February 6, 2021

6 Cognitive Biases a UX Designer should know!

Owais Iqbal

Cheif Experience Officer

Before moving to the UX world, let’s clear what cognitive bias actually is. Do you know when you’re biased? Well, Biasness is everywhere at every point. And you know what? You don’t even know when you’re biased. This can happen to both, the Designers, and the Users

There are many kinds of cognitive biases, both good and bad, bad in the sense to trick your mind and deceive you to get a certain response. As a UX designer, you should be well aware of different cognitive biases to make your design according to the user’s psychology, leading to a better user experience. And as a user, it would help you to make your own decisions even if the application tricks you to get a certain response or tap on a certain button.

Now, let’s move forward and have a look at what Cognitive Bias actually is.

What is Cognitive Bias?

Cognitive bias is not a new term. It was first proposed back in 1972 by two researchers Amos Tversky & Daniel Kahneman while researching people’s innumeracy. They found out that most decisions made by people are not rational. People actually take a mental shortcut to make a decision rather than making a decision based on facts and figures. These shortcuts are known as heuristics. Heuristics solve the problem quickly but lead to error and these errors are called cognitive biases.

In simple words, Cognitive bias is a systematic way in which the surrounding or framing of information affects the judgment or the decision made by the user. The user is biased to make a certain decision based on the framing of information or based on the surrounding or past experiences. This is what Tversky and Kahneman found out, if the same context would be framed in a  different way, the user would take some other decision. This is also known as a systematic error in thinking. 

Let’s break the Cognitive bias into two categories,

Memory Based:

Some biases relate to what’s in your memory or what were your past experiences. These past experiences that reside in your memory can lead to biased thinking and judgment.

Attention Based:

The way something is presented to you grabs your attention in that way. Your judgment is truly based on what grabs your attention most.

So now I think you got the concept of Cognitive bias. The fun thing is, as a UX Designer, you can use this phenomenon to play with user’s psychology and do much more than just the design. You can actually use this concept in your favor in many ways.

There are countless aspects of cognitive biases, but for this article, I will discuss some important ones which UX Designer must know so that they can use them to create something out of the box while working on a project.

1. Analysis Paralysis:

The first bias we will talk about is analysis paralysis. This is a phenomenon, which says that when a person is provided with too many choices, he overthinks on it and due to this he’s not able to take a quick decision and the final decision or the next action gets delayed. In other words, his decision making gets paralyzed.

So you see? How giving too many choices can make a user confused. So as UX Designer we should always be aware of how many options to be presented to a user. Providing too many Items on a single nav, or too many Call To Actions on a single page can make a user fall into Analysis Paralysis and his mind won’t process and he may eventually leave the app.

Let’s have a look at how Amazon is tackling it. Rather than providing all the information at once, they provided users with some top choices with a “See All” button to expand further departments.

2. Von Restorff Effect:

Von Restorff effect plays an important role in the world of UX.  It says that when multiple objects are presented in a group or side by side, the object that differs from the rest is more likely to be remembered. This is a tested theory and this is how the CTA’s actually work. They provoke the users to hit them. But Von Restorff Effect is far from than just the CTA’s. You can play with this phenomenon in UX to make some great things.

Let’s take an example, 

Have you ever come across a situation like this? Just look at the image, the item with 40% is screaming that I’m different from other items and you can get me for less price.

So this is how the Von Restorff Effect plays with user psychology in displaying the list of e-commerce items and focusing on the offers.

3. Recency Bias:

Now let’s take a look at what recency bias is. Recency bias reflects that the attention given to recent events would be more than the attention given to the farther events. Because if something is presented at the front to the user, the user takes that thing as the most important thing rather than the things at the back.
In terms of User Experience, if something is presented at the top of the page, the user gets to it first and thinks of it as the most important thing or the functionality of the website. That’s why we have the main CTA at the top of the page in the hero section rather than putting it at the bottom.
So as a UX Designer, it should be kept in mind to design your web or app in such a hierarchy that the most important things should be placed on top or on front and the least important things should be taken least care of.

Most e-commerce websites use this technique to place their most revenue-generating items on the top to grab more users to buy this stuff.

Samsung usually promotes its new release in the hero section to grab the user’s attention.

4. Framing Effect

The framing effect is one of the most important biases in the real world as well as in the UX world. The framing effect is a technique to convey your words in different forms to convince the other person. We humans are dependent on the surroundings to make our decision. We are dependent on the way the information is provided to us. Our brain processes and makes a conclusion based on the frame we’re in. This, the framing effect is the most common way to trick the users coming on your platform.
The most common example is a packet of lays. It seems to be a big packet full of chips inside but when you open that you get to see just a few countable chips inside side by side with air :p. What if they put these few chips in a small packet enough to fill it? That’s how they used the framing effect to trick the user. Similarly, a scoop of ice cream in a small cup would be more likely than the same scoop of ice cream on a big cup.

That’s an item on an e-commerce site presented normally.

That’s the same item presented in a different frame which is encouraging the user to add it to the cart at the exact same time without thinking.

5. Fluency Heuristic

The human brain works in such a way that it makes decisions based on the options that are easy to process and neglects the options that are complex and require time to process. This is known as Fluency Heuristic. This biasness takes action when there are multiple options to choose from.

If we consider it from the perspective of User experience, there are many scenarios.

Ever used a food delivery application? Most of the food delivery application uses a phenomenon that is, they save our last order and then provide us with the option for ordering the same again next time. So, if you’re in a hurry, rather than searching for the food and restaurant from scratch, you can tap on that option and recall that order  as that’s the easiest option.

Take foodpanda as an example, 

Let’s take an example of foodpanda,

Foodpanda uses a similar mechanism as discussed above, it gives the option to order from the same restaurant that you ordered from last time. So you don’t have to search for a restaurant and you can go on one tap.

Similarly, this effect can be applied in other scenarios too, in case you want users to select a certain option so you make other options complex.

6. Zeigarnik Effect

Have you ever paused and left the movie just when a thrilling scene is about to begin? Different thoughts would start taking up your mind about what would be in the next scene. You won’t just think about how far you’ve come but you’d be curious about what’s coming next. That’s the Zeigarnik effect. It is named after a soviet psychologist Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik who made her research and concluded that people tend to remember and focus on uncompleted tasks more than the completed ones.
Similarly, if you’ve started a certain task and fail to complete it or reach your goal, you will be in tension and just keep thinking of different ways to reach your goal because you have a motivation that “Your task is still uncompleted”.

While making a user-centric design, UX Designers trick the users to make them feel that they’ve certain tasks that are still not completed and they have to complete them to reach their goal. This way they provoke the users to perform certain actions which they would not have done otherwise.

Fitness apps use this technique and notify users again and again that they still have uncompleted goals and encourage them to attain their fitness goals to engage them to use their app.

Similarly, LinkedIn and Upwork and use the Zeigarnik effect to make users complete their profile by showing them an incomplete progress bar of their profile completion.

So now,

You’ve seen from the perspective of a UX designer as well as a user, that how these biases can just change the whole face of a user-centric design. Biases can definitely be a game-changer for a product and user engagement. All you have to do is to make sharp and effective use of these biases that would have a positive impact on your product rather than a negative impact.

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