that you are already convinced that a €2000 Apple laptop is worth the money.

Sequencing cuts down information into chunks, and a job into smaller tasks and this reduces the cognitive load on the user

#8: Investment Loops & Sunk Cost Effect

When users invest enough time in something, its perception of value increases and they are more likely to stick to it and return, creating an endless loop. Sunk Cost Effect then comes into play as the more time users invest, the more reluctant they are to pull out from the game. Products are now offering deeper personalisation of dashboard UI so users spend more time making them theirs. Learning apps and websites such as Duolingo use email marketing to remind them of their achievements and implying that since they dedicated 20 hours in the last month, they should add 10 more to that and learn some more (and maybe even get a badge) since they are so invested. Brands have also come to a point where they play the Sunk Cost Effect to its fullest: Want to stop your course subscription? Your account will be deleted forever, and any ongoing progress will be lost. This takes us to the next psychological principle: Loss Aversion

The Interaction Design Foundation know very well how to integrate Investment Loop into their email marketing strategy

#9: Loss Aversion

Humans hate losing what they have, even if it might mean achieving something worth even more. Therefore, even though you are not really using the learning app you have been paying for for months, unsubscribing would mean losing those flashy badges and the progress in that course you promised yourself to finish tomorrow (for sure!), and therefore it would make you think twice, or not even making that decision at all.

#10: Delighters (& Humour Effect) & Peak-End Rule

Freedom of choice is something we many times take for granted, but in reality little do we know how much we are being steered towards what the brands want us to choose. If you look at any brand which offers a product subscription, you will see that on its pricing page the ‘most beneficial’ option is the highlighted one: brighter colours, bolder text… but is it really the best option for the user? As it is very easy to notice that, many times, it is. With all the new products being introduced to the market offering very similar services, it is getting harder by the day to come up with an innovative way to stand apart enough to make good sales. The same goes for users: the more choices they have, the more they search for that element which will make them choose one app over the other.

The tone and great sense of humour that Fixate adopted for their website creates a sense of trust and makes them stand out from the rest

Freedom of choice is something we many times take for granted, but in reality little do we know how much we are being steered towards what the brands want us to choose

This is where Delighters come in: a good sense of humour is not misplaced in a product designer and an unexpected good word twist or an animated thank you page will delight the users on their day-to-day product use and they do respond to it. These events in turn affect the users’ overall impression of their experience using the product: the Peak-End Rule. Your website might be a bit slow, but the cute animation that played while loading made the customer’s day – so all is forgiven. Such tactic is also being used for job position descriptions, since they are notorious for being great sleep-inducers.

In conclusion…

If you want your brand and your products to be successful, make sure to keep in mind those psychological principles. There sure are quite a lot to remember, however knowing the names of cognitive biases and mental models is important since once named, you can identify them in the real-world (such as during user testing), analyse them and reap the benefits by making the right decisions.

Missed Part #1 of this article? Read here.

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